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Thursday, March 11, 2010

That's not Cricket. It's not Poker either.

Jonathan Chait uses poker as a metaphor for politics. He quotes Tom Edsall writing years ago.

Republicans are much less risk-averse than Democrats, and taking risks is crucial to poker. [skip] Democrats, conversely, are the party of risk-aversion- -supportive of the safety net, opposed to new weapons systems, and sympathetic to protective trade policies.
[skip]. Another argument for the view that Republicans make better poker players is that poker rewards what feminists have long considered one of the worst attributes of men: the capacity to "objectify" the other. In poker, friends, colleagues, and even loved ones become subjects of manipulation and deceit-- sources of cash who must be persuaded to make mistakes and to misjudge their strengths and your weaknesses.

This is very odd for a number of reasons. First of all there are two excellent ways to lose at poker -- to be highly risk averse and to be highly risk loving. The archetypal poker loser is not the guy who folds instantly all the time, but they guy who bets on inside straights (check the archetype archive of comics and old Hollywood movies and low quality hard boiled fiction).

Second supporting new weapons systems is a sign either of risk aversion, parochialism or corruption. For the nation, a new weapons system is a certain cost which is also supposed to reduce some risk. The risk loving approach is to skimp on new weapons systems. I think Edsall is right here. People don't support new weapons systems because they think they reduce risk. They want federal money sent to their districts states or contributors, they have taken legal bribes (if no the old fashioned kind). Also they care a lot about which nation has the biggest studliest missiles (Ah if only Helen Caldicott had a book to go with the title "Missile Envy"). It has nothing to do with risk neutrality or risk loving.

Finally, objectifying someone and exploiting someone are different. Objectifying involves ignoring the thought processes of others. Poker involves manipulating others. Men may be more prone to objectify but men, this man at least, isn't stupid enough to say that women are manipulative (what and give up all future hopes of whoopy just for a blog post ?). We are however, stupid enough to come very very close to saying that so we are nailed anyway. So are Republicans.

Finally, who in official Washington is very very good at poker ? Who financed his senate campaign with his poker winnings ? Barak Obama that's who.

Look he is about to either win or lose a huge huge pot. The odds are nerve wracking. Just slightly better than 50 50. So far he has gotten to senators to complain about a lack of leadership from the White House (the Clintons did not hear that complaint).

The man plays 11 dimensional chess to relax between hands.

Chait shouldn't be surprised that the Republicans are bluffing and inadvertently showing their hand at the same time. They are terrible poker players.
It's just that Democrats are a poker playing team with players of the kind that shouts "stop bluffing" when their team mate is bluffing.

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