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Metaphorically speaking, Republican Party political strategy looks more and more like it was crafted by former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith. He's the highly successful tactician who perfected the "Four Corners Offense," a scheme that helped his team burn clock, deny opponents possession of the ball, and win games even over superior opponents. Smith didn't invent the Four Corners, but he was the most successful exploiter of it, just as Republicans are the most successful exploiters of a similar strategy in state and national politics. From Wikipedia:

The four corners offense is an offensive strategy for stalling in basketball. Four players stand in the corners of the offensive half-court and the fifth dribbles the ball in the middle. Most of the time the point guard stays in the middle, but the middle player would periodically switch, temporarily, with one of the corner players.
Would that default middle player be Sen. Lindsay Graham? Anyway:

Limited by their shrinking political base, Republicans in Congress and in statehouses have become adept at gerrymandering legislative districts and imposing restrictions on Democratic-friendly voters. But in case that doesn't suffice, they've also turned to stalling, "holding the ball" against Democrats when they don't have the votes to prevent passage of progressive legislation. Thus, they introduce myriad laws chipping away at the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade basic protection of a woman's right to an abortion, and drag their feet mightily when it comes to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, because Obamacare.

The Four Corners delay works especially well in American politics, although it wrecks the orderly processes of governance while creating increased cynicism among citizens. When, say,  Democrats move in on Republican senators holding the figurative ball, the latter pass it to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Or, when Democrats finally appear to gain control over a policy in Congress despite GOP opposition, Republicans pass the ball to their state-based colleagues, who begin passing it around again in an elaborate game of keep-away. Or they get their special-interest patrons to hold the ball awhile. They only dribble rhetoric as necessary.

Read more below the orange center-court logo:

The Four Corners Political Offense employs conservative players so spread out they aren't in the same branches of federal government; they even encompass state and federal jurisdictions. For instance, third-party conservative interest groups flood courts with nuisance law suits, some of which result in GOP victories when conservative judges and justices find holes in the defense and toss the ball into the paint for a cheap, back-door lay-up.

Meanwhile, Republican senators artificially hold floor sessions open nearly year-round, even when a quorum intentionally isn't present, all in order to block the president's recess appointments. They actively promote vacancies in important positions, refusing to approve presidential nominees chosen to run key agencies, that are powerless to act until the nominee is approved. It's all part of the Four Corners stall.

Sometimes this just delays the inevitable, but more and more it serves to un-do what are decided issues. When, for instance, Republican governors balk at implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act, they cause delays that they can later assert are signs of Democratic incompetence, if not the law's own fatally flawed language. In other words, they work the refs, trying for fouls, especially technical fouls. They live for those moments when frustrated Democrats over-reach in their efforts to steal back the ball.

The underlying motive, of course, is that Republicans are gaming the system for fun and, mostly, profit. It's like the joke about the kid who shot his parents and then pleaded for the court's mercy because he was an orphan. Having killed one law after another by sheer foot-dragging, the GOP is busy right now turning our nation's representative government into an orphan of another kind.

Now, let's be clear: Democrats have played some of these games, too. But they're like Division II college players up against GOP Olympians when it comes to stalling tactics.

Thing is, college basketball teams were never able to devise a working defense against the Four Corners, and the game devolved into long minutes of nothingness. Finally, aghast at what a boring, non-productive spectacle the game had become, the National Collegiate Athletic Association finally imposed a fix. The association voted to introduce the shot clock, dooming the Four Corners. If you have to shoot the ball within seconds or give it up, lengthy stalls no longer make sense.

Thus, it's time for Democrats and perhaps even mindful courts to create the equivalence of the shot clock in law-making.

Now, this would be a completely figurative shot-clock solution. After all, legislative chambers at the local, state and federal levels already often set time limits on floor debates (in fact, highly restrictive time limits are a hallmark of Republican majorities seeking to jam legislation through to passage before the public even is aware of what's going on; these would be the same Repubs who complain more time is needed to vet Democratic legislation, because it's so, so complicated).

