Saturday, August 9, 2008

Courage and creativity can change a mundane negotiation into a history-altering accomplishment

I can speculate about the "negotiations" between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. I can imagine the different variables in play, who has what bargaining chips, and think through how each side might each use its power to its advantage. But details and the consequences remain elusive, even as a matter of speculation.

When it comes to negotiation their are at least two aspects of unpredictability that make it difficult for even the negotiating parties - let alone a far outside observer like me - to be sure of what, precisely, is being negotiated. Even as a negotiation proceeds, each party's ends may change; the process of negotiation can be reflexive, with developments within and without the negotiation setting shifting who is bargaining for what, and hence how the bargaining goes. Often a negotiation's most significant consequences are not even imagined at the time of the negotiation.

A particularly good example of both the reflexive nature of negotiation and the ways in which it can ripple way beyond what the parties were thinking at the time of the bargaining is the Louisiana Purchase. Most people know one or two things about the Louisiana Purchase: that it involved purchasing land from the French or that it doubled the size of the United States' territory at the time it happened. But the details and full implications of the Louisiana Purchase are difficult to hold in one's mind. The same will be true, in my opinion, of the current negotiations about the Democratic National Convention and its nominating process. Recognizing the unpredictability of the long-term consequences of a contemporary negotiation, I do believe that the continued viability of The Democratic Party, and even the health of our country, will be significantly affected by the outcome of the Clinton-Obama negotiation.

In the early 1800s, what began as a relatively simple land deal - an authorization from President Jefferson to pay the French not more than a specified sum for access to or control over the ports of New Orleans and Florida - ended up as a complex arrangement involving intricate financing and countries and regions that seemingly would not be involved. The negotiation also ended up with the negotiators paying a price that far exceeded the President's specified sum, without his permission, in order to seize the unanticipated opportunity to purchase all the land from the Missippi Delta to the Rocky Mountains. This opportunity arose because France, the presumptively more powerful party to the negotiation, ended up sufficiently weakened by an uprising against the French in Hispaniola led by former slave Toussaint L'Ouverture, that France became eager to be out of the American empire business. So, James Monroe and Robert Livingston, acting on behalf of the United States spent over seven times the amount originally specified for the simple land deal, and one third above their ultimate authorization from President Jefferson and bought the entire Louisiana Territory. This deal doubled the preexisting size of the United State and opened up a vast area of territory now occupied by many of today's states.

The foregoing is an oversimplified sketch of the negotiation that resulted in the Louisiana Purchase. The Clinton-Obama negotiations are, however, probably at least as complex as this oversimplified account. Whatever the intricacies of the bargaining, we should expect the Clinton-Obama negotiators to display whatever creativity and courage are needed to yield as good a result for the Democratic Party that Monroe and Livingston managed on behalf of the young United States of America.


Anonymous Mirlo said...

A complex situation, indeed. We know only fragments of what will influence the negociations and how they will affect the outcome. Chaos theory comes to mind: a seemingly unimportant "ingredient" may change the entire situation and, therefore, outcome. We are all called to juggle the pieces we do know and stay flexible and open. What helps me in this uncomfortable limbo is knowing that I can trust Hillary's judgement, even if some powerful facts are restraining her radius of action AND reading this blog.

Thank you both.

August 10, 2008 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above. The one thing that has kept me sane through the summer is knowing how truly intelligent and clever Senator Clinton is. I know that we can trust her judgement, and that regardless of the outcome- the Clinton power in this country isn't going away.

August 10, 2008 at 9:11 AM  

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