The Third Breakdown of Rationality
If there are two or more possible compromises, of which the one most favored by player 1 is not the one most favored by player 2; then to choose a sure-thing strategy is to be a sucker that capitulates entirely to the other side.
Nigel Howard, Paradoxes of Rationality, MIT, 1969, p. 181
In discussion of healthcare negotiating strategies at Yglesias’s site, the whole “don’t let the best be the enemy of the good” / “politics is the art of the possible” / “politics is the art of compromise” meme came up another god damn time.
Democrats and liberals have learned that lesson far too well, but they seem to have forgotten the other set of lessons: don’t make your final offer at the beginning of negotiations, and don’t let the other guy know how desperate you are to make a deal.
Politics is the art of compromise and the art of the possible, but it’s also the art of fighting for the best compromise and the best possible. Democrats never fight and Republicans also do, and for that reason Republicans can dominate with tiny majorities and Democrats lose with 60 Senators.
Gingrich lost a lot of fights on his way up, and he kept coming back. In other words, he was thinking of the future and had a long-term strategy. The Democrats don’t. It’s always “the best we can get right now”.
I’m always hearing Democratic wonks saying “We know we’re not going to get that, so why even talk about it?” The fact is, you never know how a game will turn out until after the game has been played. You don’t know how much the other guy knows, and he’s not going to let you know what his weak spots are. Smart people who try to figure out the final score in advance are really dumb people. The little tastes of social science that they’ve had in school tend to make the wonk demographic think that they know what’s going on and how things will turn out, but they’re just fooling themselves.
I’ve been arguing for some time that the heavy influence of the highly educated on the Democratic Party has been harmful. One of the most harmful aspects of this domination is a trained incapacity at dealing with situations where where bargaining, bluffing, bullying, and and deception are required. I’ve never been in the business world, but from friends I have I understand that big-time negotiations are feints, bluffs, and bullying all the way to the end, with the two parties fighting for every nickel and every dime right until the pens come out — not a gentlemanly search for a consensus fair to both parties. And that’s how the Republicans play.
P. S. My leftist friends explain to me that this is all silly, and that the Democrats are just corrupt. Yeah, a lot of the big-time Democrats are corrupt, and those Democrats certainly do know how to play hardball. But there are a lot of Democrats who aren’t in on the take, and far too often they end up surrendering to the hard bargainers without even knowing what they’ve done. And one way the tough-minded realists befuddle these nice idealistic Democrats is by telling them, over and over again, that politics is the art of the possible, but never cluing them in that anyone who chooses the sure-thing strategy is a sucker.
The Democrats have to learn to fight the Republicans, and we have to learn how to fight the Democrats.