Politics is an erratic world to negotiate

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By John Bartlit

Negotiate” stirs up good business and bad political finagling. The word is a double-edged sword that is honed for cutting out debate. The word itself is its own counterpoint. 

In politics, “negotiate” connotes the cowardice in gathering ideas by talking with others. Worse still is talking about making a deal, with all of its taking in and giving away. A rude synonym is “compromise of principles.” 

With equal relevance, “negotiate” entails the bravery of making your own way across treacherous stretches to reach a worthy goal. An example is negotiating Death Valley in a covered wagon. A rude synonym is “defeat of barriers.” 

“Negotiate” reflects the oddities of politics in more ways than one. First: little success comes without some give and take along the way. Second: in a democracy, it takes a brave and wise soul to negotiate (in both meanings) a path to a worthy goal on the nation’s agenda. 

Negotiation, like any trade deal or treaty, does not deliver all advantages to one side only. Everyone knows this ageless fact. Yet, politics chooses to forget. Each party today thinks it would lose clout if it remembered the reality that founded our nation.
The signed document that colonists first saw on July 4, 1776, pleased no one perfectly. Still, it wrought a nation that remains well worth our thought and hard work. 

Negotiating by anyone inherently involves give and take. In other words, however much good it does, a worthwhile deal comes with a dose of failure. The failures are easy to circle in red ink. So it was with the original negotiation in 1776. So it is today.

“Negotiation” these days is a shredder that each party uses to shred the other party. In global issues, Obama and the Democrats negotiated a deal with Iran. Republicans shred the deal. They said Obama was naive and was hoodwinked into giving away the farm. The failures are circled in red ink. 

Trump and the Republicans now are negotiating with North Korea. If a deal results, Democrats will shred the deal. They will say Trump was naive and was hoodwinked into giving away the farm. If no deal is made, Democrats will say Trump is an arrogant fool who knows not the craft of diplomacy and compromise.
In all cases, failures will be circled in red ink. Verdicts about the bundled pieces of any political deal are secured by party labels, since these labels are very clear long before the net effects of the entire bundle take form.
I am reminded of the familiar “placebo effect” in testing new drugs. A sugar pill is a placebo. “Placebo” is from the Latin for “I will please.” Indeed, each party is pleased with its own work on behalf of the country; never mind that how the whole deal will work out remains a semi-guess for a decade. For a flock of reasons, the semi-guesses from each party predict its whole deal will give superior results. 

Outside of politics, great skill goes into designing blind tests so that drug trials check results against a placebo and tell us which pills are really worth their cost. Politics has no such thoughts in mind. The next election comes first. 

Finally, in domestic issues each party now quickly shuns negotiating with the other party because the enemy party slowly wins its agenda in the process. If you don’t see how each side can be winning its agenda for the nation, welcome to the Partisan Paradox.

Many Republicans believe that the hard left has largely won its agenda for a government controlled economy through small steps of repeated negotiation on issues. At the same time, many environmentalists believe that the hard right has largely won its agenda to free business from regulation through small steps of repeated negotiation on issues. The paradox consists of differing viewpoints, all backed and attacked by platoons of predictions. 

Thus, negotiation – a tool with endless uses in the real world – wastes itself in each party’s bag of campaign tricks, waiting for better days in politics.