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Monday, October 31, 2005

a "duh" semi-bluff

Was Miers a stalking horse for the "real" candidate -- a way to soften up the situation for the nomination of a highly credentialed conservative? Most commentators quite reasonably have rejected this possibility, largely on the grounds that the stakes are too high and that Bush is probably not that sophisticated. Anyone who said "hey, let's nominate someone we don't want on the court in hopes that they will be rejected" would probably be laughed out of the room.

Far more sensible, however, is the idea that this was a classic "semi-bluff" -- i.e., that Bush nominated Miers with the hope that the Senate would "fold" and she would be confirmed easily, but knowing that if they "called," and she were rejected, he would have a strong "draw" in a big pot to back it up. Thus the "expected value" of her selection could be much higher than that of far superior nominees.*

This, too, may seem overly game-theoretical for the "simple-minded" Bush, but I don't think you need to be a genius to be influenced by the efficacy of this strategy. The back-room reasoning goes something like this: "Mr. President, we can hopefully avoid a costly confrontation and get a pretty good Justice on the Court by nominating Miers, but if she gets rejected for any reason other than for being too conservative (which is highly unlikely considering she has no paper trail), we will be able to fight The Big One on more favorable terms."

Saavy, yes, but hardly a masterstroke. This is a classic scenario where an elementary understanding of gambling makes "sophisticated" tactics seem practically obvious.

* Note for poker geeks: I am aware of the superficial imperfections of this analogy, but the situation is suprisingly parallel when formalized properly. I'll spare the general audience, but email me if you are interested.

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