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Playing politics and other games, &c

[ by Charles Cameron — how shall we frame this last week in Washington? ]

Sapir-Whoff, George Lakoff, Carl Jung:

I’m a firm believer of some version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the effect that it’s hard for us to think thoughts when the necessary vocabulary is not available to us — so that while an expert surfer can distinguish maybe 50 different kinds of waves by name, the rest of us can only manage to discern maybe five or six types. I also think, with George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, that the metaphorical framings we use has enormous impact on our conversations — so that liberals framing things in terms of the “nurturing mother” contrasting with conservatives framing in terms of the “stern father” — or DACA people being “kids who, through no fault of their own” are in this country, vs “illegal immigrants” — will tend to win or lose depending on which of those framings has the most powerful resonance among voters. Finally, I’m in agreement with Carl Jung that certain deep patterns in the unconscious, which he termed “archetypes”, have a basis in instinct [CW 6, par. 765], are explored in myth and the arts, and have extraordinary profundity and depth — so that generations are moved by the story of St Eustace out hunting, meeting a stag with the crucified between his antlers, from Albrecht Durer and Pisanello to John Fowles [in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Tree, and The Ebony Tower] and Russell Hoban [in Riddley Walker].

Pisanello, Fowles and Durer

Some words and metaphorical phrasings, then, are of significant importance. It is for that reason, then, that I’ve tried to keep abreast of at least a few of the play and game metaphors that have surfaced in the course of the last few days, while I’ve been stuck in bed without the internet, and with only the TV — and no rewind button — to keep me abreast of events.


Game and play metaphors, early:

These were the metaphors and framings I caught during my first three or four days without internet.

Reince Priebus was the one I caught using the phrase “play politics”, and White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Senator Chuck Schumer “needs to up his game”. But if politics is a game politicians play, it’s a bipartisan game — both parties toss the term “game-changers” about freely, and each plays “the blame game” against the other. Indeed, Chuck Todd of Meet the Press sais “the blame game is what the two parties do best”, and Mitch McConnell said “When all the games stop, the issues are still there.” It might be nice to have no more games, with only the issues “in play”. Meanwhile, the President “has watched all this play out..”

There are, however, many more specific game and play references to be found in recent news reports, and they’re more inventive, more interesting than the generalized game references I’ve noted above. I’ll do my best to identify whatever I managed to note down, though it’s hard for me to keep track of all the details while stuck in bed watching TV. Here goes:

Chris Matthews said “I think [Sen Schumer] has all the cards.

Jennifer Rubin (WaPo) said someone, likely President Trump, “bounces around like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel”.

Steve Schmidt compared a politician to “Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.”

Someone on Meet the Press said the shutdown was “the Fight Club vs the Waffle House” I’m not sure which is which, nor who’s the winner here.

Brian Williams to Nicole Wallace: “As you delicately put it, the President plays whack-a-mole rather than chess”.


later part of the week:

Senator Graham’s suggestion to Democrats then currently in negotiation, after discussing ways in which the Republican position has been evolving: “don’t overplay your hand.”

Another term I’ve heard tonight drawn from Bridge (think “Double No Trumps” and from other card games: “The president has been the wild card here”.

Someone, The Dems “must play the hand they have”

Better, delightfully punning, the New Yorker: “Jared Kushner Is China’s Trump Card“.

Garrett Haake: “The House has always been the heavier lift for the Democrats..”

Here’s a refreshing game-metaphorical novelty from Garrett Haake to Kasie Hunt: “It’s a waiting game, Kasie”.

Rep Charlie Dent to Katie Tur: “The Queen of the Hill strategy“. Charlie Dent has used this phrase before, FWIW.

And someone on MSNBC: “DACA is the football”.. Come to that, Fort Smith DACA recipient feels like ‘political football’. Ashley Parker, observing comings and goings on the Senate floor: “This is how I watch football games.. I don’t know how to help, I don’t really understand what’s going on.” Leigh Ann Caldwell: “They’re going to go and huddle and see if it’s enough” and (maybe someone else) “instead of kicking the can down the road”. Best football ref? “Pelosi, Dems accuse GOP of moving goal posts on DACA deal“.

Regarding the Mueller investigation, Michael Steele used Shakespearean phrasing, telling Hallie Jackson: “Of all the players and actors in this drama, Sessions is the weakest link.”

Ari Melber, comparing the loyalty Trump appears to look for in his AG and senior FBI officers with Christopher Wray‘s reasons for threatening to resign if Andrew McCabe is removed: “He was threatening over the same ballpark”.

