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Sheepshead and Politics

Yeah, I’m interested in politics but really do not want my blog to be dominated by the subject. On the other hand, tis the season to be bombarded by politics so it’s hard not to comment on this or that with all that grist for the mill out there.

Grandma’s hand in Sheepshead, can’t lose.

Today I came across an interesting piece from ABC News of all places that dealt not with the election but with a new book by Bob Woodward, the Watergate fame guy. The article was so interesting I almost ordered the book, almost, except my stack of stuff to read is so large now I doubt I’ll get to everything I want to in my lifetime.

The gist of it had to do with the almost debt deal that President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner almost worked out after the Dems got the heave-ho in the House of Representatives in 2010. Just reading through the article gives one some insight as to how things really work or don’t work in Washington.

Here’s the link.

After I read it I thought of this analogy that relates to the card game called Sheepshead and politics.

My dad was a pretty good Sheepshead player. He and his work buddies played it for years on their lunch break back in the 60’s and early 70’s. He taught me the game and in through the years I’ve played it, although not lately.

This is what dad told me. He said, “always remember that in Sheepshead, it’s a game of force. You want to control the table and force the other guy(s) [five players is optimum in Sheepshead] to play cards they really don’t want to play.

Woodward’s book is titled The Price of Politics and it struck me that the price of politics is a lot like Sheepshead, forcing the other guy to play cards he’d rather not.

The debt deal was a big deal and pretty significant crisis (still is imho) and the Republican victories in the House were game changers in this high stakes game of force. Prior to 2010, that is 2008-2009, the Dems had it all their own way (they had the grandma’s hand in the graphic above) because they controlled the Senate, House and White House. Their attitude was that of Rahm Emanuel: “We have the votes. F— ’em,” he’s quoted in the book as saying. (Sorry about the profanity but it is necessary to illustrate how the game of force is played.)

Well, in 2010 Rahm’s strategy would not work simply because the Republicans had some cards of their own to play and so they did.

Apparently, according to Woodward the President and the Speaker came very, very close to some kind of compromise that they both could live with, but not necessarily make everyone happy in their different camps, but for the good of the country it seemed workable.

What happened next is instructive.

In Sheepshead the Queen of Clubs and Queen of Spades are the top two trump. If you and your team have those two cards and play them well, it’s harder to lose the hand. But if you only have one and the other team has the other and the rest of the trump are spread out it’s not so easy.

After the two men worked out a deal the President changed what they had previously agreed upon. He played what he thought to be his Queen of Clubs and thought Boehner would bite by agreeing there should be tax hike as part of their deal. But it was Boehner who had the Queen of Clubs in this hand and not the President. Remember, the game changer of the Republicans taking the House in 2010. There was no way the House was going to pass a tax increase since that was the issue that won them the House in the first place. In other words, the President overplayed his hand and simply retreated into ideology after that (where he has remained ever since) versus doing what needed to be done for the good of the country.

I’m no fan of Bill Clinton, the only President to be convicted of perjury, but at least he knew how play political Sheepshead. Our current President does not and seems to prefer the Rahm Emanuel strategy even when he does not have the hand to play.

And that’s the way I see it.


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