In a good post ("Bad Poker") capturing much of my frustration with the White House these days, Ezra Klein yesterday quoted Jonathan Alter in questioning the President's negotiation strategies now that he's once again seemingly caved on a Republican demand without extracting the slightest concession from their side.
On page 116 of “The Promise,” Jonathan Alter describes President Obama's approach to the stimulus as "bad poker." "Instead of holding his cards close, and then sweetening the pot for Republicans with tax cuts in the final negotiations, [Obama] offered nearly $300 billion in tax cuts at the front-end of the process. ... It was a big bargaining chip left off the table."I'm angry too! Republicans finally have a stake in accomplishing something - they own the House. This is the best time yet to use that to his advantage. Yet he keeps going with the olive branch route. Almost as if he believes in such things.
"You don't go out and say you're going to freeze federal pay on your own," says one angry Hill staffer. "You go sit across a table from someone, say, ‘I'm willing to do this, but this is what you’ve got to give me.’ That’s how this works."
But seriously - and the real reason for this post - what does any of this stuff have to do with poker? There is no negotiation, bargaining, or give-and-take in poker. Have any of the people constantly using this metaphor ever actually played the game?
You don't "sweeten the pot" in hopes that both competitors will get something out of the hand. Both sides might add to the prize, but at the end of it, only one wins and the other one gets bubkus. Poker is exactly the opposite of a negotiation process. Poker is the showdown game you play in the absence of negotiation.
If anything, I would accuse the President of playing poker when he should be bargaining. In poker, when you think you have the weaker hand, you simply fold and let your opponent take what you've thrown in. Clearly believing he is not in a strong position, that's exactly what Obama's doing. And if you believe your opponent has you beat, folding isn't "bad poker" at all, it's smart play. Still, why is it the game he's playing?