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The Art Of The Bluff


Tip O'Neill famously said that "all politics is local."  That is a truth that I have seen repeated over and over again during canvassing and phone calls and everything else here in my community — and across the country via anecdotes that we get from readers every single day.  That personal connection in get out the vote efforts is critical — but, in some measure, perception and the public projection of image and mood is also an essential component of the election mix.

To that end, the WaPo has a version of the CW on Karl Rove and the Republican party that he has shaped in his own and George Bush's image — and the trouble or lack thereof, depending on whose spin you buy at this point, that the GOP might be in these days.

Reader Oklahoma Kiddo points to an op-ed in the LATimes for some further insight into all things Bush and Rove.  The news reports the last few days have been replete with little vignettes about the "upbeat Rove" and his "optimistic" prognostications and the air of mystery that he knows something none of the rest of us know.  His interview on NPR the other day was a shining example of this cocky little joy joy act. 

But what is it based on — mystery internal polling?  Inate wisdom?  Or something else entirely?

Which leads me to my point.  There are few people who understand human nature and the art of the bluff better than Doyle Brunson.  Saying that he is a legend in the poker world is such an understatement that I'm ashamed to even belittle him that way — the man is a genius.  So allow me to impart some Brunson wisdom on bluffing:

One of the best times to bluff is when an opponent is staring you down, reaching for his chips, or otherwise threatening to call. While opponents who are trying to discourage your bet by threatening to call, MIGHT actually call, they don't have hands powerful enough to raise. So, what remains are usually hands that they will be reluctant to call with. They will either call — reluctantly — or fold….

What Brunson is referring to here is is a regular bluff, but what Rove is trying to pull off this year might be more akin to something that David Sklansky theorized about in his seminal work "The Theory of Poker," called the semi-bluff:  "In games with multiple betting rounds, to bluff on one round with an inferior or drawing hand that might improve in a later round is called a semi-bluff. A player making a semi-bluff can win the pot two different ways: all opponents fold immediately or by catching a card to improve the player's hand."

In other words, Karl is hoping for an Ace on the river, and is stalling to see if he gets one, or he's hoping that everyone will fold up their tent and go home in the face of his "oooooh, scary" optimism.  Well, I'm not buying it — and you should not do so either. 

The odds are against you, Karl. 

I'm going to take the Tip O'Neill maxim a step further:  all politics is retail.  And for the GOP this year, what you have to sell is higher deficits, a mess in Iraq, a deteriorating Afghanistan, no Osama, party leadership that protected power over keeping kids safe from a sexually revved up Republican congressman, a crap Medicare revision, a do-nothing Congress that your party controlled on both sides of the Hill, and a whole lot of convictions, criminal pleas and corruption investigations from the top to the bottom of the GOP organization and your KStreet crony operations.  Not a good sales pitch, even with a deep discount bin and a bunch of nasty huckster commercials ringing all the dog whistles and bells.

America deserves better than a daily con game from the Bush White House and a bunch of Republican rubber stamp shills in Congress.  You have a bad hand, and America is calling your bluff in eight days — because we are adamantly not folding in the face of your faux election bravado.  Instead, if I have anything to do with it, Karl, we are going to kick your pasty ass. 

Had enough?  Get out there and get out our vote for Democrats.  The nation is depending on you.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com