Posts Tagged ‘Government shutdown’

First Post of 2019: A Little Game Theory About Building a Wall

January 3, 2019

This was a Facebook post that, as often happens to me, got a little out of hand.  When I realized I’d written an entire article, I decided to just post it here too.  Enjoy!

 

One of the basic elements of game theory is that you need to understand the goals of the players; that is, if you want to predict what a government will do, understand the motives of the people making decisions. Usually, leaders want to maintain power, so they make decisions that will preserve the regime.
 
It takes a lot of work to make decisions for the nation rather than one’s own faction or oneself; it takes effort to realize that one needs to preserve the nation if one wants to have something to lead, it takes effort to be humble and honorable enough to think first of the interests of the nation and of the majority of citizens, it takes effort to find what will help the nation and do that. It takes very little effort to act on one’s own whim, follow one’s gut, do what one’s own inner demons say will make one happy in the moment.
 
#Dolt45 proudly avoids thinking, acting on impulse. He and the entire GOP have been saying that unless he gets $5 billion for a wall that can provide his base with a visual aid, a sort of security theater that won’t do much but will make them feel safer & more powerful, then his personal presidency is over.
 
He understands that he’ll look foolish if he doesn’t win. His words to Schumer and Pelosi are like the first conversation he had with the president of Mexico, back in January 2017, when the Trump “presidency” was a week old: you have to give me what I want because if you don’t I’ll look foolish. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/8/3/16089160/trump-nieto-call-mexico-wall and https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/01/trump-says-hed-look-foolish-if-he-agreed-to-reopen-the-government-without-wall-funding.html
 
And THAT, people, is what all of this is all about. A foolish, impulsive, selfish person, who lacks the moral or intellectual ability to be aware of anything besides his own wants and needs, is aware of only one thing: that he’ll look foolish and lose power if he doesn’t get his wall, at taxpayer expense.
 
The fact that some rich donors are also getting richer through this fight—through for-profit prisons for immigrants, through the possibility of lucrative construction contracts and so on—-is just a helpful dividend, part of what helps him to get others to support his purely ego-driven “policy.”
 
Likewise, GOP (Greedy Old Partisans) like McConnell, who have become rich beyond the dreams of avarice through “public service,” see their own power, celebrity and, most importantly, money stream threatened if Trump goes down. They saw their own chances were best if a temporary CR was passed, so initially they agreed 100-0 to keep the government open; but now that #MoronInChief has publicly rejected that solution, they fear that he’ll fall if they stick to what they initially accepted, and that he’ll take them with him. They simply have no incentive to put Country Over Party, and every reason to stick to their partisan guns.
 
And the Democrats have learned that they are dealing with a pack of proven liars, bullies and thieves, who cannot be trusted to keep any secret deals and who, left to their own devices, will destroy the nation itself through mismanagement and even double-dealing with foreign enemies. And by “Democrats” I mean the Democratic base, millions of people, who are pressuring Chuck and Nancy to stop this wall because they know that giving in will show the GOP that bullying, corruption and terrorism work, that democracy and voting and majority rule are for suckers. So the elected Democratic leaders, who represent the majority of the voters in the last election, give in to the minority party, they could find themselves out of office.
 
So that’s the game that’s being played. You have a minority party with lots of institutional political power and the support of most of the rich vs. a new majority that is struggling to turn its majority status into actual political power. The GOP are the Deep State, placing the Democratic Party in the role of revolutionaries and reformers. The leaders of these two parties each want to win for their team and cement their own security by doing so. The GOP Deep State wins if it gets its wall, and loses if it doesn’t, no matter how little good having the wall would do and no matter how much damage they do to the nation and to the millions of people in this nation if the government remains shut down. After all, the majority voted for the Democrats, so hurting the majority of people means hurting enemies of the Republicans, right? And the Democratic leaders win if they stop the wall, making not only #ToddlerInChief but now, by osmosis, every GOP leader look weak and foolish. They would look bad if they seemed to be closing the government for political gain, but #StableGenius has already said he’s proud to own the shutdown; so they have no reason to save him from his own choices.
 
The only way this changes is if the game changes. Either Republicans have to decide it’s in their own interests to override Trump’s veto, or Democrats have to decide to knuckle under to GOP strongarm tactics, thus neutering their party in the short run and committing political suicide (and possibly national suicide) in the mid-to-long run.

