Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hostage negotiations

One of the things the left has done pretty well is to characterize the Republicans as "hostage-takers." Whether they are threatening to...

1. End tax breaks for the middle class
2. Shut down the government
3. Cause a global economic crisis

...we've seen a pretty consistent strategy and have named it well.

What we haven't done is take a look at what we can learn from real life hostage negotiators about what to do in these circumstances. I've always doubted that a tactic they would recommend is drawing a line in the sand for the hostage-taker. That seems pretty destined to fail.

So today I googled to see what we can find on-line about the principles of hostage negotiations. And I came across this. Its from the web site of the "Program on Negotiation" at Harvard Law School (hmmmm, you mean those elitists? LOL).

They identify 5 lessons we can learn from hostage negotiators:

1. Gain control of the situation by insisting on one-on-one talks.
2. Explore the feelings underlying the other side’s demands.
3. Allow heated emotions to defuse through the passage of time.
4. Collaborate on solving the other party’s short-term problems.
5. Help your counterpart save face when you come out ahead.

Now that's interesting! Sounds exactly like what President Obama does with the Republicans, doesn't it? And yet, the standard critique of him from both the left and right is that he's a lousy negotiator. What I've thought for a long time is that assumption comes - not from professional negotiators - but from ideologues who want to dominate the conversation and are willing to risk calamity to do so.

Those tips also sound a lot like the reflections contained in one of my favorite diaries ever written on Daily Kos by Aikidopilgrim in which he compared Obama's style with the Aikido Way. He explains that change requires four things from us:

1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs
2] We must react fearlessly
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict
4] We must understand our opponent's intentions in order to achieve resolution

Eleven-dimensional chess? I suppose that's what it sounds like to those who don't know how to learn from the experts.


  1. Oh my dear friend, you will never know how much I rely on your steady analyses to talk me back from the edge. I made the BIG mistake of spending too much time tonight reading the near hysterical ranting, ravings and Obama slandering screeds, all in in reaction to the latest rumors about SS that it almost made me ill. Gotta stop doing that. It's like watching piranha's attacking fresh meat. Ugly, ugly, ugly stuff.

  2. I'm so glad you've taken a step back from the edge. I know what you mean about those screeds that can send you there. I'm beginning to get an idea of why those folks do that - and it doesn't look that different from how/why the screamers on the right do it. They are locked in a bubble of fear and anger.

  3. Hope you are right and Obama is doing the right thing but on December he did sell us off...but I am willing to defer judgment until the battle is more developed...I however believe that the best way with hostage takers (in politics) is eye for eye tooth for tooth...

  4. Mahilena

    I'd simply ask you to consider who gets hurt when we start dishing out that "eye for an eye." I'd suggest that its certainly not the Republicans. As I said in a previous diary, its the least among us.

    As someone who is currently living in a state where the government is shut down because we're playing that game - I'm seeing that on a daily basis.

    As Democrats, we have to continue to be the adults in all of this and play it smarter than the Republicans.


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