It is beyond debate that the Democrats have behaved badly for a number of years now. They’ve conducted two sham impeachments of Donald Trump based on false evidence, or no evidence at all. They have removed Republicans from committee assignments for infractions that pale in comparison to the violations of Democrats. They have violated Congressional rules with impunity – even to the point of refusing to accept minority party assignments to a select committee.
Yet there are those on the Republican side that say they should resist responding in kind, when the Republicans inevitably ascend to the majority. They should be the “adults in the room” and model the behavior that they wish the Democrats to adopt. They shouldn’t seek revenge for past wrongs – in spite of how good it might feel (looking at you Mittens). Sorry, that’s total bunk.
That argument misses the point – it’s not about revenge. It’s about training. Bad actors need to learn that acting bad comes with risk. As every parent knows, misbehavior must be met with consequences. When a parent punishes a child for breaking the rules, they aren’t seeking revenge, they’re trying to make the child a better person. Being the “adult in the room,” requires a response to bad behavior.
We can use game theory to understand what political moves will result in the most advantageous outcome for America. Anatol Rapoport developed the tit-for-tat game theory strategy as a way to optimize the outcome when competing players, like political parties, have a tendency to behave badly. Tit-for-tat recognizes the principle that cooperative play results in maximum payoff for both parties. But it also recognizes that players do not always behave accordingly. It therefore calls for the game to commence with the parties assuming cooperation from the other side. Real-world examples would be corporations that enter into mutually beneficial contract agreements, or political parties that agree on rules of behavior. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil exemplified cooperative play. They were from competing parties, but cooperated according to the rules, and accomplished much together.
As the game proceeds, tit-for-tat calls for the parties to mimic each other. So long as party “A” continues to comply with the rules, so does party “B”. As long as cooperation continues, the benefits are maximized.
But what if a party stops cooperating? What if party “A” breaks the rules – as the House Democrats have done? Tit-for-tat demands that the offender be punished. Party “B” must mimic (proportionally punish) the other side, and make the offender experience negative consequences so that future infractions are deterred. Only through deterrence will the offender likely return to cooperative behavior. Tit-for-tat achieves the best overall outcome when one party refuses to play nice.
Is declaring that Republicans will show leniency to the Democrats likely to deter future infractions? The tit-for-tat strategy suggests that it will not. It will instead invite more bad behavior in the future. We can take a retrospective look at past political moves through the lens of game theory.
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In 2013, Harry Reid decided to exercise the “nuclear option” to eliminate the Senate filibuster for non-Supreme Court judicial appointments. It was the epitome of bad behavior. It changed the Senate rules without the consent of the other players. Mitch McConnel warned him not to do it. But Reid did it anyway – and Obama used the change to load the federal court system with leftist judges.
But by 2017, Mitch McConnel had become the Senate Majority leader and Donald Trump was the President. Did McConnel return to the normal order? Absolutely not. He exercised tit-for-tat. He used the Reid precedent to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments, told the Democrats it was punishment for their treachery, and then confirmed 3 conservative justices to the court.
Now it’s 2022, and the Democrats are back in the majority. Chuck Schumer just tried to nuke the filibuster to pass a federal takeover of elections. His attempt failed. Was it because McConnel “educated” a few Democrats? We’ll never know for sure, but the filibuster was left alone. Maybe tit-for-tat strengthened the resolve of Manchin and Sinema.
Would “turning the other cheek” have delivered a better outcome for America. Let’s examine the Department of Justice (DoJ). It’s no longer debatable that Bill Barr inherited a DoJ that had been corrupted by the likes of Eric Holder and Lorretta Lynch. Under their leadership, the DoJ has become a political weapon to advance the interests of one party – the Democrats.
Did Barr clean house? Nope. Did he take retribution against bad actors? Nope. He tried to return to normal order at the DoJ. He behaved as the leader of a good department should – not as one who had a huge mess to fix. He conducted himself with restraint and discretion. As one example, he declined to prosecute Andrew McCabe, for doing the same thing that Michael Flynn was prosecuted for. His rationale was that two wrongs don’t make a right. Of course, Flynn is still bankrupt, McCabe is free, and Barr missed a chance to “educate” a few bad actors.
As a result of that restraint, the bad actors within the DoJ suffered no significant consequences. They learned that the rewards are great, and the risks are minimal.
Now the DoJ has Merrick Garland at the helm and we’re seeing what a DoJ that perceives no risk is capable of. Andrew McCabe has been exonerated and his pension reinstated. Parents are being tracked as potential domestic terrorists. January 6 protesters have been kept in solitary confinement for over a year, for little more than trespassing. There are even credible allegations that the FBI has been involved in creating rather than solving crimes. Has America benefited from Bill Barr taking the high road – and not applying tit-for-tat? Or would it have been better if he’d gone full George Patton on the DoJ? Bill Barr was everything a good Attorney General should be – when leading a normally functioning DoJ. But he was not the leader needed to fix a broken organization.
When the Republicans ascend to the majority – and they will – they have three options. Their first option would be to return to normal order. Their second option would be to respond in kind. Their third option would be to go full scorched earth, take no enemies, retribution.
The scorched earth option – let’s call it the Curtis LeMay option — would entail stripping every Democrat of their committee assignments, firing the top three levels of management in the DoJ, and prosecuting Merrick Garland for violation of our civil rights. It would feel really good. But it would also turn the offenders into victims and garner national sympathy for them. It would backfire.
The respond in kind option would involve stripping a couple of Democrats of their committee assignments (looking at you Adam Schiff and Ilhan Omar), reconstituting the January 6 committee with no Democrats, and sitting Fauci and Garland down for some good ole fashioned grilling by Senator Cruz. I do not recommend mimicking any of the President’s behavior, as it’s unclear how acting stupid educates anyone.
The return to normal order option – let’s call it the Pierre Delecto option – would require some Academy Award level play acting. It would require Republicans to act as if none of the infractions of the past 5 years have happened. The Republicans would proceed to model fair and mature behavior in the certain knowledge that the Democrats will be impressed and seek to adopt the leadership style of their newfound role models – the Republicans. Does anyone, besides Mitt Romney, believe that will work? Me neither. The Dems need a spanking. Being the adult in the room demands it. Option 2 it is.
By John Green
John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Idaho. He currently writes at the American Free News Network and The Blue State Conservative. He can be followed on Facebook or reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Blue State Conservative. The BSC is not responsible for, and does not verify the accuracy of, any information presented.
This article appeared previously at American Free News Network.