Another solution was what Wisconsin Democrats did in 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans introduced a blitzkrieg campaign to enact a union-busting law as quickly as possible. Lacking any state version of a filibuster and trying to slow Republicans down so a reasonable, public policy debate could occur, every state Senate Democrat left the Capitol and hid out in neighboring Illinois, so the governor couldn't send state police to drag them back onto the legislative floor.

Democrats were in the minority, but without their numbers the GOP lacked a quorum to proceed to a vote. The tactic actually worked to the extent that the true implications of the bill became widely known, leading to the recall of several Republican state legislators and a failed but mighty effort to recall Walker himself.  

But surely there are other ways to create the equivalent of a basketball shot clock in politics. Foremost among them, of course, would be if Democrats now controlling the US Senate were to do away with some or all of the informal rules agreements that over the past couple of decades have turned that chamber's filibuster and other processes into dysfunctional, omnipresent, minority veto power.

Our democratic republic is up-ended when a minority as small as one US senator can often prevent consideration, not to mention actual voting, on essentially an indefinite basis. It's power far more off the rails than those self-absenting Wisconsin Democrats who sooner or later would have had to return to the floor, and in fact did.

So get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the horn. Tell him to stop stalling and end the Four Corners stall. Sure, if that happens, Democrats won't be able to stall in the future, either. But ask yourself this: Which political philosophy -- conservative retcons of our democracy or progressive efforts to re-tune and update public policy -- benefits more from stalling tactics?

Final thought: My Four Corners analogy is in some respects too simplistic. A two-dimensional model based on a basketball court doesn't account for the fact that in modern American politics, Republicans now simultaneously play the game across multiple levels and courts, big and small. Nor does it account for the fact that their tactics in D.C. and in statehouses sometimes serve to turn their losing team into a winner, all by doing as little as possible. In basketball, Four Corners only works if you have a lead. In American politics, it now works even if you're behind in the score.

A better analogy might be 3D chess. How do you prevent one player in that complex game from working hard to win a stalemate, or frustrate the other player so much he up and leaves the table, surrendering the win? We might need the wisdom and logic of Star Trek's Mr. Spock to provide the answer. That, and the patience of Job, too.

Originally posted to Ron Legro on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 11:28 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Coach Smith is also a Democrat it would seem. (12+ / 0-)

    He was a very enthusiastic endorser or Barack Obama.

    The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

    by sebastianguy99 on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 11:50:27 AM PDT

  •  Interesting take, loved the analogy (3+ / 0-)

    This BB strategy is palatable only to those who are selfish cynics, the GOPers have a double dose of the gene that begets that phenotype.
    Dems want things to work - for everyone, and history bears this out, esp recent history. From the great society to civil rights, to the most recent ACA to boost health coverage.
    The only way out is to expose these selfish bigots, to educate voters, to register voters and GOTV, seize the House, retain Senate and WH, and begin to re-establish a presence at the local level.

  •  Is he an architect or is he a coach? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl

    Too many analogies going on here...

  •  A few very important things! (4+ / 0-)

    1) Please do not sully the legendary coach- and Carolina basketball with mere politics.

    2) Coach Smith was actually a proponent of the shot clock. However he knew the rules and was a masterful tactician.

    3) While Coach Smith was a Democrat - more important (as most NC Dems were very conservative during his heyday) a true liberal willing to use his stature to further racial and social progress. He recruited the first black player to UNC (Charles "Charlie" Scott in 1966, and took him to Church to make the point with the local, state, and national populace). He also stood for and advocated many progressive measures and politicians until receding from the spotlight due to Alzheimer's.

    And yeah, I'm a HUGE Carolina fan :-)

    •  Thanks for that (3+ / 0-)

      Sullying? I did say right in the blog title that the appropriation of the Four Corners, which Coach Smith certainly did use to gerat effect, was not his something he intended. Great ideas and great people often see their ideas and methods repurposed by others who have rather less noble aims. No hit on Smith himself, whatsoever.

