Is Obama a Magician? New Negotiating Tactics for his 2nd Term

When you’re dealing with a master of sleight of hand, even the simplest activity may be a complex deception. To understand the complexity of a magician’s life, according to Penn in this video, you need to know the seven basic principles of magic.

Palm – To hold an object with an apparently empty hand
Ditch – To secretly dispose of an unneeded object
Steal – To secretly obtain a needed object
Loan – Secretly move the needed object to where its needed
Simulation – To give the impression that something that hasn’t happened has
Misdirection – Lead attention away from the secret move
Switch – Secretly exchange one object for another

Those are the seven principles of magic, and with them you can do wondrous things. Now, what if I told you they could not only be applied to magic, but also to negotiating? When the new year rolled around, quite like magic, we witnessed a party begrudgingly going along with something they clearly didn’t want to. They enacted what was, while technically speaking a tax cut, in essence a tax raise in their minds with almost nothing in return for it. This was the same party refusing beforehand to vote on “what we all agree on,” as Obama put it. This was the party of no.

So, how did Obama perform this trickery? Like a well-trained magician, he had to know his audience. The audience in this act was threefold. One piece of this audience, the Republicans would always look to attack him on nearly anything and everything. Again, they’re the party of no. So, going into this he knew it would be no. No compromise. Nothing. Like the magician that must be keenly aware of what and where his audience will be watching and questioning, Obama had to know this. He had to finally understand this. Another of his audiences, the media, would always try and see things from the middle, and they’re obsessed with very serious people, as Paul Krugman puts them, and as such a push for a grand bargain that has tax raises and spending cuts would be just the sort of thing they could get their panties wet for. And last, he had to know us. That is, he had to know both the liberal and the republican base.

Next, quite like Teller, he used a bit of sleight of hand. Like the magician about to saw a lady in half, he stood atop the stage during his campaigning and proclaimed, “I will raise taxes on those making above $250,000 per year.” And, despite how popular this plan was, we all didn’t really know how it could be done with the Republicans likely still having control of the house. Their pledges to Grover Norquist make this feat about as hard as making an elephant disappear before your very eyes.

So, he campaigned on raising taxes on the rich, but after he won election, he really didn’t push that simple plan, to pass what both parties agree on. No, he switched when the entire fiscal cliff debate came about. He palmed that initial plan. Next, he misdirected us with his grand bargain, like Teller itching his nose while hiding the cigarette in his ear or puffing out smoke from his mouth so we didn’t realize there was smoke coming from the other side. Then, by pushing the debate further and offering plans that even by their very nature seemed to push into conservative territory, he knew by and large the Republican party would have to reject, he used simulation. That is, I don’t truly believe he was offering some of those things in full faith. He was playing a game with the Republicans, like a magician does before his finale. He toys with you for a while. He makes you wonder. It’s all a part of the show. He toyed with us, too. Many of us knew he’d have more leverage after the new year, but we fell for the act and played along. We ranted when he tried to put Chain CPI into the mix. This dislike from both sides gave the media something to latch onto and really believe he was genuine. While he was simulating that bargaining process, he was really loaning his original intention to where he really needed it, after January 1st. It was only then that he was able to steal back his original object, the tax system he really wanted, and ditch the things in the grand bargain he did not want.

But, you say, he had to raise taxes on those making $400,000 and above. He had to give up a little! …or so you think. Actually, what’s interesting about this number is that if you account for inflation, $250,000 in 1993, when Clinton’s taxes were in place, you get… wait for it. Here comes the grand finale, when the lady gets out of the box, still in one whole, beautiful piece… $400,000! Yes, that’s right, adjusted for inflation the top tax bracket is where Clinton had it.

Yes, there are some flubs in this trickery. Unfortunately, the Payroll tax holiday did expire, something which many people (me included) seemed to think was not a great thing to happen while the economy is still in recovery. So, it’s not a perfect strategy at all, but it’s one that clearly demonstrates, to me anyway, that he now knows his opponents and their nature. He’s no longer the naive Obama we saw when he first took office, hoping to gain strong bi-partisan support. No, he’s got to enact legislation that most of our citizens approve of in a bi-partisan way without the help of one of the parties. He seems to have realized this, and has come up with some effective strategies in dealing with it.

There are a few fights in his second term that I know I’ll be looking closely at. For one there’s the gun control debate. Some are speculating already that he’s been doing some misdirection. That is, he’s putting the Assault Weapons Ban piece into place in order to use it as a bargaining chip to enact some of the other things that he likely wants in place more. Personally, I’d like this to be the case, but at this stage I’m definitely unsure. The Assault Weapons Ban is something that liberals tend to flock around for some strange reason, and so if he is using it as misdirect it may not be for a bargaining chip. Perhaps, and this is just initial speculation, he’s using it to distract the party of no and the NRA from fighting his executive orders in full force. Again, his opponents will fight anything. His immigration executive orders were met in full force by some like Jan Brewer. Well, that’s just Jan, and this is the NRA. He’d need to throw them even more meat, and that’s possibly what he did. With the ban, that gets people frothed up on the idea that he’s coming to take their guns. It’s a fantasy that’s so easy to latch onto that many just won’t see what else is going on. Even if this wasn’t purposeful at all on Obama’s part, it may end up advantageous. Not too many are up in arms about his executive orders, which most seem to agree were pretty good things to do. We’ll see, though, what happens in the coming months.

Then, there’s immigration reform. This is one that probably won’t call for his new technique, since Republicans seem to actually be going along with that one. I guess knocking on death’s door in the national elections unless they get some sort of minority support will do that. Maybe he won’t have to use so much of his magic on it?

With the inauguration out of the way, he’s got four more years now to build a legacy. Four more years of negotiating. Four more years of trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Four more years to try and do something about immigration. Four more years to try and do something about guns. Four more years of trying to help to Slow the Rise of the Oceans. Four more years to try and make sure our gay brothers and sisters are treated the same way under the law as the rest of us. He’s had quite a few flaws so far, as I and many others on both sides of the spectrum can point out, but I’m the sort of person that hopes for the best in someone else. I think we all want to a little bit more after an inauguration. I’m just hoping at the end of it all he really will be standing on that stage with that huge grin on his face that says, “it looks simple, doesn’t it?”

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