John McCain as the UAW

On January 9, 2008, in General, by Neil Stevens

I listened in to part of Senator John McCain’s Blogger Call this morning, briefly taking on the role of the amateur reporter with the personal goal of searching for a reason to be content with the possibility that McCain could be the Republican nominee this year.

I intended to ask a question, actually, but he effectively answered me before I got a chance to ask. In discussing issues related to Michigan (as he was coming to us from Grand Rapids, making a run through the state before going next to South Carolina), he brought up an agreement the UAW recently made to cover long-term medical costs for its members. This is relevant because he said that in Washington, he intends to work with Democrats in the way the UAW and auto workers worked to solve that problem.

That’s a deep answer, and is worth unpacking.

As a long time opponent of the Senator, my first inclination is to take that statement as proof of everything I’ve disliked in his record as Senator. The conventional wisdom being that the UAW always gets what it wants, and the auto makers cave even when it costs them their ability to compete in the market.

I think there’s more to it than that, though. A Republican President and a Democratic Congress in a sense have a relationship much like that of GM, Ford, and the UAW. Both sides have goals, those goals often conflict, and their relationship is reasonably modeled by the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma of game theory, where cooperation benefits everyone more than antagonism, but if one side cooperates and the other antagonizes, the defector wins big, leading to a situation where everyone defects and is worse off.

UAW has exploited this well. Because it deals with more than one company, it negotiates with them all, and as soon as one is convinced to cooperate, it exploits that and forces the result onto the other employers. It has the advantage of unity, so it tends to win.

So in this sense, it is President McCain who would play the role of the UAW to the Senate’s GM and the House’s Ford. He being the sole voice of the executive branch can simultaneously negotiate and compromise with the Senate and the House, take the best of the two deals, and press the other house to accept the better deal! He’ll still be compromising, and following the model that has served him well in getting his way in the Senate, but basic game theory will carry the day for him in a way that it can’t for the divided team.

This analysis actually causes me to reconsider whether a McCain Presidency would split the party as much as I’ve long believed it would. He still has the problem of illegal immigration, and he addressed that in his call by emphasizing his endorsement by Governor Tom Ridge as being a man who is “committed to securing the borders.” But we can survive a division on that issue, as proven by the fact that we already are split on that issue by President Bush, so I now believe that President McCain would not split us the way Senator McCain has, and so I no longer oppose his nomination.


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