Politics is Cheap

Say you're watching two people playing Street Fighter II. Player One believes that throwing is cheap and refuses ​

​to do it. Player Two thinks that if it's in the game, it's fair to use.

The game starts, and Player Two traps Player One in the corner, landing throw after throw until he wins the first match. Player Two repeats the exact same strategy in the second round, winning again.

Player One thinks these tactics are unfair and unfun, and that using them isn't "the right way" to play the game. He could have switched tactics between rounds, but refused to do so. He thinks it's "cheap."

Player Two thinks the point is to win. They're both playing Street Fighter, but they aren't playing the same game.

This situation appears in every competitive situation. Some athletes refuse to use the intentional foul. A fighter may think it's unnecessary to keep his hair short, only to have it grabbed mid-match. Chess players unfamiliar with en passant cry "foul" when you make the move.

America's political parties are in a similar situation today. We've watched the Democrats insist on playing "by the rules," treating the opposition party how they would like to be treated and refusing to engage in tactics they find underhanded. At some point, Republicans realized "the rules" are a gentleman's agreement and not a true part of the game. Since then, they've refused to vote, rejected proposals, displaced blame and engaged in every unscrupulous tactic necessary to get their way. And it worked.

This has culminated in six years of blatant obstruction in Congress, the keys to the White House and, this week, a 1:30 a.m. vote to strip 30 million people of health insurance.

Impotent, Democrats made sure to state how unfair they thought this was. Is it unfair? It's a stupid question. Fairness is the crutch of the loser who refuses to use all available tactics to win. Maybe Republicans acted in a way contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, and while that may be disgusting, it isn't illegal. Democrats were playing the way they thought they game should be played. Republicans played to win.

Democrats are still trying to work together because they think that's how it should work. Republicans are treating politics like a competition. They aren't playing the same game.

Some in Congress are already hedging in advance of the next administration. Bernie Sanders has hinted at refusing to vote on Trump's next Supreme Court nomination, mirroring the stonewall that Merrick Garland faced. But when pressed he softened, saying, "All that I am doing here is trying to be polite."

He sees how to play the game, but he won't commit. He doesn't want to be cheap.

The next four years are going to be hard. A lot of the progress we've made in the last eight years – or 80 years – could be compromised. Unlike the analogies above, this isn't a game. But that doesn't mean it can't be played the right way.

Here is hoping our Democrats in office will finally realize that they can't keep behaving the "right" way. There is no right way and there is no wrong way. Losing by sticking to your beliefs about the rules is still losing. It also shows your opponent the easiest way to beat you.

At some point, after losing so much, Player One has two options. They can stop playing the game, or they can give up their preconceived ideas and start using every tactic at their disposal. Here's hoping Player One learns how to get out of the corner. Here's hoping he stops complaining about things being cheap and starts doing them himself.. Here's hoping he starts playing to win.

(With all appropriate credit to David Sirlin and "Playing To Win.")

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