A Gamer Looks at Politics: the government shutdown (pt. iv)

October 16, 2013

A Gamer Looks at Politics:  the government shutdown (pt. iv)

So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

—-Gary North

 

Thus far, I have tried to discuss the strategy of the Republican party by looking at its moves.  I have shared my impression that their opposition to health care reform was a political tactic to attempt to win the White House, a tactic which failed; and now, faced with the consequence of having lost their best chance to meaningfully influence the health care debate, they are attempting to derail all reform efforts as part of their ongoing presidential campaigning.  In order to regain the leverage they threw away, they are engaged in political brinksmanship, threatening to essentially destroy the United States as the preeminent nation on the planet unless they are allowed to dictate the terms of its survival.

All of this assumes, however, that the GOP actually wants the nation to survive.  Some clearly are patriots; whether you agree or disagree with their policies, it is obvious that there are millions of Americans, from the rank-and-file to some of the leaders, who deeply love this nation.  In fact, some studies have shown that the more deeply someone loves the symbols of the nation, or the more deeply someone is grateful to the military for its work defending the nation, or the more generally patriotic a person is, the more likely it is that this person will be conservative.  This is not surprising; the person who loves what the nation is will naturally want to conserve it, while the one who wants radical change is likely not to feel any great commitment to things that are or have been.  This does not, however, prove that Republicans as a whole, or as a party, are more or less in love with the nation than are Democrats.

Many Republicans openly doubt that Democrats are committed to this nation.  They view the Democrats as a collection of gays, racial minorities, feminists, non-Christians and the poor who care only about their own little group.  However, when you add up the list of people who are seen as “other” by the people Sarah Palin referred to as “real America,” you find that the really real America is in fact that polyglot, cacophonous amalgam.  No doubt there are still many millions with allegiance more to their own group than to the nation; but for the most part, the old revolutionaries of my childhood have stopped trying to chop holes in the hull of the ship of state, and now spend their energies wrestling over the wheel.

The GOP, on the other hand, has become an alliance of groups that openly admit they do not have the best interests of the nation at heart, if “the nation” is the United States, established according to the Constitution and governed by principles of representative democracy.  For the last forty years, one of the most powerful blocs within the Republican party has been the Evangelicals, or so-called “social conservatives.”  They are impelled by a range of motives.  Some simply love Jesus and seek to express their faith as they understand it.  Some believe that the problems of the nation will be solved if everyone becomes an Evangelical.  Of these, there are two main types:  social conformists and Deuteronomistic patriots.™[1]  Social conformists believe that the greatest problems facing the nation are social division and disagreement; if everyone would just have the same values and goals, all our other problems would quickly vanish. The Deuteronomistic patriots, by contrast, are those Evangelicals whose patriotism is shaped by the view of history that underlies the “Deutonomistic History” in the Old Testament.  The Deuteronomistic History includes the books of First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings, and outlines how God blessed Israel when it followed the covenant with God as described in Deuteronomy, and cursed it when the people broke the covenant.  This way of thinking holds that if the United States suppressed “sin” (such as homosexuality and female equality) then God would protect the nation from harm.[2]  This may be superstition and may be a reaction to the free-floating anxiety many feel, but it is not essentially anti-American.

Many Evangelicals, however, have little allegiance to the United States, precisely because they are Evangelicals.  Many are eschatological anarchists.  They do not care what happens to the United States or the world, because this world is the realm of Satan.  Any strong governmental or quasi-governmental power is likely the future tool of the Antichrist.  Better to have war, genocide, persecution and mass rape than to have the blue-helmets of the United Nations rolling across the landscape with their ever-efficient and all-powerful “Peacekeeper” armies, imposing the world dictatorship of their Secretary General (see the Left Behind books and movies).  Wars, earthquakes, famine, ecological and political disasters are all signs of the End Times, and therefore a good thing; and in particular, war in the Middle East shows that we are one step closer to Armageddon, when Jesus will finally return to rule the world.  Of course, eschatological believers don’t expect to actually have to endure most of these horrors they wish to unleash; they expect the Rapture to carry them away into Heaven before the seas become lifeless and the skies burn (whether from nuclear war, global warming or the star Wormwood).

