Presidential Gaming

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Let’s think a little outside the box (overclocked or not) today.

No matter how apolitical or aUSA you are, you have probably noticed that the United States is having a Presidential election this year.  One core reality in this election is that each major party has one candidate who has a very light governmental resume as conventional wisdom would have it.

A President of the United States (and this is just about as true for leaders of other countries or big corporations) is essentially a walking decision-engine.  A successful President must be able to do three things, most of the time:

  1. Put together a team that will support him* to loyally, but competently and objectively, gather and interpret information for him, and present that information to him.  In the same spirit, that team must also make decisions on behalf of the President that are consistent with his beliefs and wishes.
  2. The President must have the knack to make good decisions about a huge range of human activities, even though many of them at least seem to have very difficult and complicated.  These decisions must be made with less than perfect, or even tolerably good information, and much of the missing data is not only unknown, but unknowable.  Such decisions often need to be made quickly in the middle of a crisis, and often the speed of a decision matters more than anything else.
  3. The President must then persuade most interested and not-so-interested parties that he made a good decision and is in general a good decision-maker, in an environment where at least a significant minority of Americans would oppose infinite wealth and eternal life if he got credit for it.

This is very, very hard to do, and even the greatest Presidents would not get an “A” in any of these fields, if you looked at all their decisions.  History gives an “A” to those who get the big ones right, and an “F” to those who don’t.

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?  Someone with an extensive track record may give you a better idea as to how he’ll perform than one that doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean he’ll do better than someone who doesn’t.   James Buchanan had one of the best-rounded resumes a U.S. President has ever had, yet he is considered by many to be the worst U.S. President of all because he did not rise to the occasion when the South began to secede from the Union.  In contrast, Abraham Lincoln, who had a governmental resume  even lighter than either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Palin is considered one of the greatest Presidents because he won the Civil War, despite making big mistakes in the process.

Other criteria don’t work well, either.  You can’t be truly average and be a good President (Warren G. Harding), but very smart men (James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter) have tended to be underachieving or even failures as Presidents.  They tend to think they know everything.  That can be bad on those occasions when they don’t, and can even be worse when they do and others resent them for it.

We could go on, but eventually you’ll come to the conclusion that there is no easy quick rule in deciding who is good and who isn’t.  Even if somebody looks right for today, he may not be right tomorrow because of a bolt out of the blue.  In 2000, few people were thinking, “Gee, who would handle a mass terrorist attack better, Bush or Gore?”  And do you know what?  If you had, and you looked at their track records at that time, you would have had reason to think Gore would have been the more aggressive one.

So what do you do?  Let’s look at what the U.S. does do.  It has turned the whole election process into a kind of simulation of the Presidency, a now multiyear trial-by-fire in which at least some aspects like that of the Presidency are thrust among the candidates.  The idea seems to be, “Whoever can get through that can’t be too bad.”  The problem is one can be a better campaigner than President and vice versa.  Coming up with an appealing thirty-to sixty second soundbite on an issue is a lot different than working through an actual solution to that issue, that could take years.  And, of course, the Vice-Presidential candidates don’t go through this test unless they ran for President and lost, which makes you wonder how good a test the long campaign really is.

“Enough with the lecture,” you might be saying.  “Do you have a solution?”  No, not a complete solution, there is no such thing.  But there is a possibly better tool than those we have now.

It’s called a game.

No, not a shoot-em-up (though I’d bet the Republicans would really like that, a fighter pilot and a hunter versus . . . . ), but more like the political-military simulations that are already being run regularly by those already in power.  If professional drivers use race simulation programs to get “used” to a course, and militaries use simulations to get soldiers “used” to fighting, why not have governmental software to get politicians “used” to governing and dealing with crisis?

That alone would be a good idea, but what might be even better (certainly more instructive (and entertaining) than debates) is to have such simulations live and broadcast in real-time.  How about some useful reality TV for a change?  Lock the candidate up with his key advisors someplace and pump in scenarios for them to resolve.

Yes, you wouldn’t want to make it too realistic so as not to tip off unfriendly folks, and maybe there would be a little acting to the camera (though you’re probably not going to ham it up too much when a nation is going to see what you do versus what you say), and there are no doubt numerous other problems, not least being that the political parties would probably take decades to agree to this.

But wouldn’t you feel better about the choices you make if you could see the person in action rather than giving a speech making promises or some rehearsed ninety-second answer to a grossly oversimplified question in some debate?  Wouldn’t you feel a lot better informed about issues and how the world really works if you could do that?

Yes, it sound really crazy now, today, and laughing at this would probably be the only thing you could get the McCain and Obama campaign to agree upon, but given the rapid spread to simulation software to train and inform, is it so crazy down the road?

Ed

*To keep the language simple and not leave the impression that the President of the United States is some sort of sex shifter, I will use the terms “He/him” rather than “He/She” and “him/her.” Just keep in mind there’s a bit of a chance that after this election, we could hear the U.S. equivalent of “The King is dead, long live the Queen!”

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