Alan Riquelmy: Play the game by the rules

True Nevada County confessions: I’m a fan of board games.

All kinds of games, really. Card games, games with dice. Hell, hand me three d6. I’ll roll up a character.

But maybe the best game, the one I doubt I’ll ever play on the field, affects all of us, regardless of whether we admit it.

Politics is a game, and the people who acknowledge it and use the rules to their advantage typically win more than their opponent.

And if there’s one thing games have taught me, it’s this: Try to make a two-player game into one with three players, and someone will become a spoiler.

Admittedly, sometimes the third player won’t affect the game, like John Anderson in 1980. But it happens enough that it’s worth fretting over if the extra guy is pulling votes from you.

Take Ross Perot in 1992, or Ralph Nader in 2000. Perot won zero electoral votes, yet almost 20 million votes of the people. Nader’s effect on the 2000 race is up for debate, but you can bet there’s at least one Tennessean who would have liked to have seen Nader get benched.

All this leads me to wonder why calls for a third party crop up every few years. Some folks get ticked off enough to go through with it, and maybe even capture a seat or two on the local level somewhere. Maybe snag a spot in a state legislature.

But without displacing one of the two big players on the scene, these parties will never rival Republicans and Democrats. It’s not because these smaller parties don’t have the willpower or the intelligence or any trait needed for success. It’s because the game is designed against them.

And if you want to win, you’ve got to play by the rules.

Trying to change a major political party’s platform from the inside is the work of several people’s lifetimes. Few have the patience, or lifespan, to go that route. Maybe that’s why they pour their energy into a third party, likely knowing their efforts won’t net success yet at least getting that rush of doing something.

See state of Jefferson, et al.

The results of that something, however, are tepid. There’s no parliamentary system for us here. Getting a fraction of the vote won’t put a handful of your party faithful in the House of Commons.

It’s A or B. One or two. Anyone who tells you this isn’t a binary choice has lost the rule book, or never even read it.

So here we are, crunched between two amorphous, Lovecraftian horrors changing shape slowly as new generations develop beliefs different from their parents. It’s enough to drive you, well, mad.

At least there is change, though. You can see it, especially now that an incumbent president is out after one term. A few brave officials testing the waters, making calculated moves despite the prevailing winds of today.

You better believe someone like U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney — a member of Republican leadership — isn’t throwing the ball to where her party is today, but where she expects it to be in a few years.

The results of that pass won’t be known for awhile. She might misfire, the ball might go off kilter, or the receiver will be yards away.

I somehow doubt it. Someone like Cheney doesn’t rise to that level of power through chance. It happens because of ability, because of perseverance.

And, of course, because she knows how to play the game.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor of the Sierra Sun and The Union. He can be reached at 530-477-4239 or at

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