Many years ago a trusted advisor explained to me the concept of a "covert contract." He pointed out the fallacy of determining my own behavior strategies by bargaining with myself (i.e., bargaining covertly) instead of with the other participants in my situation (hence, a "covert contract"). This bargain contains the overly optimistic and almost always incorrect assumption that, if I go out of my way to be generous, friendly or accommodating to these other actors, they will in turn respond by helping me get what I want out of the situation.
I see precisely this fallacy in the approach of the Obama
Administration to the Republican Party, first in the long struggle to pass
health-care reform, and subsequently in consumer protection, financial reform,
and other major parts of the Obama agenda.
In health care, it appears that someone in the White House was saying, "If we don't ask for single payer, surely we will get some Republican votes. Oh, we didn't? Well, if we give up the public option, then we will get some votes. Oh, we didn't? Well, let's make sure that Republican ideas that support insurance companies are in the bill (even though insurance companies are the main source of the problem). Oh, still no Republicans? What shall we give away next?"
My point, of course, is that these "compromises" were not brought to any bargaining table and surrendered only as an agreed-upon condition to actually getting some committed Republican votes. These giveaways were determined internally ("covertly") in the White House and then proudly presented as evidence that the Obama Administration was being so nice to the Republicans that they would of course reciprocate with votes. We all know how that worked for us, don't we? (Wink, wink.)
I believe I share with many progressive members of the President's base a deep disappointment over wished-for change that has not yet happened. George Bush and Dick Cheney did not leave the White House in handcuffs on their way to The Hague and the International Court of Justice to be tried and convicted for their admitted war crimes. The US Patriot Act has not yet been rescinded or declared unconstitutional. Gitmo is not yet closed.
Nevertheless, I still believe President Obama is a wonderful, highly intelligent, very decent person who is trying to tackle the largest issues confronting our nation and the world. But covert contracts are not going to get the job done. Worse, they create a symbiotic relationship with the party of "No." These covert contracts are training the Republicans to keep on saying "No." Each time they say "No," they get a better offer.
Yes, there is one really big exception. Some version of health-care reform did get passed. Does it have the teeth to control insurance companies? Does it reduce costs the way a single payer national system would? I fear it won't.
Please, Mr. President, for each of the many items remaining on your agenda, propose the best bill and fight for every facet of it. Don't give any part of it away unless you actually get votes -- preferably signed in blood. No more covert contracts.