Political Gamesmanship: How to Lose without Really Trying

I have made it somewhat of a rule for myself to avoid writing about political leadership because there are few intellectual discussions on the topic. While in most corporate leadership situations the ongoing problem is that leaders manage only by outcomes, political leadership of late seem to rule without any obvious concern of outcomes. Having said that, and in light of today’s government shutdown, a few of my colleagues have shamed me on this topic, so I’m going to say only one short thing.


If you are a student of game theory you recognize that the current state of governmental affairs is a game with conflicting objectives. To give them credit, there is no “win/win” scenario on Capitol Hill right now. In fact, a win/win solution is a losing proposition for both sides when viewed in terms of the noise that would result from what Republicans and Democrats consider their “base.” A lose/win scenario is considered a win in the current scenario if the players are defined as the politicians and the same “base” that is so noisy. Unfortunately, the outcome of a lose/win scenario for the American people is a loss.




In case you aren’t enraged by the current state of affairs, here’s another tidbit. Congressional salaries are exempt from the shutdown. That’s right. President Obama still gets $400,000 per year and your favorite partisan representative or senator, those speaking on your behalf, will also receive their paychecks. The 27th amendment disallows Congress from changing its own pay. This means thatthey also will not be financially impacted by the shutdown. At a minimum of nearly $200,000 a pop, with 535 congressional members, some making much more, that’s a chunk of untouched change.

I have a solution that I think would work but would never happen because the very players in the current game are the ones who would have to adopt this. (This is also why I don’t write about politics) J

  • For every day of a shutdown, or sequester, or any major failure of Congress to uphold their fiscal duties, all Congress members are fined one week of salary.
  • After fifteen days, a cap is set on re-election budgets by incumbent congressional members
  • After thirty days, incumbents are declared ineligible to run for re-election for the next term

This is a fantasy of course and some of you will feel the need to point out all of the unintended consequences of such a plan. Fine. But unless there is some way to include personal consequence…the going-home-and-explaining-to-your-family kind of consequence that the rest of us face in our professions…I’m not sure the rules of the game will change.

Wait. Here’s another idea. We could all agree to no longer vote a party line but actually research, consider, and think about our voting choices before we make them. Hmmmm. That might work too.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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