Tony Perkins, explaining thatt the Evangellical Right will no longer support Trump if he reverts to his earlier behaviors (eg his affair with a porn star), “Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels“: “We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,” Perkins told me.. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says.

Lawrence O’Donnell discussing the government shutdown and his own times working in the Senate past midnight, saying there are often few options, none of them entirely satisfactory: “It’s usually a toss up”.

Carol Leonnig: “Trump’s lawyers have been squaring off” with Mueller.

Chuck Schumer before the final Senate vote to re-open the government: “The great deal-making President sat on the sidelines.”

After the vote: “The White House chose to take an aggressive victory lap.”

2020? “A far left and far right race?”

A touch of game theory, late Sunday night: “But the Democrats’ strategy in Washington’s latest game of “shutdown chicken” has some important data behind it — at least as the numbers currently sit.”

Chris Matthews won my prize for best paradox when he came up with “High Noon at midnight” — that’s not a game reference of course, but then Matthews is the guy whose program is called “Hardball”. And Ari Melber gets kudos for “eleven is the new ten” — brilliant, if you know the Spinal Tap “eleven” reference, and don’t think it’s about George Clooney and “Ocean’s Eleven”.

And BTW, is “running for office” an athletics reference? Runners from sprints to the marathon at the Olympics might think so.. Come to that, I’ve seen this whole protracted negotiation around the government shutdown referred to as a “marathon” — a weekend of marathon closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill to reopen the government, Rolling Stone — so there’s a game ref there after all.



MTP: “the durability of institutions doesn’t matter to people in the ballgame.” DId I get that right?

Ari Melber: “we are going towards the red zone.” Yup.

Ari Melber, again: “You’ve been in these things — we call them scrums.” I’m not sure whether tjat’s a direct Rugby reference, it may come via the business methodology of that name…

Chris Matthews: “You’re losing a game of checkers, you’re losing a game, you break the board”. I may be able to get this one in context when the transcript becomes availale tomorrow — watch this space.

Carol Leonnig: “The President speaks in the language of a pugilist.” I googled “Carol Leonnig pugilist” to see if there was a transcript yet, and google supplied quotes from Leonnig about Barbara Boxer. Close, close.

Meanwhile, Trump: “Now they’re saying, “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back? Did he fight back?’ You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ So, here’s the thing: I hope so.” That’s pugilist talk, I think.

Someone, about the negotiations between Mueller and Trump’s attorneys, after the President said he’s looking forward to speaking with Mueller: “This doesn’t help if they wanted to start with a low bid.”

Brian Williams to Philip Bump of WaPo: “This isn’t your first rodeo eitther.” That one took me by surprise! Ride’em, cowboy!


Today, Trump is in Davos, and I’m still in bed, in recovery. I’ll bet there are some weak imstances here, but the overall use of sports metaphors is overwhelming — no other framing comes close. There are likely some typos here too — blame my meds, okay?

Your crazed-looking friend:


Let’s talk!

22 Responses to “Playing politics and other games, &c”

  1. Critt Jarvis Says:

    Sports metaphors! “That’s the ticket!” 😉

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Best “whack-a-mole” quote yet:

    These meritless conflicts claims [wrt Mueller] have continued to resurface like a game of whack-a-mole, popping up elsewhere after they are knocked down.
    Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre Is Happening Right Before Our Eyes

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Russian roulette — that’s a game, surely? Roulette?

    Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Isikoff and Corn:

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

  5. Scott Says:

    Always been a fan of Sapir-Whorf myself. They say that being multilingual shows it isn’t true, but I figure those people think a certain way even when they learn another language.

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    I understand there are “weak” and “strong” versions of Sapir-Whorf, and that it was the “strong” version that was found to be untrue. But I’m not up on the distinction.

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    “Most of Washington is scrambling over political football” — not a surprising metaphor, it’s the afternoon of the Big Game. Also: “dueling narratives” on the Nunes memo.

  8. Charles Cameron Says:

    Whoah, this is no metaphor:

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    Katy Tur on Meet the Press today:

    Look at football. I mean, when he talks about football players — kneeling is unAmerican as well. Not saluting the flag..

    Rep Schiff:

    The president should be placed in time out.


    It’s like a fake foul.

    Chris Matthews, on Hardball:

    What is the smarter play, Republican in a dicey situation this November, Is it bettere to look like you wwant the prosecution to proceed, you want to turn over every rock, as one member of Congress put it, or is it smarter to look like you’re playing defense for Trump?

