Bending the Rules through Political Games

Bending the Rules through Political Games

In our family, especially when the “kids” are home, we like to play a lot of games. Board games, such as Ticket to Ride, Splendor, and others. Card games like Five Crowns and 500. Dice games like our new favorite, Quixx. Games are fun.

Games Politicians Should Not Play, and Rules They Should Follow

When they gather at their “home” in the Capitol, our politicians often find themselves playing games, as well. At least some of them think they are playing at fun and games, apparently. The wrongheaded games many politicians have been playing and the rules being broken today have names like these:

Gerrymandering. This is a form of “stacking the deck.” It is the process by which political parties attempt to choose their voters. To do this, party operatives draw voting-district maps that will allow their party to win as many legislative seats as possible. They either zigzag the lines to pack most of their opponents into one district so the party can win the remaining districts, or they try to scatter the opponents among all districts so the adversary struggles to win any of them.

Filling Congress with “safe” seats helps incumbents but hurts America. This is true because representatives never have to listen to the opposing party; they never have to compromise. After gerrymandering, politicians never have to put the entire country’s interests at the forefront, as their primary concern becomes fending off challengers from within their own district’s dominant party. Partisan gerrymandering exacerbates polarization.

For the good of the voters, for the good of each state, and for the good of America, voting maps should be drawn by nonpartisan commissions. Everyone who has ever played cards knows that stacking the deck is wrong. It violates fundamental principles of equality, integrity, and law and justice.

Election Claims. In any game, falsely claiming that victory has been “stolen” is a loser’s bleat. Similarly, claiming that every suggested future rule change is “a serious threat to the game as we know it” is overly melodramatic. Nobody likes game players who do either of those things. Apply that to today’s election and voting debates, and you will know where our principles lead us on these issues.

Filibuster. A filibuster is a form of not letting the game end or not letting the other side have a bathroom break until they give up and just say “You win.” Such tactics are heavy handed and, as children recognize, “chicken.” However, the rules in the U.S. Senate currently allow any senator to filibuster a bill by not letting it come to a vote until 60 of the 100 senators agree to stop the debate. With today’s Senate evenly split, that means no votes can occur except on budget and rules questions (on which the simple majority wins). The filibuster is designed to protect minority views and to force compromises, but politicians upset by the blockage of a particular bill often threaten to overturn the rule itself. Meanwhile, when either party doesn’t like a proposal, they simply filibuster it and prevent a vote altogether.

Two points flow from our principles on this issue. First, game lovers know that the rules are the rules, and you cannot change them in the middle of the game. Principles of integrity, equality, and protecting the vulnerable apply. These cut against eliminating the filibuster rule, or even modifying it just long enough to prevail in a specific dispute. At the same time, abusing a dubious rule to keep your opponent from ever winning is not right, either. Principles of service, peace, dignity, respect, equality, and transparency favor bringing a bill to a vote, voting on it, and moving on.

Packing the Supreme Court. This is a bully tactic, and probably a bluff. In an attempt to intimidate the Supreme Court, sore losers of legal cases—or even people afraid of losing—threaten to expand the number of justices (now nine, of which six are considered “conservative”), and then appoint enough new ones who they think will vote the other way so as to win future cases. This would be akin to weighting the dice so that your own number always turns up.

Cheaters never win, however, and true winners never cheat. Obviously, any cheating strategy violates the principle of integrity. It would undercut peace in America, respect from abroad, and the vital principles of law and justice. As one of the current justices said recently, the final authority of the Supreme Court, which is essential for the American system of government to work, depends on “trust that the court is guided by legal principle, not politics.” Yes, as Principle Based Politics loves to say, let’s win with principles, not politics.*

*By the same token (pun intended), Senate majority leaders not allowing a sitting President’s judicial nominees to come up for a confirmation vote exploits political power to the detriment of trust in our legislatures and courts.

Trying the Right Way

We have heard the phrase “If you are not cheating, you are not trying.” That’s outrageous, and we hope anyone who ever says it is kidding. Particularly in federal politics, with the fate of our nation depending on honesty, integrity, freedom, equality, and other principles, politicians absolutely must play by the rules, and they must never attempt to rig the rules in their favor.

As you elect politicians, consider what games they like playing, and how.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

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