The Village

  • The Republic Holds: Why Hostage Negotiations Don’t Work in America

    Oct 17, 2013. Written by Anthony Hales

    Over the past two months, we have watched a drama play out in the nation’s Capital that left our government shuttered and close to defaulting on its debt obligations.

    However, even at the most gridlocked moments of this crisis, the press all but predicted how this situation would end. The House Republicans would eventually relent on their demands to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and the GOP would bear the brunt of the public’s anger.

    While some hardliners would argue that a prolonged holdout would have led to a different outcome; nothing could be further from the truth. America does not negotiate with terrorists; neither foreign nor domestic.

    This is a principle that goes back to the very foundation of our republic as it was spelled out in the Federalist #10. It was the Republican Party forefather James Madison himself that advocated for a large and dynamic republic as a means of preventing small factions from pushing their agenda on the larger population. Anyone who thought that this debt ceiling crisis would end by any other means is advised to go back and read Madison’s writing.

    While everyone is entitled to their political positions and members of congress should definitely stand up for their beliefs; America has established a series of processes by which political changes are enacted and hostage negotiations are simply not one of them.

    This is not a partisan matter either as a similar move by democrats would have ended the same. While this is not to say that any group in the minority has to automatically cave to the interests of their counterparts, we must learn to live with political realities.

    In the neighborhood basketball games that filled the spare time of my youth, there was one kid who would bring the basketball and respond to any loss by essentially taking his ball and going home. Eventually we got tired of his shenanigans, bought a new ball and stopped inviting him to the games. That was no way to operate a pick-up basketball game and definitely is not a way to operate a country.

    Lawmakers who would rather take their ball and go home instead of dealing with political realities should stay there. Unlike my pick-up basketball games, these decisions carry serious consequences.

    Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves out of work, dozens of Headstart programs came to the brink of collapse and kids undergoing NIH clinical trials for cancer found themselves locked out of their possible life-saving treatments. Despite the commentators insistence on picking out winners and losers, there is really only one winner in this debacle; the republic, she served the purpose that she was designed to fulfill.

    Hopefully, all of our political leaders have learned a lesson; that shuttering the government is not an acceptable negotiation tactic. Too many lives are disrupted and ultimately it is a waste of resources. May all those who wish to revisit this strategy in the future fail and may the republic hold strong.