  10. Charles Cameron Says:

    Racher Maddow caught my attention yesterdy with an apocalyptic reference (666) but when I transcribed her remarks, I found a gaming metaphor too (“I’ll raise you”):

    On Friday, it seemed like just another little bit of surrealism, just a little numerological surrealism, that on a day in Washingont when Republicans in Congress and the White Hoouse, had a political implosion .. on that same day, pn Friday, it seemed like a little bit of Puckish news god practical joking, that the Dow Jones that day dropped not just significantly, not just by over six hundred points, it dropped specifically by 666 points. It dropped by six hundred and sixty-six — the Number of the Beast. I mean, the Number of the Beast obviously exists in the Bible, it exists on Jared Kirshner’s mid-town office building, and it existed in the wild, on that market news on Friday, which just seemed so strange, alongside that gigantic political [inaudible]. Well, today I will take your Number of the Beast from Friday, and I will raise you another one thousand one hundred and seventy points, seventy five points off the Dow .. Today alone was the biggest point drop in a single session of the Dow, ever.

    Ouroboros from WaPo:

    How you can tell Nunes shot himself in the foot

  11. David Ronfeldt Says:

    hi charles — i spotted the following while trying to catch up. may be pertinent:

  12. Charles Cameron Says:

    Fascinating procovative beginning of the SWJ article David just pointed us to:

    American championships in the Olympics and professional sporting events such as: basketball, baseball, football, and many others are just as inspiring to the world as unifying streams to bring the world together.
    While sports, as part of the American culture, make the American mission colorful, they also find their expressions in the way Americans conduct their foreign and security affairs. Playing games against other nations is commonplace in U.S. diplomacy and military operations. This cultural manifestation has over time given rise to the American way of diplomacy and war.
    In most areas of international conflict, the United States has successfully demonstrated dominance in areas of strategy and force; however, this level of ‘sportsmanship’ does have its limitations.

    Thanks, David — very appropriate & much appreciated.

  13. Charles Cameron Says:

    Meet the Press Daily had several “kicking the can down the road” instances. By way of DoubleQuotes, sortof or kinda, there wa Eric Holder’s “The number 5 is an interesting one.. there’s Fifth Avenue, and then there’s the Fifth Amendment” — nicely turned. Sports again, “if you’re keeping score”. Religion, from Nancy Pelosi, “Maybe I should bring my rosary blessed by the pope… his holiness, Pope Francis, or the one before that, Benedict,” she added. “I have the honor and privilege of receiving rosaries blessed by several popes in my lifetime” — and also “I thought maybe we could say the rosary on the floor of the House. Not just five decades, the full rosary. All of the mysteries of the rosary. That’s 15 decades of the rosary.” Wow.
    Hardball, ouroboric phrases? “Bombshell actually bombed” — “enough is enough” — “They let Trump trump over them — that last one’s Chris Matthews, compare Clinton I: “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Games & sports again: “ping-pong diplomacy” — that’s Geogre Will — Dreamer Samantha Ramez, “They have been kicking this football around” — Chris Matthews ” I agree with you on the football kicking [?], it’s an old metaphor.” Interesting that, a mention of metaphor — that’s a bit meta for a newscast!

    Chuck Schumer: “We had serious disagreements, but instead of just going to our separate corners, we came together.”
    Is “shooting the bull” a sports metaphor? Maybe in Barcelona? Nunes: “I’m aware of members of Congress going to the Supreme Court and having coffee with the judges, just to shoot the bull” — maybe, or am I stretching?

  14. Charles Cameron Says:

    The Star (Lebanon) nails it:

  15. Charles Cameron Says:

    I hadn’t realized “vetting” was originally a horse-racing term. From Wiki:

    To vet was originally a horse-racing term, referring to the requirement that a horse be checked for health and soundness by a veterinarian before being allowed to race. Thus, it has taken the general meaning “to check”.
    It is a figurative contraction of veterinarian, which originated in the mid-17th century. The colloquial abbreviation dates to the 1860s; the verb form of the word, meaning “to treat an animal”, came a few decades later—according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known usage is 1891—and was applied primarily in a horse-racing context (“He vetted the stallion before the race”, “You should vet that horse before he races”, etc.).
    By the early 1900s, vet had begun to be used as a synonym for evaluate, especially in the context of searching for flaws.
    Political selection
    Politicians are often thoroughly vetted. For example, in the United States, a party’s presidential nominee must choose a vice presidential candidate to accompany them on the ticket. Prospective vice presidential candidates must undergo thorough evaluation by a team of advisers acting on behalf of the nominee. In later stages of the vetting process, the team will examine such items as a prospective vice presidential candidate’s finances, personal conduct, and previous coverage in the media.

