Rachel Maddow has some negotiating advice for President Obama after his announcement that he will support the Republican's plan to freeze wages for federal employees -- if you're going to make a concession, get something for it in return. And
November 30, 2010

Rachel Maddow has some negotiating advice for President Obama after his announcement that he will support the Republican's plan to freeze wages for federal employees -- if you're going to make a concession, get something for it in return.

And from Dave Dayen over at FDL, apparently Organizing for America thinks this is somehow a good idea -- OFA Tries to Get Supporters to Write Letters to the Editor Praising a Federal Worker Pay Freeze. I hate to break it to them but if I send a letter to the editor, it's not going to be one praising this bone headed decision.

MADDOW: Since the start of the Obama administration, Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football has been the go-to metaphor for liberals trying to explain what happens when the White House tries to negotiate with Republicans.

The Republicans, of course, are Lucy, kindly holding the football. And every time Charlie Brown thinks he‘s got to deal with Lucy or Obama thinks he‘s got a deal with Congressional Republicans, everybody‘s going to work together, Lucy is going to hold that football. She‘s going to hold it steady.

And then, just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it, she pulls it away. And Charlie Brown never learns. Lucy always pulls it down at the last moment causing Charlie Brown to kick at nothing and fall down over and over and over again.

Why won‘t Charlie Brown learn, and why does President Obama keep trying to negotiate with Republicans when the Republicans always disappoint him? That has been the central cartoon-based metaphor around which liberals have understood the predictable the pitfalls and faults of bipartisanship in the Obama era.

I have a suggested refinement to the metaphor and it involves removing Lucy from the equation. I know this is bad in terms of gender parody in our metaphors, but the fact Republicans don‘t want to help out on policy is no longer surprising, totally predicable and therefore maybe not that politically important.

The important political decisions right now are not anything having to do with Republicans. It‘s whether or not Democrats can figure out a way to succeed without them. Republicans are not going to help. That‘s settled. That‘s done. Stick a fork in it, et cetera.

What are Democrats going to do about it? If today‘s presidential announcement about a federal employee salary freeze has anything to do with it, apparently, the Democratic game plan is to pull the ball away from themselves whenever they try to kick it.


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today, I‘m proposing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers.


MADDOW: You know, if you‘re trying to negotiate policy with someone, it is always a good idea to have in mind what you are willing to give up, what your concessions will be during the negotiation.

But this White House consistently gives up its concessions at the start before getting anything in return. They did this on health reform. The president on record saying he supported a single-payer system, saying he thought that would be the best thing for the country.

He then immediately conceded that and took it off the table. Rather than start from that position and give it up in exchange for something else for the other side moving some distance closer to you, single payer was off the table from the beginning.

On the stimulus, the administration knew that tax cuts were the least stimulative thing the government could spend its money on. Knowing that, they conceded at the outset to devote just under 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts even before getting any concessions from the other side in return.

On cap and trade, they put concessions on the table right from the start. They would increase the number of nuclear power plants. They would allow a big expansion of offshore drilling, both of which would be awesome things to trade away for votes from the other side.

But they gave them away for no votes. What did they get in exchange for giving Republicans something they dearly wanted? Goose egg. Precisely nothing. They offered their concession without getting anything in return.

We saw that same strategy today, with the pay freeze for federal employees. This is something public sector workers and people concerned that the public sector remains an attractive option for the best talent in the country - this is something they worry about.

It‘s sort of a thumb in the eye for the Democratic base. What do they get in return for that? Is that distant polite applause from Republicans? No. No. Actually, it‘s nothing. Bupkis. Crickets. They don‘t even get polite applause.

It may make sense in negotiations to know what you are willing to trade away. It may make sense to have in mind at the outset of negotiations what your concessions will be when it gets to the point of negotiation where you have to trade away something.

It may make sense to have those things in mind from the outside, though. What will you trade away for? The key word, though - the key idea is trade. You should get something back when you give up something that is of value to you, or else it‘s not so much trading as it is getting pooched over and over and over again.

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