Thursday, January 07, 2010

Chicken. Look it up, Jane.

The game of Chicken, also known as the Hawk-Dove or Snowdrift[1] game, is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the outcome where neither player yields is the worst possible one for both players.

I happen to agree with much of what Jane has written, over the years, on a variety of topics from Lieberman to NARAL to Emily's List. And I don't disagree with her that it is an astonishing failure of Emily's List's ideas about nominating women that their own bought and paid for politicians have so often spurned them on the topic of women's rights. But this bill, and even the egregious flaws of the health care bill with regard to women's rights, is no place to draw the line in the sand and demand that pro-choice politicians kill health care reform. Its a classic problem in power and leverage--these shift during the process of negotiation. You have lots of leverage the more important your vote, and the more intransigent you are, early in the process. That is why whipping the supporters of various progressive policies was extremely important early on. And that is why radical, dangerous, intransigent speech is good at the beginning. And why walking away from the negotiating table is good throughout the process. But at the very end of the process a completely different set of calculations has to begin to apply: a straight up cost/benefit analysis. And under those calculations a huge health care reform bill that benefits millions has a benefit that is not fully undercut or taken away by the fact that it actively harms, or continues the status quo of harm, a small proportion of women and their families.

Looked at another way a bill that is killed can't be fixed, but a bill that exists can be tinkered with. It is far easier to strip something out of a bill, or amend it, than to start the entire process over again. Again, its a matter of timing. Brinksmanship is a form of negotiation, and as in all negotiations whether something is a good strategy or not is always a matter of timing. The time for intransigence and for blocking the bill is long over.


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