Brinkmanship only works in politics if the crises the parties are facing, and their consequences, are unsatisfactory to both parties. If the consequences of a manufactured crisis are only totally unacceptable to one party, or person, in a conflict resolution scenario, you know who’s going to win the showdown at the very outset. That’s precisely what we saw this past week with the high drama in Washington.
Brinksmanship is generically defined as “the practice of pushing dangerous events to the verge of, or to the brink of, disaster in order to achieve the most advantageous outcome.” The government slim-down of the past couple weeks, and the approach this week of the hyped “default” on our debt presented a case study in brinkmanship by parties which, if we studied their motives and priorities, we could have, and did, presciently predict the outcome.
But to understand why the House “blinked” and the president didn’t, we need to understand the motivations for both positions. The president and his team like crises, because they are opportunities for them. The president’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel infamously declared, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “Never waste a good crisis.”
This perspective reflects the most common transliteration of the Chinese character for crisis, where the two components represent “danger” and “opportunity.” The administration made it clear five years ago that crises represented opportunity to them, as Emanuel completed his thought, “And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Coupled with the “crisis is opportunity” theorem, the presidential hubris and narcissism guarantees that he will get his way, regardless of the consequences. Dr. Sam Vaknin, an Israeli psychologist and globally recognized expert on narcissism has stated of Obama, “should he be subjected to psychological testing, for instance, to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is a classical tool for diagnosing narcissism, or to the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), I have no doubt in my mind that he will be diagnosed as a classical, malignant, psychopathic narcissist.”
One of those tests includes what he calls “pronoun density,” which refers to how many times one says “me,” “my,” “I,” and “myself,” in a single sentence unnecessarily, especially in places where you could have substituted other, more appropriate pronouns. Vaknin, describing a piece that he wrote in July 2008, said, “Obama’s pronoun density is three times the average pronoun density of a psychopathic narcissist. I mean, that’s how bad it was. That is a major clinical sign.” Predictably, one of the characteristics of narcissists is that, filled with their own sense of inflated self-importance and self-admiration, they don’t capitulate. They’re going to get their way, regardless of the cost.
On the other side of the negotiations (which really never occurred since Obama ostentatiously refused to do so), was the House of Representatives, comprised of a politically and ideologically diverse group of 435 individuals, 232 of which are Republicans, most “in name only.” However, there is a group of 46 within the House that are driven by a set of principles, rather than a personality or a plenary rule for crisis management. Their convictions, which got them elected from their respective districts, are reduction of the national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing government spending and taxes.
Ironically, the mainstream media, and left-leaning politicians, refer often to the caucus of 46 within the House as extremists or radicals. I often wonder if those applying such appellations think of themselves, or their frugal spouses, as radicals or extremists, if they’re penurious in their own lives. Or is economic illiteracy so rampant among the political elite and the mainstream media that unconstrained spending, without regard for paying for accumulated debt, is somehow unreasonable; hence, “radical” or “extreme?”
Other than their conviction toward prudent and measured fiscal matters, their penultimate shared value is patriotism. If there was a Hippocratic Oath equivalent for politicians, they would be the first to take it, vowing to “do no harm.” The republic, after all, is perpetuated more logically by disciplined fiscal policy than by profligate, unrestrained and irresponsible spending. The latter hastens the day of impending financial collapse of the dollar and the entire economy, as the nation races toward an implosion under the weight of a national debt that today exceeds $17 trillion, or 110% of the national GDP, which is now higher than financially troubled Spain’s debt to GDP ratio.
Although default was discretionary to the president and the secretary of the treasury, the House acquiesced to the president’s demands rather than allow for that possibility. And prudently so, for through the sequestration spending cuts, and the recent government “shutdown,” the president has applied spending restrictions as punitively and painfully as possible. It’s disconcerting when the leader of the free world has a temper tantrum over not getting his way, and makes everyone suffer, as he applies the restrictions in a way to make them “as painful as possible.”
In light of these factors, the winners and losers of this past week’s brinkmanship were highly predictable. The winner is the president, and the loser is the nation.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.