The other powerful group within Evangelical political thinking are the Dominionists.  This group expects that the kingdom that Jesus will establish for his followers will be on this Earth, once Christians have replaced the representative democracy of the Constitution with a theocracy.  They openly proclaim that they intend to use the democratic institutions to undermine democracy, since democracy means allowing rights to non-evangelicals of all sorts.[3]  To the Christian Dominionist (particularly according to the Christian Reconstructionism advocated by Gary North and Rousas Rushdoony) anything that weakens any aspect of the United States as it exists today is good, because that will help create the power vacuum into which the true followers of Jesus can take over.  They promote the politics and economic theories of Ayn Rand (while ignoring the fact that Rand thought all religious believers were nut jobs more dangerous even than the Communists) because her sort of extreme laissez-faire capitalism means a weak central government unable to prevent a theocratic revolution.  They promote the destruction of all government social services, because they want people to depend entirely on churches for education, health care, and help for the elderly.  They seek to replace public education with homeschooling and religious schools, and promote state vouchers to divert funds from the public school system as a way to weaken it.  They promote fear and hatred of Muslims and other religions, because they want Christianity to be the ruling religious and political power.  They despise most other Christians because the vast majority of Christians would oppose their plans to impose a Mosaic Covenant theocracy on the nation.

To the Evangelical Anarchists, a debt default would be quite literally a godsend, something they will unhesitatingly work towards.  The eschatologists expect to be snatched up into Heaven as the economic and political chaos begins.  The Christian Reconstructionists want to cause political anarchy so they can take over; a national default will force a bankrupt America to shut down, leaving them to take over all functions of government.  And for every self-conscious Christian Anarchist, there are countless others in the Religious Right who endorse these policies without realizing the intent behind them or the inevitable conclusion that would follow if these policies were ever fully implemented.

A second group that has recently coalesced to sabotage democracy is the neo-Confederates, a.k.a. “Tea Party.”[4]            We can argue that the Tea Party is a fraud created by FOX News to gin up ratings (who can forget the footage of a FOX news producer leading the crowds in anti-government chants at a Tea Party rally?[5]) and financed by billionaires seeking tax breaks and weakened consumer protection laws, or that the Tea Party is just a rebranding of the Religious Right.[6]  However, it is also a revival of the political theories and, to a large degree, the aspirations of the Confederacy.  Much of its political theory rests on the writings of John C. Calhoun, the South Carolinian politician who fought long and hard for the preservation of slavery and the rights of Southern states to preserve their “peculiar institution” despite the fact that the pro-slavery vote was a minority view among voters nationwide.[7]  His theories, particularly the Tea Party favorite, “state nullification,” were designed to empower a white population that feared being overrun by non-whites; and even today, the racist motivations of Calhoun’s doctrine haunt Tea Party political thinking like some covert possession by the ghost of the Old South.  In fact, focus group studies have found that racial fears motivate much of the GOP rank-and-file.[8]  There is a widespread perception that “real America” is being swallowed up by racial minorities, gays, non-Christians, and generally people who are not the core Republican demographic:  whites, particularly older white males.  When the Old South saw that its traditional ways were being threatened by increased immigration and the voting strength of the North, Southern politicians like Calhoun began to argue that their states had a right to either leave the Union outright, or to simply ignore all national laws they didn’t like.  Today, the neo-Confederates see the future, where gays can get married and whites will be a minority and Muslims will soon reach 2% of the population and become the second-largest religious group in America; and they don’t like that future any more than Calhoun liked the idea of blacks voting.  It isn’t usually hatred, exactly; I wouldn’t call it “racism” as much as “xenophobia.”  It is just a fear that these new voters will change things for the worse, that they are not yet ready for the rights and burdens of democracy, and that their political aspirations have to be suppressed until they are.  And if it takes wrecking the greatest superpower the world has ever seen to save that romanticized, “Father Knows Best” world a little longer, that is a small price to pay.

As a game player, all of this does make a certain sense to me.  After all, as I look at the moves and try to determine the strategies of both parties, it certainly seems as if one party is consistently pushing the nation closer and closer to a complete breakdown.  Why do that, if you seriously love this nation and want to preserve it?  Simply because of a misreading of Ayn Rand?[9]  Or is their patriotism more like the love a weak, insecure man professes for his wife right before beating her, until he finally kills her rather than lose control of her?  Or, perhaps, is the solution to the mystery to reject the initial premise, that they love America at all?

