Compromisers or Confederates? Two-Headed House Is a Hard Foe to Figure

10/16/2013 06:51 pm ET | Updated Dec 16, 2013

It was a cornucopia of plays yesterday in Washington, D.C, as lawmakers and pundits alike did what playmakers do -- they positioned, re-positioned and de-positioned their agendas and competitors in the highly-rated reality of the budget-debt-default drama. If only we knew, however, which foes were in the fight, compromisers or new-age confederates. Here's a sampling from the cheap seats:

BOEHNER'S TWO-FER: Flanked by his deputies, House Speaker John Boehner strode to the microphone cluster to announce not much but to steal a page from the Democrat's playbook -- that all he's seeking is fairness. Fairness, fairness, fairness was his word of the day. His plays, as seen through The Standard Table of Influence, were two-fold: The preemptive Trump and evasive Red Herring (shown above). Fairness, of course, was the principle that Obama-Reid-Pelosi have been pushing for weeks by way of the Screen play. While it seemed that Boehner got away with his theft of the Fairness Thing his prop failed to distract the wonks from his more obvious problem -- that his Tea Party pals weren't playing ball.

PELOSI'S HAT TRICK: Minutes later, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi brought her own posse to the same mic stand, letting loose a trifecta of easily decoded, made-for-media plays: It's sabotage she seethed (a favorite Label). Time is money, she quipped (a Screen to amplify the tick-tock of the default clock). What this tells me is that Speaker Boehner doesn't have the votes (a Call Out to show he was posing).

OBAMA'S PAUSE For his part in the 11th-hour drama, Barack Obama stayed largely out of the fight. His play was a Pause, the strategy that tells us that the Commander-in-Chief likes the direction and dialog of the moment. One wonders if the president is thinking about the bear who's chasing two men -- it's the one closer to the bear that's likely to get eaten, and Obama's numbers, while bad, are better than Boehner's.

There were other gems to put a finer point on this infamous set-to:

DEADBEAT NATION Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), never one to mince words and perhaps knowing that the average voter has never heard the phrase, "Full faith and credit," summed up the risks, that we'd be a deadbeat nation. Her play was the Label, no different than Pelosi's sabotage bite, but perhaps more meaningful to social security recipients in Silver Spring.

HISTORY LESSON Conservative columnist George Will, always inspired by history, and this time by his acknowledged hero, James Madison, reminded us of Madison's uncanny focus on "the purse." Asked about John Boehner's slavish commitment to his Tea Party tyrants, Will merely remarked, "He has a constituency," which translated to the commoner means he may not be right to do what he's doing, but has the right to do it. Will's plays were Screens of a high order, all to invoke the wisdom and wits that got us to this point.

SOUTH SHALL RISE Finally, we moved from the sublime to the ridiculous (or not so ridiculous) when Charlie Rangel (D-NY) said on CNN, "This is all about a handful of people who got elected as Republicans that want to bring down our government...the same way they fought as Confederates, they want to bring down the government and reform it." Whoa!, his host, Ashley Banfield, almost exploded. But the seed was planted by way of a Trial Balloon and it was further evidence that the D's are worried that in the house of Boehner there may live real traitors.

So who won the day? Clearly the Democrats. But they are fighting a two-headed foe, and while that mere fact suggests destruction for Republicans, it also means that there are two wars to fight -- one that history suggests will end in compromise, and another that history also suggests will cultivate a new kind of confederacy.