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Political gurus offer writers advice

Beltway-types chide Hollywood's strike behavior

Entrenched … uncompromising … lacking an exit strategy or even a Plan B.

No, we’re not talking about Iraq or Congress, but the position the Writers Guild of America may find itself in.

Maybe scribes could take some advice from a few inside-the-Beltway types on lessons to be learned from stalemates and mistakes in Baghdad and on Capitol Hill. There are certainly some parallels to be drawn.

“It’s very easy in politics to get into a box that you find is very hard to get out of,” says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

And the best way to avoid getting into a box in the first place, says John Feehery, a former MPAA lobbyist who’s now a GOP strategist, is to “challenge all of your assumptions. Biggest mistake people make is to overly rely on their assumptions about what will really happen.”

The result: no contingency plans.

Then there’s that little issue of public support.

“Sometimes I have to break the news to clients that the only people who care passionately about their grievances are themselves,” says Eric Dezenhall, once part of the Reagan White House communications office and now a crisis manager. “Before you launch what is in part a PR war, you have to evaluate whether your grievance resonates with people outside of your self-interested clique.”

The Guild could be vulnerable in that regard.

“For the most part in these disputes, the labor side involves people on a downward slope — declining pay, declining work,” says Ornstein. “It’s hard to look at the Guild and feel like we’re talking about people being in a precarious position.”

Which means that fighting for a bigger cut of DVD residuals may not seem exactly like a struggle by writers to keep their heads above water.

“You need to be flexible,” Feehery adds. “You can’t always get what you want, so you’ve got to be flexible to get what you can live with.”

Of course, as in D.C., compromise is often seen as a sign of weakness in Hollywood.

Not to worry, though, if it seems there’s no way for either side to escape that box:

“In politics, hypocrisy is something you have to live with on a daily basis,” says Ornstein. “You’ve always got to find a way to do something you just swore the day before you’d never do.” Instead of “cutting and running,” scribes or execs could try the political tack of declaring victory and leaving the battlefield.

But nobody should feel proud.

“It really ought to make people at both the studios and in the unions look in the mirror when there’s an example of better behavior in Washington,” says Ornstein.

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