Plato compared the state to a ship, and the leader to a captain.  If the GOP is the would-be captain, then Calhoun is the iceberg-lover who drew its chart; the Tea Party is the First Mate who wants to crash the vessel against as many icebergs as it takes to sink it; and the Religious Right is the pilot who believes that ramming through icebergs is the only way to reach Tahiti.  It seems logical, given the fact that we have seen the GOP steer straight for the iceberg of default more than once, to conclude that at least part of its strategy is dictated by groups that really want to sink the ship.  Perhaps the best analogy is something like “Betrayal at House on the Hill,”  “Battlestar Galactica” or “Are You a Werewolf?”   Some of the players are trying to solve the problem, but one or more are actually trying to sabotage the group.  Ostensibly, they seem to be cooperating; but when the moment is right the traitor turns on them and tries to feed the whole group to the monsters or robots or whatever.

As I write this, the news is that the Senate is struggling to find a plan to avoid default on the national debt and reopen the government, while the Tea Party, or anarchists, or neo-Confederates, or Cylons or werewolves (choose your term) in the House of Representatives argue that default is not a bad thing after all, and is certainly better than allowing Obama to win by letting the Affordable Care Act begin to go into effect.   Putting everything together and reflecting on the results, it seems very likely that the Tea Party will refuse any real compromise, demanding either surrender or default.  Most of their constituents have less stake in preserving the United States or avoiding another economic meltdown than they have in promoting their anti-national agenda.  In essence, they are gambling with someone else’s money, since they win even if they (and we) go broke.  Boehner and McConnell have to decide whether to let them stay in the game, knowing they will flip the table if they get mad, or kick them out of the room so the party leaders can finish the game with the Democrats as strongly as they can.  Given the tensions in Team GOP, it is really hard to predict what its next move will be.  Are the Republicans going to play “Presidential Monopoly,” read the polls that show the public demands a solution, and try to find one?  Or are they going to play “Werewolf” and try to win by destroying the group?

The Democrats seem to be made up of some who mix of “Sim City” or “Civilization,” trying to build a strong nation by balancing taxes, infrastructure, military and economic development, while others play “Monopoly” and try to get as many government services (utilities and railroads) and different colors (purples, greens, etc.) as they can.  They don’t want to play “Werewolf” anymore, and are refusing to play anything if that is their only choice.  Given that the Democratic games are more pragmatic and less paranoid, they will probably seek to make some sort of a deal.  However, they are winning the “Monopoly” game and have little reason to give up.  Also, they may not fully realize that the their opponents are playing a different game, and may not want to “win” at all.

Since the Democrats assume that the Republicans are still playing Presidential Monopoly, as they are, they will interpret the GOP intransigence as a political tactic, one which is backfiring or which is designed to help particular Republican Congressmen but not the party as a group.  If the GOP leadership can rally the “moderates,” then this is in fact the game they will be playing, and at the last possible moment, when both sides believe they have extracted as much as they can from the other, they will end this.  But if the GOP is led by the Tea Party, the game will become more like Russian Roulette with one player who is suicidal and another who doesn’t realize the gun is really loaded.  The Tea Party and Evangelicals will gladly pull the trigger for both sides.


[1] All right, I can’t trademark “Deuteronomistic patriots;” nevertheless, I coined the phrase and I am laying claim to it. Until I drop anonymity, please footnote the phrase and attribute it to “Philosophical Scraps” if you use it.

[2] This sort of thinking underlies the claim by Rev. Falwell and Rev. Robertson that the 9/11 attacks took place because of the widespread feminism and liberalism of the United States in the 1990’s, that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because of the Gay Pride parade held in the French Quarter earlier that year, or that Hurricane Sandy was punishment for legalized abortion.

