The debt default negotiations are being called a game of chicken.* The classic example is two crazy teenagers on opposite sides of a stretch of road gun their engines and drive straight for one another. Strictly by definition this means that whoever flinches first is a wuss and thus loses, unless both flinch (everyone is a wuss/loses/lives) or both don’t (everyone is brave/wins/dies).
Politics is often called a zero-sum game. Strictly by definition this means that there is one loser and one winner no matter what happens. But people are affected positively and negatively by playing (unless we’re talking nuclear warfare) creating a Heisenberg principal of politics. Thus, just because you aren’t losing as badly as another player doesn’t mean you aren’t still hurt (Pyrric Victory) and just because someone won more than you did, doesn’t mean you are in bad shape.
Right now, the game is set up like chicken. Obama can “flinch” – compromise his party’s position on entitlements – to strike a deal. Or he cannot and either the GOP “flinches” – compromise their Party’s position on revenue increases – or they won’t and the United States will default for the first time in its history. The outcomes, however, are no longer the same as chicken. Now, Obama probably wins and the GOP probably loses no matter what happens.
When Obama stepped up (like everyone thought he would) and the “big deal” was fleshed out and then the GOP rejected it, the game got changed. Or perhaps it was always this way. But what happened at that moment, when the GOP decided to let
the world Obama paint it as being too intractable and uncompromising, was that the math changed. The negotiations may have been a pure game of chicken then, or maybe they never were; but, the game has definitely changed.
If the US defaults, who will be blamed? Probably the GOP. In this scenario everyone loses, but the Republicans probably lose more. If the GOP flinches at this point, then either they will be considered heroes for finally capitulating or they will be villains for creating uncertainty for so long. My guess is probably the later, or somewhere in between. This means that rather than in the standard game of chicken where everyone loses, here Obama loses but the GOP loses a lot more. The reason the outcomes now look like this is because Obama already flinched – or he at least demonstrated his willingness to flinch. In doing so he plays by different rules, rules that people think are more fair to everyone. The GOP is unwilling to play along. People pick the side of the person playing fair.
The GOP has really only one option left – flinch and spin their heads off. They might pull it off and people will see them as being compromising and capitulating. Obama has made it more difficult to do that, though. The GOP knows it, too.
We are currently in Bush redux here. During G.H.W.’s administration we had 2 wars and the largest tax cut in US history. That’s what got us in to this mess. Now, we still have 2 wars, a ton of debt, and something needs to change. Not doing anything to increase revenues now is as irresponsible as allowing spending and revenues to go on divergent paths during Bush’s tenure. Obama, representing the freewheeling spend-a-holic Democrats, has said he will put down his gun for the financial security of the country. The GOP has responded by continuing to hold everyone at knife-point so they can guarantee the lowest possible taxes. That is a compelling message after everything that’s happened.
*Game Theory nerds please grant me forgiveness for my rudimentary understanding/explanation.