Win-Win, GOP style
Republicans will keep winning until Democrats — including Obama — learn how to play the game
By Barry Gordon 07/21/2011
More than 10 years ago, my wife, Gail, started an organizational consulting business called Win-Win Workplace Solutions. The entire mission of the business was in the title — to create environments in which both owners and employees could prosper and business could flourish. The simple theory is that if both sides try hard enough, there is always some common ground to be found.
President Obama and my wife seem to share that belief in win-win solutions. Somehow, in the end, reason will prevail over rhetoric and a deal will be struck that, while not perfect, ultimately reflects the wishes and desires of the American people. And, in Obama’s view, what the people most want is a deal — almost any deal. Certainly, there are lines he will not cross. Turning Medicare into a voucher program is a nonstarter. Deep cuts in benefits from entitlement programs are probably also off the table. But other than the most draconian proposals, Obama is willing to listen to, and perhaps even to negotiate on, virtually everything else.
To some extent, he may be right. Empirical evidence seems to show that we like our presidents to work with “the other side” in a true spirit of bipartisanship. Pundits even now are wondering whether the two parties can meet “in the middle,” even though that territory was ceded long ago. The truth is that if Obama was not president but, say, the chief negotiator of a labor union like the Screen Actors Guild (an organization I have considerable familiarity with), he would have been fired long ago for giving away the store.
But a president is not a union negotiator, and this president knows that his most essential responsibility is to govern. He can’t risk a strike or a shutdown or a debt default. So, in the end, he will make the best deal he can and try to win reelection so that he can remedy the worst aspects of the bargain. He will also hope that the American people may recover from their temporary lapse of judgment in 2010 and bring back a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives.
And none of it will matter.
The reason I named my op-ed series “Democracy 101” was that I felt too many people had lost touch with some basic tenets of democratic government amid the smoke of talking points and Beltway punditry. One of those tenets was the idea that in a democracy, especially one with two major political parties such as ours, the majority party was to be able to go to the voters with a philosophy and an agenda for the future and with a set of accomplishments for the voters to either approve or disapprove. The voters could either ratify the majority’s work or give a majority to the opposition party, which would have its own agenda to pursue. The basic role of the minority party was to argue its case to the people and try to win their support. Sometimes, as now, the voters would create a divided government in which one party controlled one or both chambers of Congress and another controlled the White House, the theory being that such a situation forced compromise and moderation from both sides. The key to all of this working was the knowledge of the minority that it could someday retake the majority and pursue its own policies.
So why hasn’t it worked? As regular readers of this column know, I believe that the rules of the Senate are the fundamental reason. The Republicans have learned that they can control the agenda whether they are in the majority or the minority. They have institutionalized gridlock through the frequent use of the filibuster threat. All they need is 40 votes to throw a monkey wrench into the legislative process.
The Democrats, on the other hand, have an almost visceral belief in compromise and in “making the deal.” So when they are in the minority, they bend over backwards to try to find the win-win solution, and when they are in the majority, the prospect of a gridlock leads them to continue bending over backwards, when they could accomplish anything at all.
Republicans are also far more adept at ignoring facts. Even though it’s been proven time and again that tax cuts don’t actually lead to higher revenue for the Treasury, the Republicans will keep repeating that they do. Even though economists, including those on the conservative side, recognize that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t create jobs, Republicans will not abandon their mantra that the opposite is true.
Both Obama and the GOP leadership believe in win-win. As I said, the president’s idea of win-win is a lot like my wife’s. The Republicans have a different concept — they will win whether they’re in the majority or in the minority. No matter what the people, or history or “the facts” say. They will win by winning and win by losing. That’s their code. And they will keep winning until the Democrats, including the president, understand how they play the game.
Barry Gordon is the co-host of “City Beat” and teaches political science at Cal State LA.