[3] See for example Deborah Caldwell’s exposé, “The Far-Right Christian Movement Driving the Debt Default,” Huffington Post, 10-14-2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-caldwell/christian-dominionism-debt-default-_b_4097017.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 )

[4] Bruce Bartlett, “For Many Hard-Liners, Debt Default is the Goal;” New Republic 10-14-2013 (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/14/for-many-hard-liners-debt-default-is-the-goal/?partner=yahoofinance&_r=0 ) ; also Michael Lind, “The South is Holding America Hostage,” Salon, 10-13-2013 (http://www.salon.com/2013/10/13/the_south_is_holding_america_hostage/)

[5] Danny Shea, “Fox News Producer Caught Rallying 9/12 Protest Crowd in Behind-the-Scenes Video,” 11-19-2009, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/19/fox-news-producer-caught_n_292529.html)

[6] Chadwick Harvey, “Tea Party Activists are just Evangelicals in Colonial Disguise;” PolicyMic 6-26-2012 (http://www.policymic.com/articles/10086/tea-party-activists-are-just-evangelicals-in-colonial-disguise)

[7] Sam Tnenhaus, “Original Sin:  Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to be the Party of White People;” New Republic, 2-10-2013 (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112365/why-republicans-are-party-white-people)

[8] Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Erica Seifert, “Inside the GOP:  Report on Focus Groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and Moderate Republicans;” Democracy Corps,10-3-2013 (http://www.democracycorps.com/Republican-Party-Project/inside-the-gop-report-on-focus-groups-with-evangelical-tea-party-and-moderate-republicans/)

[9] ANYONE who claims to be a Christian and to be a follower of Ayn Rand has definitely misread Ayn Rand.

A Gamer Looks at Politics: the government shutdown (pt. iii)

October 15, 2013

A Gamer Looks at Politics:  the government shutdown (pt. iii)

 

The power to destroy a thing is the power to control it.

—– Frank Herbert, Dune

 

            And that really points to the problem that led to today’s government shutdown.  Government is not a zero-sum game; as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.  Government is more like a role-playing game, or Pandemic, where everyone profits by cooperation.  But politics is a zero-sum game.  If either side is playing politics rather than governing, then that side profits from confrontation and obstruction more than from real negotiation; if both sides are seriously interested in bargaining, then they can attempt to gain what each really wants and needs without denying the other some sort of achievement.  For example, the medical instruments tax, which Republicans have assailed, could be dropped if there was a way to replace the funding; unlike the Bush-era Medicare expansion, the Democratic reform at least attempts to pay for itself.  So let’s repeal that part of Obamacare, giving the Republicans what they say they need:  a way to save face by saying they at least achieved something.  And in exchange, they could agree to another way to pay for the bill that doesn’t involve simply massively increasing the debt, as they themselves did under Bush, and doesn’t involve slashing other Democratic programs so the Democrats end up funding the Republican “compromise.”  How about if Republicans agree to raise taxes on the über-rich, thus beginning to address the vast wealth gap that even conservative economists like Kevin Phillips believe is a threat the U.S. and world economies?  Or perhaps we could put a national sales tax on guns, just as other legal but health-and-society damaging products like tobacco and alcohol are taxed.  The point is that Republicans say they want to negotiate and compromise; those words mean “I will give up this if you give me that.”  Compromise does not mean, “You give up that, and I will graciously accept your surrender.” 

            The government shutdown we face today is solely due to the fact that the Republicans were playing a long game in their campaign to recapture the White House in 2012, and they lost.  Rather than try to fix what they saw as a flawed bill, they chose to pass on the chance to negotiate and obtain a bipartisan health care reform package.  Instead, they gambled that by refusing to negotiate or compromise, they could deny legitimacy to all attempts at health care reform and thus deny legitimacy to President Obama.  This was a gamble, and they lost. In 2009 they had tremendous leverage; Obama badly wanted health care reform, was a new President who wanted to be seen as a uniter, and was still a novice to bare-knuckles politics.  By forgoing the opportunity to contribute and possibly even dominate the healthcare reform discussion, they tipped their hand.  In 2013, they are bargaining with a President who has given the orders that have killed or captured hundreds of terrorists (and many terrorist-adjacent), and one who has been told, by Republicans, for four years, that Republicans have no interest in negotiating seriously with him on health care, or any other matter of substance.  As another President tried to say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  So the Republicans are attempting to negotiate after they themselves slammed shut the window for negotiation, against an opponent who has good reason to be suspicious of them; and they don’t have much positive to offer.  Therefore, they must rely on gaining some leverage, by any means necessary, to try to force not negotiations, but surrender.  And the one way to force an opponent to capitulate is to threaten to destroy something that the opponent cares about.  By threatening to destroy the United States’ credit rating and permanently cripple the nation, the Republicans (particularly the Tea Party, with the active cooperation of so-called “moderates”) hope to force the Democrats to surrender.  Again they are gambling, this time gambling that the Democrats love their nation more than their political goals.