    Hundreds of instances..

  16. Charles Cameron Says:

    Nicolle Wallace, “Do you suppose we’re even at the starting line?” I’ll add more as I catch them. Natasha Bertrand on All In: “Ultimately this has become a completely politicized game.” Kasie Hunt, “Nobody really knows what the end game should be or will be.”
    Here’s a rich one, from The Shutdown and the Spy, a work of intelligence fiction with a point by David Gide: from War on the Rocks.

    He was an experienced diplomat with a dozen years of challenging and occasionally dangerous assignments under his belt. His current portfolio, “America Strategy,” was the envy of his colleagues — finally a chance to play in the big game against the real adversary.

    That “big game” — besides its sporting ref to big game hunters –has a quiet echo of The Great Game, eh? See also from Brookings, Beyond the Trumpian Bluster, is there a Longer Game on Pakistan?
    Both recommended.
    Oh, and how about this, from What’s at Stake for Trump at the Winter Olympics in the New Yorker?

    The hardest game at the Olympics won’t be played on the ice rinks, ski slopes, or luge runs in South Korea, where the United States is fielding the largest number of athletes among participating countries. The enduring legacy of the Pyeongchang Games will instead be whether they generate enough momentum in the race to prevent a military showdown between the United States and North Korea after the Games end. The outcome could define President Trump’s foreign-policy legacy, too.

    Omarosa Speaks:

    TVGO: Did the race card come into it…

    Omarosa: First of all, I don’t like the term “race card.” That would insinuate that there was a game being played. My life is not a game.

    “See you in the game.” I’m cheating here — this one’s from TV fiction, The Imposters, and the game is grift, the artistry of the con. And shortly thereafterL “Uh, hold up, it looks like we got a bogey at 3:00.” “‘Bogey,’ isn’t that golf?” “No, I mean ‘bogey’ in a ‘Top Gun’ way.”

  17. Charles Cameron Says:

    And a DoubleQuote in the Wild, via Bill Benzon:

    Close to a hundred thousand people have expressed their liking for this double image — which is a powerful testimony to the power of a juxtaposition which offers a very close parallel between two (on the face of it) strongly opposed indicators — the pairing can of course be seen as a “proof” of the secular origins of Bernini’s striking image, but to my mind, the context, the life and undoubted ecstasies of St Teresa, points us in the opposite direction, ie heavenwards.
    Okay, there’s a celebrated high artwork juxtaposed to a hot celeb, and spiritual ecstasy to mortal (sinful) drunkenness, all of which makes for a fascinating frisson that not all DoubleQuotes achieve — but the popularity of this tweet is nonetheless illustrative of the power of opposition in sameness, a characteristic of many of the finest DoubleQuotes.

  18. Charles Cameron Says:

    Olympic Games, games as metaphors, and game metaphors:
    This one is for “roller-coaster ride” which I think is a game, isn’t it? or at least a mode of play (Wittgenstein, cf on the difficulty of defining “ganme”):

    After the Games, two events will be critical barometers of the future. The United States and South Korea postponed their annual joint military exercises—involving tens of thousands of troops—until April, in deference to the Olympics. North Korea views the exercises as threatening, even provocative. It has asked for them to be suspended for the rest of the year.
    “This has been a roller-coaster ride through and through,” J. James Kim, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said, at a briefing organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center, in Washington, on Wednesday. “I think things will remain calm until the end of March. But we’ll have to see if things heat up again when the exercises continue in April.”

    That’s from from What’s at Stake for Trump at the Winter Olympics, which I also quoted from two comments back.
    Then there’s this:
    Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics

    If “diplomatic dance” were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister would be favored to win gold.

    Here’s a DoubleQuote-ish version of the same “diplomatic dance” — from WaPo, The ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea’ captivates people in the South at the Olympics:

    Kim is “the Ivanka Trump of North Korea” because of her family connections and her ability to be a compelling saleswoman, said Sue Mi Terry, a former Korean analyst at the CIA who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    South Korean television drew that exact parallel, noting that Kim Jong Un had sent his sister to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games, while President Trump was sending his daughter to the closing.

    IOW, the two of them will bookend the Olympics..
    Okay, enough of princesses, at leaast for now. Here, from The Olympics’ Never-Ending Struggle to Keep Track of Time, is an Olympic ouroboros:

    The fact is that it takes time to measure time; the challenge of Olympic timing through the decades has been to make that measurement as quickly as possible. Watches capable of discerning hundredths of a second were in regular use in the Olympics by 1948. But what good is such refinement if, when an athlete crosses the finish line, the judge drops a tenth of a second or more merely clicking the stopwatch?

