Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Winning the Game

Alright, so I think we've established that we're playing a game here. The greatest game – politics – but still a game. Much of game theory is concerned with the idea of a Nash equilibrium. The point where all parties involved have maximized their rewards in regards to their risks. But people who play games are concerned not with making sure no one loses but making sure they win. And doing so is a matter of making not the best response to a given game state but the right play from their current position. And, so, you might well ask, Mr. Rex, what do you see as the winning moves given the pieces on the board at the moment? And since no one asked, I'll have to do it myself.

The winning play for the Democrats is to keep ratcheting up the pressure on Republican members of Congress and force them to continually make their losing plays. Eventually, the game will reach a tipping point where the best move on the point of enough Republicans will be to clear out of the way of the tide of public opinion. And then the game will tip into a derivative state where Democratic advantages will multiply, building on themselves, until they've reached the winning state. Either through the unlikely route of passing legislation which will survive the threat of a Presidential veto. Or by creating an electoral advantage that will change the players in the game and give them the margins or the president in office they need to end the war.

The winning play for the Republicans is to keep their coalition together in the face of an increasingly bleak reality. Eventually, the clock will eventually run out on the game. And public sentiment will turn against the Democrats who will be seen as ineffectual. This will result in an election which reverses or maintains the slim Democratic advantage in the legislature. But, more importantly, which seats another Republican in the White House who will allow the game to continue for at least another term.

You can see, perhaps, that the Republicans aren't in a good position (And it might be a bit of bias on my part here because, you know, it should be pretty clear which side I want to win here.) as they're playing not to win the game but to string it out as long as possible. Their position – that the war should continue – is a position they're required to maintain indefinitely. Trying to preserve the status quo, then, they are playing defensively. The only thing they have on their side is time as they try to outlast their opponent's assault.

The Democrats, on the other hand, can play aggressively here. As they're on the offense, they're the ones who gain the advantage of maneuver – their opponents have to respond to them, not the other way around. And they can try any number of ways to crack that coalition that's opposing them. To convince the odd Republican Congressperson that it's to their advantage to vote for their own interests and not for their party's (Which stand in opposition to theirs in regards to, say, getting reelected.). To force their opponents into moves which weaken them. The odds are against them winning outright because of just how many chips they'd need to stack up before shoving them into the middle of the table to get past the President's obstinance. Given how timidly they've acted in the past, it's hard to see that happening. But, at the very least, they should be able to capitalize for the next subgame – the one after the next set of elections.

The general direction the game is heading in means that they're going to eventually accrue enough advantages to win out without playing extremely aggressively. And I can see why the Democratic leaders are so reluctant to go on the offensive. They don't want to overreach with a slim majority in both houses and a press that's poised to hammer them if they try. So, what they've been doing has been working. It could work better, be more effective, but standing pat will work. While it won't work, not forever, for their opponents.

And I could accept that, perhaps, if we were talking about game pieces and scraps of paper instead of spilling real blood and treasure while we wait to resolve this matter.

In other words, as a liberal, I'd say this to the Democratic legislators: Get out of the damned defensive crouch and start taking things to the Republicans. The more polls, the more votes shift their way, the more likely they are to take some bold actions.

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