How Obama Negotiates

March 31, 2010

George W. Bush probably couldn’t pronounce “negotiate,” much less do it. Barack Obama does it, and, according to Dennis Kucinich, he does it with depth.

In the April 5, 2010 issue of New York magazine, Jennifer Senior writes about Obama’s negotiation style in the article Obama and Thou.

Senior reports that Kucinich said of Obama’s talk with him about voting for the health care bill, “He goes very deep into looking at an issue from the side of the person to whom he’s speaking.” Again, this is not a sentence one would expect to hear about George W. Bush.

Why that matters is obvious. Not so obvious is the fact that, by connecting with other politicians in the way he did with Kucinich, President Obama is getting things done—a fact some progressives were beginning to doubt during the “year of health care.” But now, with health care accomplished and financial and energy reforms on the way, we can say with certainty that Obama is a doer.

Sasha Abramsky
knew that all along. His book, Inside Obama’s Brain, which was written after Abramsky interviewed scores of Obama’s colleagues, is full of references to the president’s ability to see from the other person’s side. Abramsky quotes Republican state senator Kirk Dillard, who said of his then-fellow state senator Obama, “He’s very good at asking tough questions . . . But not making people mad who have different points of view . . .” Of course that was before he met John Boehner and Eric Kantor.

But the fact that Obama has yet to make a deep connection with the GOP is as irrelevant right now as the GOP is. Things are getting done. Smart things. Good and decent things. Progressive things. Are they getting done with concessions? Yes. Are they getting done with well-considered concessions? Yes. For example, the ban on offshore drilling is being lifted, but not in Alaska’s environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay.

As Kucinich says in “Obama and Thou,” “he’s putting everything he has on the line here.” That, combined with Abramsky’s statement that “his instinct [is] not to start with some simplified construct or or understanding of a problem,” give me a good feeling about the second year of Obama’s presidency.

To negotiate from a place of 1) acceptance of complexity and 2) willingness to see a different side is a wonderful thing. It might just enable wonderful things to happen.

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