Thursday, December 2, 2010

Responding to the Republican's "lose/lose" Game

With the Republicans toying with sabotage over the New Start Treaty and holding the Senate hostage unless they get exactly what they want on tax cuts, what is a reasonable strategy for Obama and Congressional Democrats to pursue?

Mistermix over at Balloon Juice nails it in Playing Cards with Judas.

...Ezra Klein thinks that Obama’s a bad poker player. He may be right, but the analogy isn’t helpful. Poker is a win/lose game. Negotiation is a win/win game, because both parties get something when a deal is struck. Republicans aren’t playing poker or negotiating. They are playing another game, call it “You Must Lose”. They’re happy with win/lose, if they win, but they’ll tolerate lose/lose as long as Obama loses.

The only analogy that springs to mind when I look at the Republicans’ recent behavior is a bad divorce. Think of a situation where Lisa and Bob are getting a divorce, and Bob is so hell-bent on hurting Lisa that he doesn’t care about their kids or their bank account. Bob will deploy a hundred variations on the same tactic: put the Lisa in a bind where she has to choose between damaging the children and losing money. Lisa will lose money almost every time in order to save the children.

In this situation, capitulation is inevitable, the only question is what form it will take...

Obama has three tactics he can use, all of them weak: The first is to try to fracture the Republican caucus, and he’s flailing around with deficit appeasement (e.g., the federal wage freeze) and half-compromises (the millionaire tax) that are designed to pick off a few caucus members, like Collins or Snowe. The second is to use executive power to its limit, by rule-making (like stopping drilling in the Eastern Gulf until 2017). The third is institutional reform, specifically, ending the filibuster.

None of these tactics is especially effective, but when you’re working with someone who’s only happy if you lose, what else is there?


When the Republicans are willing to play chicken with the American people (and ultimately even national security), what are mature adults supposed to do?

As a former Family Therapist, I've thought of his analogy often. I saw many cases like the one he describes...used to call them "divorce wars." Sometimes the Lisa's in that situation buy in and use the same tactics to fight back (what many Democrats are suggesting Obama should do). That never ends well and the children are the ones who suffer. I saw one family who had been to court over 20 times on custody issues. The welfare of the children was the ammunition they were using to get back at each other.

There's no point in playing this game with folks who are content with "lose/lose." Its a downward spiral that leads to nowhere but chaos and destruction.

In the short-term, I agree with the tactics mistermix suggests. But in the long-term, the only way this gets solved is for the "children" (voters) to let Bob know that they're not going to be used this way anymore and tell him to take a hike.

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