    Fascinating piece..

    Further on the cheerleaders, from a Telegraph piece, Winter Olympics: Kim Jong-un’s ‘army of beauties’, sexism, propaganda and the divergence of two Koreas

    On the face of it, the performance was all good fun, met with a mixture of incredulity and bemusement in the ice hockey hall and on social media. The modestly dressed North Koreans, with their antiquated Cold War routines, faced off good-naturedly against South Korean cheerleaders in black mini-skirts dancing to K-pop.

    For the record: while I appreciate feminine beauty, I have to say that “black mini-skirts dancing” sound more appealing than “modestly dressed North Koreans” — and that I don’t appreciate the North Korean dictatorship one little bit, it’s horrendous as far as I can tell. Did I really need to make that clear?

  19. Charles Cameron Says:

    Nothing sportif, but a Harvard ouroboros:

    Lawrence S. Bacow, the lawyer, economist, and former longtime president of Tufts University, will be the next president of Harvard University.
    The choice ends a months-long search for a successor to Drew Gilpin Faust, who is set to retire in June. Bacow was a member of the search committee that ultimately tapped him.

    Bacow was a member of the search committee that ultimately tapped him!!! Oh, noes!
    And here’s another ourob, this one from John Schindler:

  20. Charles Cameron Says:

    Other game riffs:

    If Washington cedes the nuclear supply game at this early stage of development in Saudi Arabia, Moscow or Beijing will become the primary stewards of Riyadh’s nuclear ambitions

    The Beat, “Dreamers are being used as pawns in a broadly political game.” All In, “The President has been playing a game, a political game.”
    The Atlantic article, titled How the White House Gamed the Security-Clearance System
    “When will our politicians step up to the plate” with regard to school “active shooter” “mass casualty” events?

  21. Charles Cameron Says:

    Okay, here’s a great game metaphor ref. The context is hard to summarize, so I’ll refer you to the article it came from: Pope Francis Is Playacting Realpolitik. First, though, enjoy the ref to “the Vatican game plan” in a thoroughly John Le Carre setting, complete with moles in the robes of Monsignors and, who knew, maybe a Cardinal:

    In Rome, it led to the deep penetration of the Vatican by East bloc intelligence services, a counterintelligence debacle (now fully documented from original sources) that put the Church’s diplomats in an even weaker position in negotiations with their communist counterparts, who frequently knew the Vatican game plan thanks to the work of well-placed moles and informers inside the Roman Curia.

    That last flourish of mine, about a possible Cardinal-mole, is no doubt exaggerated — but there were moles in the Vatican Secretariats, working for Stasi andd other Easstern bloc intelligence services.

  22. Charles Cameron Says:

    A New Game at the Winter Olympics – Kim Jong Un tries to play South Korea against the United States. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/26/a-new-game-at-the-winter-olympics

    n enduring bromide about the Olympic Games holds that they provide a respite from politics. That has been a fiction since at least 424 B.C., when Sparta, fighting Athens in the Peloponnesian War, was barred from the Olympiad. In the modern age, it has remained thus. As Seoul prepared to host the 1988 Summer Games, Pyongyang tried to scare the world away by detonating a time bomb on a South Korean passenger jet, killing all hundred and fifteen people onboard. Two spies who planted the bomb were caught, and swallowed cyanide, but one survived. She revealed that the attack had been ordered, in a handwritten directive, by Kim Jong Il, the heir apparent to the nation’s founder.
    The Games have returned to South Korea at another moment of acute anxiety, with the potential for hostilities between the two nations at a level rarely seen since the Korean War ended, in 1953. The North Korean regime, now led by Kim’s son, the thirty-four-year-old Kim Jong Un, is still violent, unpredictable, and isolated, but, this time, it did not try to stop the Games. Instead, it adopted a more sophisticated strategy: a diplomatic play, with a fragile potential to defuse the confrontation.
    For months, experts on North Korea have suspected that Kim might switch course, from confronting the United States and South Korea to playing on tensions between them. In a New Year’s Day speech, after months of flouting international condemnation of his development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, Kim surprised his adversaries by proposing talks about sending a North Korean delegation to the Games. The two nations restored a military hotline and agreed to field a joint women’s ice-hockey team. Kim’s gambit was calculated to appeal to South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, an ardent proponent of engagement. Moon hailed the deal as a breakthrough, saying, “Many considered it an impossible dream to have an Olympics of peace, in which North Korea would participate and the two Koreas would form a joint team.”

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