Your Ward Room blogger spent Saturday afternoon hosting a game of Diplomacy. Diplomacy is a pioneering war game invented by Allan Calhamer, an eccentric Harvard undergrad who ended up spending his career as a mailman in suburban LaGrange Park. Seven players take the role of a major power in pre-World War I Europe, and attempt to conquer the continent. No country is strong enough to win on its own, but only one country can win, so players must form alliances -- then break them. There are no dice involved. The action is determined by deals struck by the players, in secret negotiations.
In Saturday’s game, I was playing Germany. Just as in history, I was at war with my neighbor, England. While we were fighting over Belgium, Russia conquered Scandinavia, threatening both of us. England and I patched up our differences, turned around, and knocked Russia out of Sweden and Norway.
Diplomacy is the best tabletop simulation of politics I’ve ever encountered. It demonstrates the famous adage of Britain’s 19th Century Prime Minster, Lord Palmerston, who once said that nations “have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
The same is true of politicians. On Sunday, the Sun-Times published Fran Spielman’s interview with Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel made it clear that he suspects Ald. Edward Burke was responsible for the residency challenge that knocked him off the ballot. But, according to Spielman, “the mayor-elect said that would not drive the City Council reforms he plans to implement, after consulting with a host of new aldermen.”
“I know what I’ve heard,” Emanuel told Spielman. “I know what the rumors are. But I don’t know. And I’m not interested. It’s over.”
What that means is what I’ve been hearing since before the election: Emanuel doesn’t have the allies to force Burke out of his Finance Committee chairmanship, just as Burke didn’t have the legal or political muscle to prevent Emanuel from becoming mayor. Burke is a master of shifting alliances. He quickly went from being a member of the “evil cabal” who opposed Jane Byrne to Byrne’s candidate for state’s attorney against Richard M. Daley, the heir who threatened both their political futures. And he’s learned the dangers of fighting with a mayor: after Burke’s faction lost Council Wars, he lost the Finance Committee chairmanship.
These two great powers of Chicago politics are going to have to patch up their differences and work together. Otherwise, they’ll both lose: Burke will lose another Council Wars and Emanuel will ruin his political prospects with a failed mayoralty.
Running a major city is a much more serious business than trying to strike deals with six people around game board, but the political principles are exactly the same.
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