And so the game of politics must seem – and is intended to seem – to the uninitiated, i. e. common, voter. The difference between football and politics is that the rules of football are widely publicized, whereas the rules of politics are closely guarded secrets. Yet, with a little astute observation, we can divine a few of the more obvious rules of the game. For example:
Rule 1. There must be two teams. Politics, like religion, must have a devil. Both philosophies are of necessity starkly simplistic views of reality. If you want to entice a large number of naturally divergent people with widely diverse backgrounds to congregate under one philosophical umbrella, you cannot afford subtlety. You have got to speak in dichotomies and dilemmas.
In 1789, John Adams wrote, "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution." Unfortunately, Mr. Adams did not understand the intrinsic nature of politics. Despite the United States starting out with a number of political parties, it naturally evolved into a two party system – because of politics.
Rule 2. The other team is always wrong and your team is always right. This rule proceeds naturally from Rule 1. Every politician knows that the most effective way to promote an idea among the initiate is to pose it as a defense against an enemy attack, ergo there must be an enemy. And every politician must have someone to blame for their own theft and incompetence. And it must be a highly recognizable and routinely demonized straw man.
Experiments with a third party in American politics, therefore, are either opium pipe dreams or deliberate distractions. Ross Perot's 1992 run as a third party candidate, for example, was nothing more than a ploy to siphon votes away from George Bush Sr. and effect the election of Bill Clinton, despite widespread conservative opposition to his Presidency.
Rule 3. Always say what is as near as you can get to the exact opposite of what you mean. Politics is a game of smoke and mirrors, more comparable to a shell game than to football. The objective is not to get the ball over the goal line, but to keep the public from knowing where the ball is.
Thus when President Obama says, "If you like your insurance plan, you can keep your insurance plan. Period!" the perceptive voter will know that he just said he's going to take their current plan away from them. He wasn't lying; he was just speaking in the language of politics.
And when Elizabeth Warren says she has no intention of running for President in 2016, you can bet she is planning to run for President in 2016.