Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Right Should Be Disqualified So We Can Move Forward: Game Theory and Bi-partisanship

My knowledge of game theory is cursory at best; however, I believe game theory provides an effective and informative lens through which we might view the current state of politics and the president’s attempts at bi-partisanship. Please forgive my lapses of understanding.

In its most basic, simplistic sense, game theory defines a game as a contest between participants or groups of participants governed by a clearly defined set of rules and acceptable strategies, the end result of which can be defined by a measurable outcome.

The end result may range from a positive sum, in which each participant or group of participants may gain and lose at the same time, or a zero sum, in which one participant or group of participants can win only at the expense of the other.

Of course, children play games all the time. Sports contests are games. And as technology grows and expands, so does the number of available computer and video games. Sometimes human relationships seem to be games. And of course, politics is a game.

These are the rules of politics as I understand them: governmental leaders representing various political ideologies are elected by constituencies most likely informed by similar ideologies and coalesce into coalitions. These coalitions then come to the table with other coalitions holding antithetical views to engage in public conversation and debate around various issues with the majority shaping and controlling the scope of that discourse.

The end result should be positive sum meaning that in the give and take of the game of politics, each side will gain and each side will lose; however, ultimately everybody wins because solid, well-crafted public policy should emerge from honest, rationale debate.

Since about the mid- to late-1960’s, the right has become very adroit at playing the game of politics. Oh, they have played hard and fast with the rules; their actions and assertions have always existed within that ethical gray area and on the very outermost margins of truth, but their strategy has been brilliant nonetheless.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy was brilliantly simplistic, and caught the left by complete surprise. And while President Regan’s ascension was assisted in part by Carter’s ineptitude, the right did a superb job in framing this ineptitude in ways the public could understand.

The first President Bush’s use of Willie Horton bordered on utter deceit, but in the end, it provided the margin of victory that he needed and proved brilliant. And Karl Rove’s mobilization of the right through hot button cultural issues and outright fear tactics was a bit tacky, but it was enough to win the second President Bush successive terms.

But while the right figured out the game and perfected its strategy, that strategy was not based on sound reason and substance, but relied too heavily on legerdemain and subterfuge, and under the weight of crisis, this lack of sound reason and substance and the input of outside interests inimical to the common good became plain, and their house of cards crashed down around them.

For years the right had grown fat and arrogant from winning, but suddenly the parameters of the game changed, and they found themselves on the outside looking in, but instead of regrouping within those parameters, they chose to disregard the rules altogether. And once one side chooses to disregard the rules altogether, the game ceases to be a game as such and descends into bloodsport, an absolute chaotic free for all.

So, to continue the pursuit of bi-partisanship is foolhardy. In order for bi-partisanship to work, both sides must be playing within the parameters of the game. But the right has opted out of the game. The right has gone renegade. And the outcome is no longer a positive sum proposal, but has become zero sum, an all or nothing, win at all cost proposition. Thus, the game has been compromised.

All that remains now is for the president to go ahead and declare the other team as disqualified, and move forward with what he and his team deem as in the best interest of the people.


md20737 said...

My boyfriend and I often get into the disagreement about how the president is operating. My defense of Pres Obama is that he has to give everyone a chance before he do whatever he wants. My boyfriend says his time is running out, he has yet to do anything that defines his presidency. My boyfriend also says forget pleasing everyone now is the time to make his moves.

So Max I guess you guys are right. I have constantly supported the president but I want to see more action now. We are close to the end of the year. I feel if he doesnt take some strong stands he may not get back in the office, the entire country is waiting on him to fail unfortunately.

Daedalus said...

Loved this post. I've been reading Thom Hartmann's new bgook, "Threshold," anhd he goes into this.

Interestingly, research shows most people would opt for collaboration rather than negation. Those that choose to go negative are often people suffering from mental imbalances.

One of game theory's chief proponents, Nash (the film, A Brilliant Mind was based on his life), suffered from mental illness and later distanced himself from his own theories.

msladydeborah said...

The game was flipped and they still don't fully understand how that happened. That is obvious by Michael Steele's belief on how the internet and the hip hop nation worked into the vote.

I believe that a reasonable attempt has been made towards working out a bipartisan agreement. It is obvious that the folks on the other side of the aisle ain't having it. So, it is time to just use the muscle that was provided by the people and do what needs to be done.

ProfGeo said...

Two books influence how I look at games. One is a semi-satirical "oldie" from 1950 titled Strategy in Poker, Business & War by John McDonald. It reminds me to keep my sense of humor when people take games too seriously. A major theme is that of interdependence:

--"no single move of one participant has quality or meaning in itself."
--"even a complete strategy of one participant can be judged only on the basis of assumptions or information about the strategies of others."
--treating all participants together as a unit is not possible, because they do not cooperate.

The other one is Finite and Infinite Games, by James P. Carse. This one is harder to sum up but what applies to your post is: "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play." Election cycles are examples of finite games.

Here's the money quote, why Obama & the Democrats can't totally shut out the Republicans even if we'd approve: "[If] the players do not agree on a winner, the game has not come to a decisive conclusion... Even if they are carried from the field and forcibly blocked from further play, they will not consider the game ended."

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