Politics isn’t just the art of the possible. It’s the science of exploiting weaknesses and accentuating strengths.
Sun Tzu recognized this in the Art of War, declaring that “so in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike what is weak.” Today, in what could be described as a rhetorical “warring states period,” echoes of Chinese philosophy could be found in the brewing debate over election legislation.
Start with Georgia, where the state’s voting law launched a CNN Chyron that dramatically declares, “War on voting.” President Joe Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp isn’t entirely truthful when he says the prohibition on water only applies to interest groups like the NRA or Sierra Club, in order to keep them from swaying voters. The language clearly states that “any person” is prohibited from providing gifts, food or water to voters who are in line, although self-serve water is allowed.
But there isn’t much honesty on either side of this debate. Biden says the new law closes polling places at 5 p.m. and keeps working people from casting ballots. This is a false statement, according to FactCheck.org.
The law specifies that early voting is allowed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays prior to election day — the old law vaguely referred to “business hours” — and it also establishes mandatory early voting on two Saturdays with an option for voting on Sundays. On election day, polls are still open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., similar hours to Missouri and Kansas.
This is an expansive law, which means there’s something for everyone to love and hate and sections that appear hastily written and, for that reason, regrettable. In the spirit of Sun Tzu, that leaves an opening for CNN and the Democrats to zero in on an element or two that fires up the base and creates a great Chyron, leaving out context. Voila, a war on voting.
Of course, Republicans and FOX do the exact same thing. The most recent example is the crisis on the U.S. border, a development that puts the Biden administration on the defensive but ignores the reality that the border was quite porous when Donald Trump was in office. In the fiscal year 2019, the Border Patrol arrested more than 473,000 migrant families and about 76,000 unaccompanied migrant children.
The goal isn’t to offer solutions to complex problems but to identify the areas where your opponent is most vulnerable. A South Carolina Democratic strategist, speaking to TheHill.com, at least offered a rare kernel of honesty. “It’s a motivating factor for voters,” he said.
Writing 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu offers a possible warning on the cost of pursuing this kind of opportunism over compromise and dialogue. “There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.”