A Gamer Looks at Politics: the government shutdown (pt. ii)

October 11, 2013

A Gamer Looks at Politics:  the government shutdown (pt. ii)

 

If you must negotiate, watch your enemy’s eyes.

   Klingon proverb

 

            The politics of the health care debate are thus clear.  First, the Republicans did not want to negotiate; they wanted to repeal and replace—repeal the law and replace Obama.  They lost.  In the game of Presidential Monopoly, they lost because the Democrats had more spaces they could collect on, and the Republicans managed to hit every one.  The Democrats had all those properties the Republicans mortgaged to put up those luxury hotels— the women’s space, the immigrant Americans space, the moderate’s space, the young people, and on and on.  But to ease up on the game metaphor a bit, they gave Americans a choice:  vote Romney and stop Obamacare, or vote for Obama and let this “terrible” bill stand.  And despite misgivings about the bill, I think most Americans want health care reform.[1]  Any politician who had come up with a genuine way to improve this bill, or even made an honest attempt, would probably have been lauded nationwide.  However, as they say, “all politics is local,” even when government is national; what is good for the nation is not necessarily what is good reelection and campaign contributions, and what is bad for the nation can be good politics. 

            The game now is not “stop Obama.”  He will not be president after the next election.  But the game is not “save the nation” either.  At this point, the game is “shut down the government.”  That is why 80 Republican congressional representatives said in August that the Republican Party should shut down the government.[2]  Any Republican who calls this “Obama’s Shutdown” is a bald-faced liar; but as a political move, it is a shrewd ploy, an attempt to get the benefits of shutting down the government while avoiding the blame.  Complaining that the Democrats won’t negotiate with them is, from an historical perspective, absurd; the Republicans refused to negotiate when they had the chance, preferring to force the Democrats to pass a bill without a single Republican vote even though it had more Republican ideas than it did Democratic ideas, just so they could run against the bill in the presidential campaign.  Since so many members of the Tea Party won election by opposing Obamacare, and government in general, they are still playing that trench-warfare political game. 

            Democrats, looking at Republican moves to divine their strategy, have concluded that the Republicans are not serious about wanting to merely delay or modify.  The Republicans have stated repeatedly that they wanted, above all else, to break health care reform as part of their strategy to capture the White House.  Democrats are reacting to what they perceive to be the Republican game.  Since they believe that Republicans are not serious in wanting to negotiate and are simply playing politics, the Democrats refuse to engage.  And, given statements from Republicans confirming this perception, Democrats have some reason to be suspicious.  For example, Senator Ted Cruz says “It is the view of every Republican … that Obamacare should be entirely and completely repealed.  Nonetheless, the House started with a compromise of saying not repealing Obamacare but simply that it should be defunded.”  It seems that they are not playing the negotiation game, but rather something more like a shell game, where one side keeps the ball moving until he can steal it without the other side noticing.

            Republicans, for their part, are also looking at the Democrats and trying to deduce what game they are playing.  Research has shown that most Republican voters are nostalgic for the “white majority America” that they remember from the 1950’s (primarily a romanticized 1950’s they watched on television and remember from childhood, not the one with lynchings and blacklisting and “duck and cover” drills in school).[3] They see Obamacare as a conspiracy to win Democratic votes by appealing to “those other people,” those gays or blacks or browns or Muslims or etc.  by giving them things.  Both the Republican leadership and the rank-and-file fear that if the Affordable Care Act is ever implemented, it might just succeed in giving people health care, and that people might like being able to get health care without fear of bankruptcy or of being dropped by their health insurer through no fault of their own.  Republicans believe that if people like the Affordable Health Care Act, they will become lifelong Democrats and that will be the end of the Republican party; and they believe that Democrats are simply playing presidential politics as well, offering a government giveaway for no reason other than to buy votes.    And most likely, the Affordable Care Act was just as serious or cynical a move as was the unfunded, $7 trillion program from the Bush administration, Medicare D, which no Republican presidential candidate spoke out against.[4]   This addressed an actual problem; it also violated core conservative principles by being a massive unfunded entitlement, though it appeals most directly to the core Republican constituency. 

To be continued….


