I have referred to the health care reform debate several times in this blog. But it occurs to me now that it is a bad example of dispute resolution or mediation. It has been a year since Michael Scherer called Barak Obama the “mediator-in-chief” in an article in Time magazine. Despite the President’s considerable mediation talents, the negotiations seem to be going nowhere. The reason, it seems to me, is that no one is considering the alternatives to a negotiated agreement. Mediators are trained to get the participants to look at their best and worst alternatives (BATNA and WATNA). But Congress does not seem to be doing that. Why? Because there is no sword of Damocles, no trial date, nor any deus ex machina that will resolve the issue one way or the other if the parties do not do it themselves. Without such a final win-lose end game, the parties merely stick to their positions, waiting for the other side to blink.
So until someone figures out how to impose such an end game, I am going to quit referring to the health care reform debate as an example of mediation. You cannot have alternative dispute resolution without alternatives. Until someone figures out what those are, it is all politics. And that is very different.