Tagged: Congress

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.

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Nobody Likes Republicans, Not Even Republicans

There are lots of problems for the Republican Party on a national level these days.  They just got crushed in an election in which the incumbent President presided over a weak economic recovery, high unemployment, and massive government deficits.  The only thing that saved the party from irrelevancy were heavily gerrymandered districts preserving a majority in the House.  Congressional ratings are around 15% approval and 80% disapproval while the President is over 50% in approval.

So, what do we make of this and why haven’t the Congressional GOP changed course to rectify the problem?  For one, it’s partially a problem of the party’s ideas.  The median voter has simply drifted from the current GOP platform whether it’s regards to taxes, immigration, gay rights, or rape (seriously, stop mentioning rape). Nearly 6 of 10 voters view the GOP as protecting the interests of the wealthy.   At some point the Republicans are going to have to re-evaluate their positions and alter them more towards the center of American politics and then re-brand themselves in a more appealing way.

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Some Random Thoughts, including Term Limits, and a new, more modern Congress

Just a side note about Trevor’s post on term limits. As was touched upon in his post, there have been many papers written about what term limits would do for Congress, and a significant number of them aren’t positive. Though it does depend on how long the term limit is – this wouldn’t really apply to a 9+ term limit for the House – if term limits were enacted, Congresspeople would have to rely more and more on lobbyists. If you were to limit your typical House member to two terms, that’s not enough time for her to establish relationships with other members of Congress or become an expert on a specific issue. She would have to increasingly rely on party organizations, lobbyists, and interests around Washington to make a decision.

That all relates to a paper called “Congress’ Wicked Problem: Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami,” written by Loreleie Kelly.  In the paper, Kelly puts forth the argument that what’s wrong with Congress isn’t corruption, but that it’s “incapacitated and obsolete.”  (Thanks to Ezra Klein for linking this paper on Wonk Blog).

I especially agree that Congress is incapacitated.  Congress is Congress’ own worst enemy.  Gridlock is around every corner.  With the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, the numerous near-government shutdowns, Congress’ inability to get even the most basic stuff done quickly (like aid for Sandy), and a lot of other shenanigans, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we need to move to a unicameral, more parliament-like national legislature.

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Filibuster reform? Good Grief!

Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about reforming the current Filibuster rules in the United States Senate. Every time it comes up however nothing seems to come of it. Many who fight to reform the Filibuster feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football. There’s a belief that it will finally happen and everyone’s hopeful. Then all of a sudden we’re all flat on our backs, looking up at the sky trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

What many of those who want Filibuster reform want to see is a return to the Talking Filibuster. There are those who would like to see the number of votes needed to complete a cloture motion reduced, but a very strong argument can be made for the return of the Talking Filibuster.

Historically the Filibuster has consisted of a Senator, or group thereof, delaying the vote on a bill by standing up and refusing to yield the floor. They would give speeches; force the bill in its entirety to be read, amendments and all; read from cookbooks, magazines and even novels. That is until modern times. Currently the threat of a Filibuster is enough to stop progress on a bill in virtually any stage of the process.

It is important to note that the Filibuster appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of the Filibuster came into being in 1806 and was an entirely theoretical option until its first use in 1837. The cloture vote, which the Senate can take to end a filibuster, did not even exist until 1917. Originally it took two-thirds of all present Senators to successfully complete a cloture vote and end the filibuster, over time it was reduced to the three-fifths number we have today.

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Team of Obstructionists

Recently I began reading Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of President Abraham Lincoln and key members of his cabinet. Besides being a fantastic portrait of a wonderful President, one of the most striking things I’ve taken from the book is just how radically different today’s Republican Party is from that in 1860. Over the last four years we’ve seen a Republican Party that has literally opposed everything President Obama has supported, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s massive infrastructure investments and tax cuts, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a free-market approach to expanding health care insurance that was initially proposed by the Heritage Foundation more than twenty years ago. It was even enacted in the state of Massachusetts by a certain former Republican Presidential candidate. The last Congress was the least productive on record, fighting over things that Congress shouldn’t even fight over. In addition, the Republican Party has spent years opposed to improving our immigration laws. Having followed these events made the days of Team of Rivals all the more striking to me, because it shows that the Republican Party has not always been this way. Throughout its history it has been a party that’s not adamantly opposed to absolutely everything involving the government.

Upon reviewing the 1860 Republican Party platform, you’ll see a fairly progressive platform for the time. They were opposed to an expansion of slavery, they supported open immigration policy that grants full rights to all who migrate to the United States, and they supported focusing the government’s efforts on modernizing our infrastructure. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower began “the greatest public works project in history” when he presided over the creation of the 41,000 mile-long Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower also created NASA and supported the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the agency that ultimately created the Internet through government-funded research. The Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Nixon. Today, many Republicans act as if the current head of the EPA is a cartoon villain, targeting her for actually enforcing environmental laws.

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