Liberals: Obama Doesn't Compromise, He Caves
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Ari Shapiro has this story on how some political players see the president's negotiating style.
ARI SHAPIRO: President Obama has developed a different reputation, to the dismay of liberal activists such as Justin Ruben, executive director of the group MoveOn.
JUSTIN RUBEN: Looking right now at the tax cuts, the White House signaling willingness to preemptively cave on what is effectively a tax bailout to millionaires, it's profoundly upsetting to people.
SHAPIRO: Liberals see the president as a bad negotiator, willing to sell the farm for nothing. For example, nine months ago he angered environmentalists with this surprise speech...
BARACK OBAMA: Today we're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration.
SHAPIRO: In the health care debate, the White House abandoned a public option without winning any Republican votes for the concession. And earlier this week, Mr. Obama once again gave Republicans something they wanted, against the wishes of many liberal groups.
OBAMA: And today I'm proposing a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers.
SHAPIRO: At a White House briefing the day of that announcement, Jonathan Weisman of The Wall Street Journal asked spokesman Robert Gibbs about the president's negotiating style.
JONATHAN WEISMAN: Why does the president go out and make these proposals at a podium instead of behind closed doors with your political adversaries in a negotiating position, where you might be able to get something in return? What is the president getting in return by making this gesture?
ROBERT GIBBS: I think $2 billion in savings next year and 28 billion over five.
SHAPIRO: When he was pressed, Gibbs answered in a less flippant way.
GIBBS: The president makes a series of decisions that he thinks are in the best interest of the country, not as a bargaining chip or a bargaining tool, but because it was the right thing to do.
SHAPIRO: This has always been part of President Obama's narrative. His brand of politics rises above the fray.
JESWALD SALACUSE: I don't really understand that fully.
SHAPIRO: Jeswald Salacuse teaches international negotiations at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
SALACUSE: Simply making the statement and expecting them to come along and say, yeah, you did the right thing, we're going to do the right thing, I really think that's naive and certainly not realistic. Policy is a matter to be negotiated. It's a messy business, there's lots of give and take, but at the end of the day that's the way it's done.
SHAPIRO: Experts on negotiation say that when Obama publicly volunteers to concede something that Republicans want, a principle comes into play called reactive devaluation. Mike Wheeler of Harvard Business School explains the phenomenon.
MIKE WHEELER: If I give you something that you haven't asked for or worked for, you tend to under-appreciate it. Quite different if you've got to pull it out of me.
SHAPIRO: Even some Republicans share this view of the president as a poor negotiator.
JIM WALSH: It's sort of like telegraphing your passes in basketball. You can - it's easy to steal a pass.
SHAPIRO: Jim Walsh is a former congressman from upstate New York, now with the lobbying firm K and L Gates. He says this kind of politicking just is not in President Obama's blood.
WALSH: He's never been in the leadership position in either body, so he didn't have to do the negotiating, the horse-trading that a Mitch McConnell would have grown up on, or a Harry Reid would have grown up on, or a John Boehner would have grown up on. The president has not had to do this.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.
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