Ready for the Great Negotiation? You Better Be!
The November 24 cover of Time magazine pictured President-elect Barack Obama as the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is an image of strength and hope. An image of a future filled with enthusiasm, intelligence, and leadership.
To many it seems as though the mainstream media’s adulation of the incoming President might be overboard, causing a Washington Post media reporter to write on November 17 that “we seem to have crossed a cultural line into mythmaking.”
President-elect Obama won a significant electoral victory. He carried states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, which all could have gone the other way. But, even with such an amazing Electoral College victory, he only received 52 percent of the popular vote across the nation. That means that 48 percent of the voters remained unconvinced of his promises and his agenda for America.
He has a great negotiation ahead of him to unite the country.
As a negotiation coach working with hundreds of million of dollars in negotiations every day during the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression, I naturally look at the negotiation process facing President-elect Obama, us citizens, and the rest of the world.
He has been engaged in that throughout his campaign, talking always about “change” and “hope”, offering the slogan “Yes, we can.” These have proven to be powerful visionary tools, but now as the new administration comes together, we must be vigilant to the kind of change being proposed.
We must dig into every issue and start paying attention. We must question our representatives and participate in the process by expressing our views as we see them.
In my book No, The Only System of Negotiation For Work and Home, I warn the reader that “Many people make the fatal mistake of thinking they can use their gift of gab or their nifty PowerPoint presentation or both to convince the other party with facts and figures to make the rational choice.” Don’t be fooled! Dig in, because you are going to be asked to make both an informed and an emotional decision.
Here’s where President-elect Obama appears to have an advantage. He is new, he is fresh, he is smart, and is demonstrating a desire to appear to be reaching across the isle to bring us together. That is what I see, but remember, your decisions and my decisions of support or non-support will be driven by how we perceive his actions and intentions.
The effort of the media to draw parallels between Obama and FDR are interesting, but far too soon for my taste. In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt immediately addressed the emotional state of the nation. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”
In an eerie reflection of current times, Roosevelt noted that “our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced with serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side…”
And, as we know, the very thing the new administration and Congress proposes is to provide tax cuts to the middle class while raising taxes on higher incomes. This is a great negotiation to look at. If you are to receive a tax decrease, you probably see a great policy, but if you are one whose taxes are to be raised, you probably see a terrible policy.
Keep a watchful eye on how the President-elect proceeds during this negotiation. How well is he negotiating is the question that will hold the key to the coming term. It will be interesting to see if Obama can negotiate higher taxes for a small segment of the population when many economists think it would be the worst action to take.
The great negotiation before the American people is whether, in the midst of their emotional fears for themselves and their families, they will be able to say no to proposals that will further weaken the economy. Will Americans see the past government policies as the cause of our present economic ills, or will they blame banking and investment institutions or those managing large industries?
Many of us know the answer. It has been profligate spending by an administration and Congress over the last eight years that has brought about the failure of our economic system. It has been a war that many now question that has drained our precious resources for years. It has been government mandates such as those by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that banks had to make bad loans and, of course, the greed of predatory lending that produced the mortgage crisis.
There are two other negotiations that we must pay attention to and participate in. One concerns the proposed reduction of America’s military strength. How much conventional military capacity will we need? This is a meaty issue, and we all should pay attention and participate, and the proposal to demilitarize space is another. What does this really mean? How do we observe the actions of our enemies if we are not allowed to use military satellites? These are issues that we should know more about and be prepared to express our views to our representatives.
Another important negotiation is the proposed Civilian National Security Force. In an analysis, “What Obama will do” by Olavo de Carvalho, he said that “The goal is, plainly, to arm the radical militancy and transform it, according to the words of the new president himself, into such a powerful and well subsidized force as the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.” This is one issue we cannot afford to ignore.
President-elect Obama knows that Americans are feeling very vulnerable at this time. He knows that he can and should, as FDR did, propose all manner of programs to “solve” the current economic crisis.
Skilled negotiators know that many people are devoted to compromise and to making assumptions, and as a result they have developed strategies whose only purpose is to take advantage of this weak mindset. It is important that we not allow that to happen. We must strive to create a clear vision for the future and to become more effective decision-makers as a nation.
On January 20, as President, Barack Obama’s first task to which he will swear is to protect and preserve the Constitution, to ensure the defense of the nation, and to put the nation back on the track to economic strength.
FDR’s first inaugural speech proposed that the solution would be “national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character.” The result was a vastly expanded central government.
As with previous generations we must participate and be heard on any and all policies that start coming forward. That is our role in the negotiation we call democracy.
America is at a critical moment. Our effectiveness as individuals, as citizens, in negotiation has never been more important in our lifetimes. Participate. Let the President-elect and your representatives know your thoughts.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.