Hostage Negotiation


Speaking for myself only.

The metaphor of the week is that folks whose unemployment is running out and middle-class taxpayers are hostages taken by the Republicans so they can demand their tax cuts for the ultra-rich. Our president is telling us that he’s playing the role of hostage negotiator, and he’s doing what he has to do to make sure the hostages don’t get hurt. Those of us who don’t want to see those tax cuts for the ultra-rich, then, are immature and irresponsible for wanting to put the hostages in harm’s way.

I can live with this metaphor, but there’s still a problem with the logic.

A crisis hostage negotiator has one overriding goal: get the hostages out alive. He has to maintain control of the situation, so he can’t immediately give the hostage-taker whatever he wants. Hostage negotiators employ stalling tactics and engage in discussions of details with the captors to prolong the situation and forestall an impasse. Hostage negotiators work to secure the release of some hostages in exchange for some progress on the hostage-takers’ demands. Hostage negotiators work to lower the stakes and prevent disaster.

Hostage negotiators never willingly let the hostage-taker get everything they are demanding and get away with the hostages. Because then the hostage-taker can keep on using the hostages and the situation isn’t over, or the hostage-taker can just kill them anyway now that he has what he wants.

As I see it, the tax cut / unemployment compromise does keep a lot of people from losing their unemployment checks for the moment, but the Republicans can continually hold these same people hostage in future. Or kick them off unemployment just because they want to, when the deal expires, and not negotiate a new deal. This does nothing to change the hostage situation — it just forestalls the moment of reckoning. And in exchange for that:

  • We’d be blowing an even bigger hole in the Federal deficit by letting the Republicans give a hand-out to the ultra-rich (and Dems would take the blame for it), and giving Republicans more ammunition to open fire on the programs that help the poor and unemployed and that, in the face of yawning deficits, they’ll claim we can’t afford.
  • AND as part of the deal, we’d be blowing a major — perhaps fatal — hole in Social Security.
  • Meanwhile, the one group that would see their taxes actually increase under the Obama compromise is the poor.

A good hostage negotiator might make a deal that gets the long-term unemployed out of the line of fire by forcing the Republicans to agree to real actions that would create jobs and get the economy moving again.

A good hostage negotiator might stall for time while others apply pressure to the hostage-taker in other ways to force the crisis to an end — by, say, mobilizing public opinion against the Republicans for demanding tax cuts for the ultra-rich, something a straight-up majority of the country opposes.

But I don’t see how a good hostage negotiator would give the Republicans everything they want (and more besides!) and let them keep the hostages to play this game again in a year or so.