Politics as Poker

David Mamet writes about poker strategy and uses it as an extended metaphor to illustrate what he sees as poor political choices by the Democratic party. I'm wavering as to whether or not the metaphor makes sense as applied or not, but it's fun to read, even if it might not end up giving any advice more solid then "courage is good." Another way to put this is that I don't know if the article is more closely equivalent to House of Games (brilliantly written, character's motivations all make sense and the plot comes together beautifully);
Spanish Prisoner (very well written, some of the characters behave in inexplicable ways and I can't decide whether or not the resolution makes any sense); or Spartan (interestingly written, essentially nonsensical).

Either way, some choice bits:
The military axiom is "he who imposes the terms of the battle imposes the terms of the peace." The gambling equivalent is: "Don't call unless you could raise"; that is, to merely match one's opponent's bet is effective only if it makes the opponent question the caller's motives. And that can only occur if the caller has acted aggressively enough in the past to cause his opponents to wonder if the mere call is a ruse de guerre.


For example, take a player who has never acted with initiative — he has never raised, merely called. Now, at the end of the evening, he is dealt a royal flush. The hand, per se, is unbeatable, but the passive player has never acted aggressively; his current bet (on the sure thing) will signal to the other players that his hand is unbeatable, and they will fold.


The Republicans, like the perpetual raiser at the poker table, became increasingly bold as the Democrats signaled their absolute reluctance to seize the initiative.


Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise. The American public chose Bush over Kerry in 2004. How, the undecided electorate rightly wondered, could one believe that Kerry would stand up for America when he could not stand up to Bush? A possible response to the Swift boat veterans would have been: "I served. He didn't. I didn't bring up the subject, but, if all George Bush has to show for his time in the Guard is a scrap of paper with some doodling on it, I say the man was a deserter."

This would have been a raise. Here the initiative has been seized, and the opponent must now fume and bluster and scream unfair. In combat, in politics, in poker, there is no certainty; there is only likelihood, and the likelihood is that aggression will prevail.


The Democrats are anteing away their time at the table. They may be bold and risk defeat, or be passive and ensure it.
Just to note one possible problem with the metaphor, it's not clear that it applies in precisely the same way to heads-up poker.