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March 19, 2014

Playing To Win or Playing Not To Lose?


While it is still more than seven months until the mid-term elections, the talk shows have been filled with commentary about the GOP’s large advantage in the elections.  Some go so far as to predict the GOP taking the Senate and adding House seats.  Maybe so, but the GOP is apparently “playing not to lose” instead of “playing to win,” which increases the odds of underperforming. 

This dynamic plays out regularly in professional sports. One team, ahead by a large margin, begins to play to only protect its lead. The losing team begins to take bigger chances and plays more aggressively since it has little to lose. A few good plays and scores later, and the momentum shifts to the once-losing team, which is suddenly winning. What happened?  The once-winning team played too cautiously, believing that it only needed to wait out the clock.

 Politicians often take a similar play-it-safe approach, but instead of just losing a game, it’s the people who lose, and. real people and real lives are affected. So, in politics how should elected officials play to win?  Introduce a positive agenda, a pro-active agenda. 

The GOP was handed just such an agenda in the form of Congressman Camp’s tax reform proposal. But since its introduction the impulse to simply play to not lose has taken over many in the GOP. The risk-avoiders’ defend their inaction by saying  the proposal isn’t perfect. But that shouldn’t keep them from promoting a positive agenda. 

The American people want leaders, not those just who see the “other team” stumbling and decide that that’s enough for them to “win.”  Leadership is about being for something, defining a vision, making clear why others should support that vision, and then inspiring them to work for that vision. Leadership is not about merely standing in opposition.   

Leadership defines solutions, and by that definition makes clear that alternatives are not as attractive. When there is no leadership all ideas can appear equally attractive because there is no vision, so less valuable ideas may gain traction, leading to greater division. 

People don’t elect other citizens to Congress to provide them with regular trips to the mid-Atlantic. Rather, they elect them because they expect them to lead when it comes to public policy and running the government. Without a vision that is well communicated, our country will continue to drift towards policies that dwindle rather than grow our economy, lifting all of our fortunes.


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