      Like a lot of people, ideas and things affected by modern conservatism, the stall has been misued in politics. Republicans have distorted legislative processes to their own liking. And right now, their tactics are altering the face of politics in North Carolina, much for the worse. I don't think coach would have liked that, nor is it his fault. I do think some dedicated, knowledgable basketball fans might newly correlate my analogies in understanding how politics are now increasingly practiced in America.

      •  no offense (0+ / 0-)

        but basketball is pure. Politics is not :-)

        •  Ummmm.... (0+ / 0-)

          Basketball the game may be pure sport, but you've forgotten about the institutions that trade in hundreds and thousands of millions of dollars to offer that sport up to us at the collegiate level, the Olympics and the NBA. Those are highly political operations, to the point that Congress has become involved in these operations on more than one occasion. Conceptually, I can agree with the idea of a sport so well conceived that it represents purity, but in real life that's just not the way things unfold. No offense taken or intended from this former roundball player and fan.

  •  Dean Smith, liberal Democrat, must not be blamed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Black Max, historys mysteries

    I'm sorry, but as a Tarheel, I have to stand up for the coach, who the Dems kept trying to draft and who never would quite agree to a run.

    The GOP's strategy seems to be more like Philosopher's World Cup, where they do nothing and then, when somebody does, deny that it happened and argue about the rules.

    (Oh, and Go Heels!)

    (My basketball player students were actually pretty ok students.)

    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 07:25:00 PM PDT

    •  I'm perfectly happy with.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gffish, forgore, historys mysteries

      spirited defenses of Coach Smith on this page. Again, just allow me to remind readers that the blog post this isn't about him, it's about a strategy he happened to employ with great success and notoriety. If I said Republican senators sometimes whine like, say, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, that wouldn't be a knock on Dangerfield, it'd be a knock on them.

    •  As a born and bred Jayhawk, I can certainly (0+ / 0-)

      blame Dean Smith for tampering with our coach at a time when he was trying to win the national championship for KU (Smith's alma mater) and because of the distractions, KU lost to Syracuse in the championship.  

      I, like many Jayhawks, have never forgiven him that betrayal.  

  •  rec'd for even remembering Dean Smith (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    forgore, RadicalParrot

    and his "kill the clock" four corners offense. Have always hated on N.C. and it prolly goes back to that "can't beat 'em stall 'em" b.s. that passed for basketball there.
    Your Diary is dead nuts of course!
    Can't wait 'til my beloved S.U. Orange beats up on N.C. on a regular basis beginning this season.

    See you sonsabitches at NN13! Look for our Banner and stop by and say hello!

    by winkk on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 08:51:57 PM PDT

  •  Without getting into the politics (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SneakySnu, forgore

    it's also worth remembering that Smith was an early advocate of the shot clock, as noted above, which essentially killed the Four Corners.

    Also, when Smith had the players for it, he preferred running an open-court, fast-moving offense. When he had players he could trust to operate on their own, i.e. Jerry Stackhouse, he would let them improvise within the offense. The more structured and "boring" half-court offenses were run when he lacked the athletes to go full-bore, and used disciplined sets to make up for the lack of athleticism on that particular squad. Perfect "mixed" example: 1995-96, when Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace left for the NBA. Tall, slow Serge Zwikker took the center, a drastic change from the athletic Wallace. He had speedy and talented players like Jeff McInnis and Vince Carter, and athletic but inexperienced players like Shammond Williams and Antawn Jamison, and experienced but less athletic players like Dante Calabria and David Neal. He also didn't have a ton of depth. So he ran a mixture of set offenses, more zone and matchup defenses, and fast-break options when they came available (usually involving McInnis, Williams and/or Carter).