[1] Hell, my own father, a medical doctor for well over forty years, said back the 1980’s that the medical business had changed so much that he wouldn’t advise anyone to become a doctor.  There were simply too many private-sector insurance bureaucrats and too many government bureaucrats between him and his patients.  He never wanted socialized medicine, having been a doctor in the Navy for four years; but the HMOs were not much better to work for.  If even a successful surgeon and leader in the state AMA recognized that American health care needed to change, how much more likely is it that the patients will suspect that something has to change before the whole thing collapses?  They are the ones who have to change doctors because their physician is no longer “in the network,” who have to wait until their kid’s ear infection causes 105º fever so they can get treated in the emergency room for free, or have to pay $100 for an aspirin in a hospital to cover the bill of the kid with the earache and life-threatening fever who came in last night and can’t pay his bill.

[3] See Democracy Corps, “Inside the GOP: Report on Focus Groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, And Moderate Republicans;” Oct. 3, 2013 (http://www.democracycorps.com/Republican-Party-Project/inside-the-gop-report-on-focus-groups-with-evangelical-tea-party-and-moderate-republicans/)

[4] Associated Press, “GOP 2012 Candidates Opposed to Repealing Bush-Era Medicare Drug Benefit;” Sept. 18, 2011 (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/09/18/gop-2012-candidates-opposed-to-repealing-unfunded-medicare-drug-benefit/)

A Gamer Looks at Politics: the government shutdown (pt. i)

October 8, 2013

A Gamer Looks at Politics:  the government shutdown (pt. i)

 

 

Hey, did you get starside R and D?

 -No.  I got Games and Theory.

Games and Theory?  That’s military intelligence.

 

—–Starship Troopers, directed by Paul Verhoeven, Tristar Pictures/Touchstone Pictures/Big Bug Pictures, 1997

 

 

I am not a political scientist.  I have read some political science, and I’ve read a fair amount of political philosophy.  The main difference between the two is that political science says, “Hey, I only built the bomb; I didn’t drop it on anybody;” while political philosophy looks at whether one ought to drop the bomb, or whether it is a bomb or a tool, destructive or useful, good or evil, what purpose it ought to serve.  The political scientist says, “Appeal to the people’s fears, hatreds, lusts, and you will win power;” the political philosopher says, “Appeal to the negative may win in the short run, but it will destroy the society, the people and the one who gains power that way.”  But I am not primarily interested in writing as a philosopher, either, except insofar as I might not bother writing at all if I did not think it was important.  I am interested in tapping my decades of experience as a gamer.  I am old-school.  I began with chess and Stratego and Risk as a child, graduated to Avalon Hill and SPI in the 1970’s.  I have played the part of Eisenhower and von Rundstedt, Ben-Gurion and Bismark, and sent the Jesuits to burn the Lutheran heretics.  In 1975 I learned Dungeons and Dragons, and from there played nearly a dozen different RPGs.  I’ve also played my share of computer games; but IMHO they lack the personal experience.  When you play in the same room with the other players, you play the person, not the system.  You learn to “watch your enemy’s eyes,” gauge not just the board but also the manner of the person.  I have not always won, but I have at least been a challenge in most of the games I’ve played. I consider myself a competent strategist.

One lesson I’ve learned as a gamer is that games are not just games.  They are fragments of life, distilled until just the elements that the game designer and players care about are left.  Monopoly was originally designed to show the dangers of unrestrained capitalism, as players spread bankruptcy and ruin across the board.  The players, of course, tend to be more interested in being one of those filthy capitalists; but even though the game has drifted far from its original roots, elements of even this abstract and silly game show harsh economic realities.  Military academies have played war games for centuries, rehearsing strategies and defending against hypothetical threats; the Pearl Harbor attack was carried out after Japanese military leaders realized, after playing various military scenarios, that the only chance they had for a crushing victory was a surprise attack.  As a philosopher, I read that Ludwig Wittgenstein argues in his Philosophical Investigations that all human language, and thus all thought and behavior, can be explained as “language games.”  We learn what it is to be a person, a citizen, a Christian, a liberal, or a conservative or atheist not by listening to the protestations and assertions of others, but much more simply by watching what moves people make and what rules they seem to be following

Another lesson I learned is that you can’t just assume that everyone is following the same rules or aiming at the same target.  You can’t even assume most people are really aiming at the target they claim to be aiming at.  As Alasdair MacIntyre wrote, the problem in life is that your pawn to K-4 is often answered by your opponent’s back-lob across the net.  We are often playing different games.  Sometimes we don’t even realize the other person is playing a different game; sometimes (unlike “real games”) we don’t even quite realize what game we ourselves are playing.   At times we need to look at what moves we ourselves are making, what goals we are achieving, and then deduce from this what game we are actually playing.

