"Shall we play a game?" is a quote that still dominates my memories of childhood. It was a featured quote in the movie War Games, which used a learning computer and game theory to prove that in the case of nuclear war there would be no winners. However, it became painfully obvious Thursday in the Senate that the Republican majority didn't like the movie as much as I did: They certainly didn't learn anything from it or, more importantly, anything about game theory in general.
The final lesson learned from WOPR, the learning computer in the movie: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
But today, Republicans decided to play the game. Their move was the so-called "Nuclear Option," which they are using to avoid a filibuster from the Democrats over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
The Nuclear Option changes the rules of the Senate to make it so that only a simple majority, 51 votes, are needed to proceed to a vote on confirmation of a judge to the Supreme Court. Before today it would have taken 60 votes to proceed to the nomination, and the Republicans were just too lazy to negotiate, cajole, or politic the last votes that they needed.
I would really like to fully lay this travesty at the feet of the Republicans, but after 8 years of the Obama administration that refused to negotiate on anything, and Harry Reid's taking the first move toward public policy nuclear war back in 2013, it can't be completely blamed on Republicans. Reid changed the rules regarding federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments back in 2013.
It was fairly obvious at that point what the fallout would be. The full Nuclear Option. And any forecaster would have admitted that Republicans would eventually gain control of the White House and the Senate and use the Nuclear Option themselves. However, Obama's inability to compromise and Reid's first shot still doesn't justify what Republicans did on Thursday.
The Republicans have now lost the moral high ground. They had it, thanks to Reid running the Senate like an amoral thug. He blocked debate on everything, he controlled what was voted on, and again he fired the first procedural nuclear weapon. But now the Republicans have decided that his example is a good one to follow. They are now the amoral thugs.
The Senate was created by our Founding Fathers as the deliberative body. The Senate is supposed to be the tea saucer, the body of Congress that cools the hot and volatile House of Representatives. Today. they should just be thought of as the immature caricatures that political cartoonists like to portray them. The Nuclear Option is beneath the dignity of the Senate and today will not be remembered well by history.
This is a game that the Republicans might not have started, but by playing it at all, they guaranteed that no one will win.
Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer) is a contributer to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Market Institute and previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor and for an academic think tank.
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