Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

October 16, 2013

Obama, Boehner use weakness to gain strength

In a negotiation, you might well have more power if you are powerless. Strength can be weakness, and weakness can be strength. Since 2011, these principles have been playing a significant role in conflicts between President Barack Obama and the House of Representatives.

To see the general point, suppose that you are a malpractice lawyer, representing a patient in a suit against a doctor. Your client believes that the doctor made a big mistake. He is very angry. He knows a trial wouldn’t be a lot of fun, but he likes the idea of seeing his doctor squirm on the witness stand. He is also willing to settle, but the settlement has to be on precisely his terms, which would give him a lot of money.

Your client’s position means that once you begin to negotiate, your hands will be tied. You won’t be able to compromise. That puts you in an excellent position. Your client is willing to endure a trial, which the doctor might well see as a worst-case scenario and perhaps even as intolerable. Under reasonable assumptions, you should be able to obtain a generous settlement.

The situation is different, and much worse, if your client tells you that he wants to avoid a trial, and if he gives you the power to take any reasonable deal. If you are so instructed, you can’t hide behind your client and insist that the only acceptable agreement is on his preferred terms. In fact, you might want your client to tie your hands, because that strengthens your position.

Now turn to the current fiscal standoff. For many Republicans and many Democrats, including the president, defaulting on the national debt is a worst-case scenario. For the participants, a central question is this: What exactly does the other side have the power to do?

Text Only
Opinion
  • Close the tax loophole that sends US corporations overseas Since we last overhauled our federal tax code, in 1986, countries around the world have lowered their tax rates, leaving the United States with the highest corporate tax rate in the developed word. At the same time, the system has become full of inef

    July 29, 2014

  • Israel and the U.S.: Whose survival instinct is stronger? There’s something darkly coincidental in the fact that the latest weapon to be deployed against the survival instinct of both Israel and the United States is an alleged “heartlessness” when it comes to children. The people of Israel are castigated in

    July 29, 2014

  • College cost isn't big problem for poor students To judge by this summer’s banner policy proposals, the most important question for higher-education reform right now is giving students easier access to loans. But evidence from Canada suggests those changes won’t address the greater need: Getting mo

    July 29, 2014

  • Ducks, geese a blessing I would like to respond to the “Geese and ducks causing problems in Veterans Park” article that was published in the Mt. Vernon Register-News on July 16, 2014. I must share that I do understand that at times there have been a great number of the Cana

    July 29, 2014

  • Money not always the answer I really have to stop and think sometimes. I challenge my thought processes when I write these columns. I am having a hard time with this one. It appears to me that every time a governmental agency or any of the entities that spend other people’s mon

    July 29, 2014

  • Teachers unions' destructive behavior You can always count on the national teachers unions to behave badly at their annual conventions, and they certainly didn’t let us down this month. In doing so, however, they let down many of their members, along with students who are working hard to

    July 26, 2014

  • Workers of the world, curb your ambitions A group of Democrats introduced legislation this week to protect low-paid shift workers from last-minute changes in their schedules. The idea fits into an intriguing category of economic activism: Not trying to lift low-paid workers out of poverty, n

    July 26, 2014

  • State of the reunion ‘Katy! It’s been so long! How’ve you been?”My God, she’s gained so much weight I didn’t recognize her. It’s a good thing we’re all wearing nametags. I thought it was some distant cousin past due with triplets.“Bob! Long time, no see.”No hair, either.

    July 26, 2014

  • Fear indifference ‘Perhaps the Catholic church would volunteer to pony up some cash for the illegals’ care then? Hmm?”“Pope should stay out of it. Matter of civil laws, not church laws.”“Thinking that the pope should want the illegals to go to Argentina to get better

    July 25, 2014

  • A push for felon voting rights If advocates have their way, voting rights could be a new reality for the nation’s incarcerated.Full voting rights for felons is as hot a topic in Washington as voting rights in reverse pushed by voter-ID-tickled Republicans. But with new legislation

    July 25, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks