Thursday, August 2, 2007

Playing the Other's Game; Dangerous

Anyone who has participated in organized sports is likely to have learned one of the toughest lessons of competition; the danger of getting sucked into playing your opponent's game. It usually happens when your opponent knows he is unlikely to beat you at your own game, and has nothing to lose by trying to take you out of it, hoping to strip you of your advantage. I learned a lot of life's lessons in the process of playing basketball up through college at the NCAA level. Thus my use of the game of basketball as a metaphor to illustrate a point.

The classic case is a short but fast team up against a tall and disciplined team. When the disciplined team starts playing the run and gun game of the short fast team they forsake their strength, begin to worry and lose confidence in themselves. Sometimes the game can actually get away from the "better" team. The wise coach spots it and often can avoid a bad outcome by getting his players' attention that they need to trust themselves, and their own game plan, and not get sucked into playing the other's game.

It's becoming distressingly evident to me that Barack Obama, who, among the current candidates running for the office. I hope will become President, is starting to play the other's game. People have been attracted to him because he seems to see the big picture, has taken the high road, is smart and articulate, and has come across as a statesman, not just another politician competing for a job.

However, his handlers, not to be confused with coaches, like Kerry's before him, seem to be pushing him to come across as the testosterone candidate, the micro tactician, the tough on terrorism image. Recently he said that he would take military action in Pakistan, even though Pakistan publicly warned us away from that course. Pakistan was warning Bush away, knowing that Bush is weak at home and vulnerable to criticism. With that comment he essentially, though hopefully inadvertently, aligned himself with Bush, the vulnerable. And Barack's the one who called Hillary Bush Lite. What was he thinking? Or, more importantly, what happened to his thinking? He's playing his opponent's' games.

Hillary, in the last debate, ironically, made the more testosterone response to the viewer's question about talking to our enemies. She began with "No". Obama's response has been characterized by the media as soft on terrorism.

He was guilty of making a classic rookie mistake, not seeing the trap until it was too late. He answered the question from his conviction that we must try to establish dialogue with those who oppose us, a major recommendation of the Iraq Study Commission. But he fell into the trap of answering a Yes or No question, used by lawyers to entrap witnesses, with his honest belief that, Yes, of course we need to talk to those who oppose us, rather than preceding his yes or no response with the sensible caveats his response needed, and which he mentioned, but too late in the game.

I hold the view that we have a social obligation to respond, but not to answer.

What disappoints me most is that after his opponent ran the floor and scored on a steal and fast break, he fell into playing the opponent's game, trying to make a quick score, in retaliation, and playing catch up. But playing catch up is rarely successful, relying on tactics more than strategy.

The sports metaphor breaks down here. Unlike that simplistic example in which the coach is the source of wisdom, Obama must rely on his own wisdom and his ability to articulate it. Roles should be reversed here. Obama is the player/coach and he must tell his advisers that he knows best, and that he sees them as being in support roles, like assistant coaches, chart keepers and trainers.

Problem is sometimes a player/coach can become confused and ineffective by trying to handle both roles. It's rare in the world of sports that it works. I suspect that it won't work well with Barack either.

So someone needs to get his attention that he is playing his opponent's game, and remind him of, and get him back to playing, his own game. I'll phrase my response in the form of a question.

Who is Mrs. Obama?

Lighthouse Keeper

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