The Conversation

Munchkin politics

Moe Lane has an insightful and tremendously entertaining post which analyzes Barack Obama's style of governance in game-geek terms, comparing him to a power-gaming munchkin who focuses heavily on one skill (campaigning) and takes advantage of rules loopholes to win.

Another way to phrase this observation is that Obama is wholly focused on his "one big trick," which is building popular support.  He doesn't conduct full-spectrum governance, in which he handles the duties of his office, negotiates with both friendly and opposed congressional leadership, and uses the bully pulpit to keep the public on his side.  He's only got one strategy: pile up those opinion-poll numbers until opposition crumbles in fear.  He banks political capital without spending it (counting on a helpful media to keep him from having to spend it, because they never hold him accountable for anything) and then bullies the opposition with the huge balance in his political bank account.

It's not always an effective political strategy - if the 2012 election had gone a bit differently, political analysts would be retroactively declaring it foolish - but it can be formidable.  The big weakness is the danger that he'll be forced to spend that political capital - in Moe Lane's terms, his one big power-gaming strategy fails, because he finally does get blamed for something.  And he isn't very good at dealing with that.  In fact, he and his political operation panic rather easily.  Is that what we're seeing now, as he overplays his "sequestration terror" hand, and senses a backlash?


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