THE BLOG
10/08/2013 04:03 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2013

The Only Upside to the Shutdown: Realizing We Need a New Political System

There's an upside to the first-in-17-years U.S. government shutdown: It is forcing Americans to wake up to the reality that our current political system doesn't work and we need to create a new one.

This breakdown -- striking proof that America's win-lose, two-party system no longer serves our needs -- is only the beginning of what will be a series of jolts and shocks to the American public. It's unlikely that most of us will completely understand the problem until the crisis gets worse, but of course, the sooner we as citizens understand the problem, the sooner we can develop solutions.

To that end, here's the problem in a nutshell: In the beginning of win-lose political models the loser often concedes to the winner, but over time, the loser, gaining nothing in defeat, begins to rethink being polite about it. The loser comes to believe that there's no good in losing, only in winning, and begins to see sabotaging opponents as his only hope of winning again. So begins a lose-lose model. This leads to a perpetual war between parties and to where American politics is right now -- operating under the politics of sabotage. Losers logically conclude, "If I sabotage, I might win, and even if I don't win, you don't win either."

Meanwhile, we have the evolution between two groups: Traditionalists and Progressives. Traditionalists value the way things are. In times of crisis, this thinking dominates for periods of time. Progressives value moving society forward; they are ready to evolve, prize tolerance (except of traditionalists), and push the limits of inclusion. For a while, this battle goes back and forth, like a tug of war, until one side breaks through as the majority.

Party titles have switched back and forth between political parties throughout our history. During the Civil War, the Progressives were called Republican, while Traditionalists were called Democrats; today, Republicans are Traditionalists and Democrats are Progressives. But almost always, Traditionalists eventually have come to defend what they once opposed. One day, future Traditionalists will be defending Obamacare against the next wave of Progressive policy.

The Traditionalist Republican Party in America is been on a losing trajectory for the past two decades. GOP Chairman Reince Preibus summed it up recently, saying after the 2012 loss, "The fact is our party has had a tough time over the last 24 years winning decisive presidential elections. And it's our job as a party to get to the bottom of why that is."

Progressives, today's Democrats, contribute to lose-lose politics too, by sticking their finger in the eye of those they defeat. On the health care bill and most other legislation, they refused quality input from centrist Republicans and moved ahead without consensus in a needless win-lose manner.

The Republican shutdown of government is an act of sabotage because their Traditionalist world-view can no longer win elections. Like Traditionalists around the world, they see themselves in an epic battle to hold back progress, even calling out, "Let's roll!" -- the last words of Todd Beamer, one of the people that tried to thwart hijackers on Flight 93 in 2001 -- when they voted to take down the government in a House caucus last week.

The same win-lose tension and political sabotage is also fueling our greatest global threats. Terrorism in the Middle East is born from the same Traditionalist frustration, as certain groups see their faith-inspired world and values pulled away from them, and as they lose elections.

How do we change this?

Winners must take greater responsibility for facilitating change. Until Progressives can find ways for Traditionalists to also win, we will continue this vicious cycle.

Win-win thinking -- also known as Nash equilibrium in game theory -- offers some guidance for political strategy as well: To be a winner, you must not only plot out a winning strategy for yourself, but also take into account the strategies of all of the players.

We must move beyond demonization and start recognizing the value in multiple worldviews. Traditionalists remind us not to move too fast, to test new ideas first, and to honor family and faith. Progressives move us forward and help us evolve for the future as they bring it into being. They can complement each other.

America's political win-lose political paradigm has run its course, incentivizing losers to take down the whole ship. If we can learn from this current crisis, we can avoid further self-destruction. If we cling to the old model, we will sabotage ourselves.

Rich Tafel is a Founder of Public Squared providing strategy to the next generation of world changing leaders. Follow him on twitter @richtafel.

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