Role-playing games in particular are mini-labs in group dynamics theory.  In RPGs, the players often have disparate individual goals, but must work together to attain some joint goal and in the process realize their individual goals.  A group takes on a life of its own; it is never merely the sum of its parts.  Who is the leader?  Who has the power?  How many ways are there of gaining power in the group, of influencing its direction and goals?  Which of these help group cohesion and functioning?  What ways can one advance one’s status and influence, only to destroy the group altogether and leave one the leader of nothing?

What games are being played now?  The Republicans claim to be trying to negotiate changes to the health-care law; but if they wanted to negotiate, they had years to do so.  In 2009, Democrats were crawling on their knees to beg even one Republican to sign onto the cause of health-care reform; but none would make any suggestions.  On July 20, 2009, Republican Senator Jim DeMint called for the GOP to fight all health care reform, to “just say No,” arguing, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”  So instead of trying to make health care reform better, or even caring about whether health care was good or bad for the country, it was determined the first move in the game of presidential politics would be to fight any and all possible health care reform.  Well before there was any actual health care proposal, Republicans were fighting “Obamacare,” even though Obama was taking a hands-off approach and leaving Congress to work out the particulars.  In the past, one party would propose policy, the other would negotiate changes based on its bargaining position, and eventually enough people on both sides would get what they wanted to convince them to sign on.  Instead of trying to have any influence on health care, Republicans determined to fight it as a way to weaken the President and win control of the government for themselves.  Even when Republican ideas were adopted by Democrats in an attempt to create a health care plan that both sides could accept, the Republicans repudiated ideas put forward by Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation.  If the goal was to negotiate over the health care bill that was being written at that time, this was not even a move; it was walking away from the game.  But the game was not “Operation” or “Let’s Make a Deal;” it was chess, and the Republicans were playing a gambit.  They sacrificed a piece, hoping to gain the initiative and a superior position for the endgame.  By being the Party of Nope, they were able to disavow responsibility for everything that might go wrong, while sacrificing any right to claim any credit for anything that might go right.  They therefore had to make sure nothing went right; so they set out to delay and sabotage.  This is good strategy.  They may have prevented any meaningful improvement on the jobs market, where they said they would have a “laser focus,” but they made staggering gains in the mid-term elections.  In chess terms, they seemed to have made up their initial sacrifice and then some.  They took over most of the state legislatures in time to control the post-census gerrymandering, rewriting the boundaries of congressional districts to give Republicans safe districts even as they were losing national popularity.  But in the midgame, they made a very risky attack, threatening to default on the national debt (most of which represents money spent by Republicans or at least voted for by them).  As a governmental policy, this was a bad move; it damaged the national credit score, probably permanently, which will cost the nation billions of dollars over time.  However, it was not a governmental policy; it was a political move, another step in the presidential campaign.  It was part of the Republican “Presidential Monopoly” game, and part of the individual game of several Republican politicians with presidential ambitions.  And in the personal ambition game, it was an extremely good move; several Tea Party Republicans gained fame and, more importantly, money from PACs and anonymous donors.

The health care battle remained the central strategy in the Republican version of Presidential Monopoly.  Like a player who sells off all the yellows and greens and reds in order to put four motels each on Park Place and Boardwalk, the GOP staked everything on the “No Obamacare” campaign.  And to an extent, they succeeded; they have so tarnished the idea of “Obamacare” that even though a majority of people say they support the Affordable Care Act, a majority also say they oppose Obamacare—completely unaware of the fact that the two are the same thing.[1]  However, it turned out not to be enough to win the Presidency.  Against the “Stop Obamacare” campaign slogan, the Democrats had “Bin Laden is Dead and GM is Alive.”  Against the “big tent” approach of the Democrats, the Republicans focused on what Republican Senator Lindsey Graham described as “angry white males;” and as he himself said, that’s not a winning strategy.