    Smith knew how to maximize his potential, whether he had 3-4 NBA prospects in his starting lineup or not. Maybe we can note this in the context of the 2011 Wisconsin recall, when the Wisconsin Dems ran the equivalent of Serge Zwikker against Walker in the recall election. Did they leave a more talented "athlete" on the bench, like Smith did when he started Kevin Salvadori over Stackhouse in 1993, or did the Wisconsin Dems lack a better candidate? I don't know Wisconsin Democrats well enough to say. I do something about UNC basketball, though. :)

  •  Yes they have become adept at the execution of the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries

    torture of a thousand cuts:  pass tons of bills picking away at Roe vs. Wade.  Keep things sirred up and us occupied with smoke.  Texas and Wisconsin GOP want to pass legislation forcing women to look at ultrasound pictures of the fetus she carrys.  This is assault at best and rape at worst.  It will get you time for performing this procedure if the woman says she was forced by you to have this procedure done.  That does not cover the humiliation, pain and suffering a poor woman would have to endure.  How much is that worth?  What will you pay for such a greivious offense against another person?  

  •  If the Republicans go with Smith's 4 corners stall (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DownstateDemocrat

    The Democrats need to go to the Wooden "Full court press" and "run an gun". After all Wooden won 10 championshios in 12 years. Dean Smith won 2 whole championships in 27 years- Remember he had James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and Michael Jordan on one team.  Only won one championship with Jordan. Probably was the plodding NC style held them back.

    Slow thinkers - keep right

    by Dave the Wave on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 05:25:16 AM PDT

    •  That's exactly right. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim

      For instance, re the immigration proposal, it will only pass in the House with near total Demcratic votes in favor with a handful of Repubs joining in. Capitulating to the tea partiers will mean its doom, since they won't vote for anything, even if they've endorsed it.

    •  Different eras. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ed Tracey

      Wooden didn't win until he was able to get stacked teams of his own, and there were allegations that there were rules violations in order to stack those teams.  He also didn't have to win as many games to get to the NC as Smith did, which always introduces the possibility of a team getting hot on a night UNC wasn't.  There were also fewer quality teams back in Wooden's years.

      •  John Wooden won champinships with (0+ / 0-)

        Walt Wazzard and Gail Goodrich and with Sidney wicks and Curtis Rowe. UCLA stopped winning basketball championships when Wooden retired. Do you imagine that John Wooden wouldn't have had a better record with Jordan, Worthy, Perkins? While the players that graduated from UCLA often went on to spectacular NBA careers, they rarely played better in the NBA then they did at UCLA. Seems like Dean Smith's players often got much better in the NBA

        Slow thinkers - keep right

        by Dave the Wave on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 05:05:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Four Corners was not infallible .... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle

    ....... as it was anticipated by NC's opponents in the 1977 championship match .... and Al McGuire's Marquette eventually won the championship match 67-59:

    North Carolina edged on top 45-43 with 13:48 left and a short time later went to its vaunted four corners offense - a tactic McGuire had anticipated and which came to naught.

    The Warriors sagged underneath to take away the back-door play and, directed by Lee, who scored 19 points and was named the game's outstanding player, were patient on offense. Over the next 12 minutes, thanks in part to its own slowdown tactics, the Tar Heels scored only four points.

    "We should pay attention to that man behind the curtain."

    by Ed Tracey on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 03:02:41 PM PDT

    •  True; and also: (0+ / 0-)

      No strategy is infallible. Look at how the 49ers trashed the Packers in this year's playoffs. But you can be every other NFL team (and arguably, already, the Ravens) have studied the heck out of the way they used QB Kaepernick. It will not be as effective going forward. Now, if Dems could just figure out how to kill the GOP's legislative stalls. Sagging to take away the figurative back door? Sounds about right to me.

  •  I know this wouldn't be gentlemanly in the rules (0+ / 0-)

    of basketball but it would strike me that a punch in the face would have been more effective than the shot clock.  New rules weren't the answer and certainly not a rule that doesn't track the offenses intentions well (since hitting the rim resets, one can not be serious about scoring and hit the rim and be serious about scoring and miss the rim).  The only way you have a seriously effective regulation of things like that (and the filibuster) are by enforcing norms.

    I'll always be...King of Bain...I'll always be...King of Bain

    by AZphilosopher on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 04:47:24 PM PDT

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