Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Winning

The mot du jour has reached its entertainment destination, a Saturday Night Live skit spoofing Charlie Sheen's obsession, but in American politics, no end is in sight.

The Wisconsin standoff goes on along with the budget game of chicken to avoid a Washington shutdown, prompting E.J. Dionne to recall Nixon's "'madman theory'...a negotiating approach that induces the other side to believe you are capable of dangerously irrational actions and leads it to back down to avoid the wreckage your rage might let loose."

As John Boehner plays sane while pointing to his freshmen's irrationality and Scott Baker digs into his bunker, it's time for another look at the "winning" metaphor for human relations.

Vince Lombardi said it was "the only thing," but that was football and, as a recent documentary showed, his monomaniacal devotion made him a sports legend but eventually destroyed his life in mid-age.

Between Sheen and the TV network that exploited his shaky character for ratings, it's hard to care about who wins, but when politics, the so-called art of compromise, becomes a zero-sum game, we are all in trouble.

The past two years have been marked by Pyrrhic victories that have now gone bipartisan--first the President's decision to ram through a health care bill at all costs and now the GOP's determination to snatch defeat from the jaws of the victory that his political mistake brought them at the polls in November.

It's undoubtedly true that competitive spirit is needed to implement Obama's campaign to "Win the Future," but winning at all costs can be destructive, as Middle East tyrants are now discovering.

In this time of upheaval, politicians may want to look back at the words of one of the 20th century's noble losers, Adlai Stevenson:

“The hardest thing about any campaign is how to win without proving you’re unworthy of winning.”

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