Posts Tagged ‘Obama administration’

Senator Max Baucus (D) of MontanaAs a mediator, I have a hard time watching how our country is operating right now, both internationally and domestically.  I see this every day in the micro context of my mediation cases and in the macro context of our headlines.  And yet people just keep trying to get ahead by attempting to suppress each other without recognizing that they are actually working against their own best interests.

For example, in “Obama Offers to Use Some G.O.P. Healthcare Proposals,” New York Times reporter David Herszenhorn writes, “Mr. Obama announced his plans to work on the Republican suggestions in a letter to Congressional leaders of both parties.  But his main point was one Republicans did not welcome:  that Democrats would press ahead with comprehensive legislation over the minority party’s objections.”

The reason we have so much litigation in America (especially in California) is that defendants so rarely understand that their actions often guarantee a lawsuit.  When one party suppresses another to the point of pain or powerlessness, the injured party feels he or she has little choice but to retaliate.  Plaintiffs choose litigation because it may be the only legal way to inflict suffering – loss of control, unfavorable publicity, monetary awards, punitive damages, etc. – of the caliber the defendant will understand and respond to.

As a result, defendants are often responsible for creating the emotional monster on the other side of the table. When plaintiffs believe every other door has been slammed in their faces, they become enraged enough to flex their muscles in the only remaining venue where they stand a chance of having a level playing field.  Of course, the same is true in the other direction, with plaintiffs sometimes overreaching, leaving the defense with no choice but to go to trial, and fight back with a vengeance.

What makes mediation work is the introduction of a neutral third party.  Having an unbiased person at the table can bring big picture perspective into the room when all others are mired in the fog of their power games and can’t or won’t see another approach.  Perspective is a mediator’s greatest qualification.

That’s why President Obama can’t be the mediator of all the controversial congressional reforms:  healthcare, job creation and financial system accountability, to name a few.  He has a dog in the fight and he’s one party’s (read: extreme’s) leader.  If he were serious about leading, he’d appoint a neutral person who could bring with them reason and perspective.  A real neutral, who wouldn’t be a politician campaigning for re-election, would turn off the cameras, close the door, and encourage everyone to disclose his or her needs, pressures and underlying interests in the privacy and confidentiality of the mediation process.

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Late last month, New York Times writer Steven Greenhouse reported that the Obama Administration will seek to “prod” companies to improve wages and benefits by altering how the federal government awards contracts.  Companies in violation of labor and environmental laws will be disqualified while those that offer “better” pay, pensions, health plans and other benefits will receive more favorable consideration.  The goal is “to lift more families into the middle class.”  See “Plan to Seek Use of U.S. Contracts as a Wage Lever.”

Isn’t that a pendulum swinging too far to the left in response to having swung too far right during the previous administration?

Any group who feels suppressed will eventually attempt to dominate its suppressors. Employees who felt their rights were neglected under Bush now will secure their immediate future by making business owners experience the same pain and frustration that workers did, ensuring that leadership rallies and flexes their muscles as soon as they regain power.  Today, the majority of our politicians perpetuate this “us vs. them” mentality through extreme rhetoric to ensure their own re-election, and what passes for the news media these days assists them because the conflict drives readership.

If management didn’t view laborers as nameless, faceless commodities, and if labor didn’t view management as greedy fat cats trying to amass wealth at the expense of the laborer’s health, security and dignity, then capitalism could actually thrive.  But when management exploits labor, causing — and I mean causing — labor to organize and elect a politician who is almost socialist-leaning whose followers believe that a CEO’s salary should be determined by a multiple of the average worker’s pay, then it’s no wonder we end up with lawmakers who believe restraints on commerce are good ideas if they can force business to conform to the latest political thought (and I use that term loosely).  It’s no surprise that management outsources work to third-world countries!

The problem is our leaders are trying to resolve conflict through power struggles, rather than collaboration (or even cooperation), using polarizing positions instead of reasonableness, and a process of trying to win over “them”, rather than trying to win them over.  This short-sighted self interest in taking back the hill just lost only ensures another battle over the same hill with renewed insurgency from the defeated.  But do our politicians recognize how entrenched they are?  No, they just know they need to take the hill, whether that hill is healthcare or taxes or a village in Iraq.

Operating this way without seeing the big picture guarantees that the pendulum will continue to swing wildly between extremes and that career politicians will continue to be extremists rather than leaders.  What we need is a leader who leads with reason, rather than one who simply turns the power of the position the opposite direction from his or her predecessor.  Perhaps then we will have less conflict (too often intentional) and more actual leadership.

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