Trump’s High-Stakes Game of Chicken

In games of “chicken”—canonically, two teen boys drive their cars toward one another at breakneck speed, the one who swerves is “chicken” (and if neither swerves, then both lose and it’s small consolation to either that neither is “chicken”)—there are two ways to make the other guy swerve. One is a commitment mechanism: Tie down the steering wheel so it won’t swerve, jam the accelerator full down with a broom stick, and jump into the back seat. The second is to have the reputation of being crazy, as in being crazy enough not to swerve.

Acting crazy gets less respect than it should as a winning strategy in politics and other areas. North Korean dictators are given a wide berth in international affairs because the international community thinks they’re crazy. Overseas, George W. Bush was widely decried as a crazy belligerent. I often wondered whether he invited the reputation intentionally.

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The Differences Between the Political Parties

Bryan Caplan recently linked to one of his older posts arguing that there is not that much substantive difference between the political parties.  Bryan believes there are two big misconceptions about the differences between the parties:

The first big misconception is the parties’ key differences are substantive. They aren’t. Reps don’t want to get rid of the welfare state. Almost all Reps support spending a big chunk of GDP on America’s poor and old. And Dems don’t want anything like socialism. Almost all Dems want America to remain a country where markets are the default and people can get rich if they play their cards right.  So what is the “key difference” between the parties? Rhetoric.

The second big misconception is that the parties’ rhetoric makes sense on its own terms. It doesn’t. If Dems really cared about poor human beings, they would quit worrying about the American old, most of whom aren’t poor.  Similarly, if Reps really cared about “over-burdened” tax-payers, they would try to diminish the burden in the only sustainable way: Big cuts in spending. They would be crusading against the popular programs like Social Security and Medicare that absorb most of our tax dollars.

Bryan does offer some explanations for these phenomena:

I understand, of course, that if either party tried to bring its substance in sync with its rhetoric, it would go down in flames. . . . What’s going on? My best guess is that the rhetoric is the bone each party throws its idealists – “If you vote for us, we’ll pretend to want radical change.”

Let me address each of these points separately.  1. The Substantive Differences: Bryan’s post should be understood as part of long line of similar claims made by radicals of different stripes – the idea that the Democrats and the Republicans are not that different, that they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  And this understandable enough.  If you are a radical, by definition you favor significant change.  The differences between two moderate parties will seem small by comparison.

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A Time For Choosing, What?

barry-goldwaterAs the American people go to the polls in an election which, both parties tell us, will decide the country’s future by determining which of them will have a majority in the Senate, Ronald Reagan’s October 27, 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing,” the golden anniversary of which came last week, leads us to ask what choices the Republicans and Democrats are giving us in 2014, and what difference the success of either makes.

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Breaking The UniParty

Yet again, for the nth time, Republican Congressional leaders and their Democrat counterparts produced a Trillion dollar, multi-thousand-page spending bill that was voted immediately after being unveiled, without having been read. Republican 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan authored the latest edition along with Democratic Senator Patti Murray. Republican leader John Boehner preempted Democrats by preemptively accusing Republicans who opposed the bill of wanting to shut down the government. He topped off this feat of leadership by declaring political war on the conservatives who had given Republicans the majority that had made him Speaker of the House – a war that Republican leaders cannot sustain.

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