While I appreciate the time and study people put into chess (and no, I have not yet seen “The Queen’s Gambit”), I much prefer things I am naturally good at, like Setback, the card game I grew up playing in New England. (The rest of you play Pitch, but in Connecticut we have our own variant.) My extended family played it all the time, and the rite of passage for the kids/cousins/grandkids was to be asked to sit in for a hand or 2 when one of the adults needed to step away from the picnic table. My favorite aunt patiently taught all of us to play, and you sat in on a hand when she deemed your play satisfactory. Setback is precise and calculating, but it also requires spontaneity and creativity.
Setback is politics, and I love politics, and I don’t mean the endless, grinding living history we have been through since that awful escalator ride of 2015. I mean actual politics, the art of compromise and the precise weighing of advantages, the impulsive offer, and the workaround based in rules no one else remembered. We’ve seen very little politics in the last few years because, like Setback, politics needs adversaries and partners, and the Republican Party gave up all of its policy-making expertise to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), first at the state level, and then at the national level (which is itself a conversation for another time, along with how woefully under-prepared most state legislators are for their second jobs).
Of course, that deficiency wasn’t a problem for Republicans—they had no intention of writing legislation themselves, preferring to hand that off to lobbyists and special interests. And since the GOP was going to rig every election for the next 50 years, it wouldn’t matter because they weren’t ever really going to be accountable to the people. That’s what allowed Mitch McConnell to wield so much power because he only had to stop everything he didn’t like. There were no politics. And it was dull.
But now politics are back with a former senator in the White House. I’m loving the sudden interest congressional Republicans have in bipartisanship and regular order. And what about those 10 Republican senators who met with Joe Biden? Bless their hearts. Didn’t they look sweet and earnest, putting forth their ideas about what the country really needs? I have no idea how they didn’t think this was going to entirely backfire on them. A list of demands from one political party isn’t a bipartisan effort. And, more to the point at hand, not 1 of those senators holds any power in the Republican caucus. They drafted a bunch of “no soup for you” points and then went to see the most powerful politician in the country and expected him to capitulate. Have these people never played cards?
They weren’t the only senators who got a political education in the last few weeks. McConnell was fobbed off with a non-binding statement from 2 Democratic senators who owe him nothing (but payback). I wonder how long it took for him to realize he’d been rooked? And Republican senators weren’t the only ones who got drawn into a hand. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema had to hastily play partners when Vice President Harris etherily showed up in their states to talk directly to voters about the things the COVID-19 relief bill would do for them. All Manchin could do afterwards was complain about the points he’d lost with his careless play. Oh, and Kevin McCarthy played a hand too this week, and he chose to protect his leadership position instead of the GOP with the vote on Marjorie Greene. Given what we’re going to find out as investigations uncover the ties between Republicans in Congress and the insurrection’s leaders, this seems a bit short-sighted, no?
I have no idea how all of this is going to play out, but I’m glad that Joe Biden has made American politics great again.