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Board Games for Politicians

Daniel J. Kelley 26 November 2008 7 Comments

Does anyone remember when advertisements for the Christmas retail blitz began after Thanksgiving? Now, it seems that the holiday shopping season begins immediately after Halloween. Someday, I am afraid that the nonstop commercials will start airing following Labor Day.

In a more innocent time, we contented ourselves during the long winters of our discontent with such wonderful gifts as board games. The names of companies such as Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, or the Chicago based game manufacturer, Cadaco, were familiar to all of us as children. We did not need game chips and electronics to while away the hours in solitary confinement as seems to be the case for youngsters today. Board games required group participation and some of the games were actually educational.

The coming administration may seek to ban “Monopoly” for promoting capitalism, but the game managed to teach one how to count money. Given the current economic climate, the treasury may soon have to begin printing more “Monopoly” money to distribute during the next bailout. One wishes that the whiz kids from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had learned that mortgages are supposed to be issued to creditworthy people with jobs and assets and the mortgages actually do need to be repaid. These basic economic lessons could have been learned while playing “Monopoly.”

In their collective wisdom, however, the American public chose to elect Democratic candidates to office despite the fact that the Community Reinvestment Act policies of the Democratic party created the mortgage crisis which resulted in the economic meltdown. Perhaps the next board game that a future generation of children will be playing will be called “The Welfare State.”

I credit my interest in geography and “see America first” travel not to the diluted social studies classes that merged civics, geography and history into a clumsy amalgamation, but to playing “The Game of the States.” Sadly, this passe’ game required one to learn sundry details about the fifty states (surely, not fifty-seven yet, Mister Obama), including their capital cities, their populations and their principal industries. Regrettably, most of the manufacturing has been globally outsourced, the smokestack steel mills, automotive factories, the collieries and oil refineries are shuttered to comply with environmental regulations. The game would be far less interesting if one had to list the leading businesses in each state to be service industries and financial institutions. The northern states were not a rust belt when this particular board game was popular.

Parker Brothers created an interesting and educational game that enjoyed a brief vogue during the Seventies which was called “Landslide: the Game of Power Politics.” The objective of the game was for a player to amass enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Yes, the game educated players into the nuances of the Electoral College. What a pity it was that Albert Gore, Jr., and William Daley never played this game before the 2000 presidential election. It would have saved the nation so much time without provoking a near constitutional crisis.

Of course, this game concerned itself with the general election rather than the nominating process. The Democratic party nominating rule changes initiated by former Alderman Bill Singer and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, which resulted in the ouster of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s duly elected slate of delegates from the 1972 national convention that nominated Senator George McGovern, could hardly be fashioned into an explicable board game. The arcane Democratic rules which were intended to empower women and minorities and to confer voting privileges upon “super delegates,” were never fully exploited until that mischief maker David Axelrod helped secure the nomination of Senator Barack Obama in 2008 despite the fact that Obama did not receive a majority of votes from Democratic primary electors and he lacked a sufficient number of actual

elected delegates to win the nomination outright. The super delegates put Obama over the top.

This was all according to Hoyle, given the unique rules which govern the modern Democratic party. When a previous Democratic powerbroker from Chicago wanted to steal the presidential nomination for his preferred candidate, Boss Roger Sullivan had to install one of his precinct sluggers as the sergeant of arms on the convention floor and bar the admission of Mayor Carter Harrison and the duly elected delegates chosen in the Illinois Democratic primary from the assembly hall. Sullivan’s stunt secured the nomination for New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson over the Speaker of the House, Champ Clark of Missouri. Wilson went on to defeat the divided Republican Party (Roosevelt running as a Progressive and Taft representing the party regulars). Later, Wilson claimed that his ambition was to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” He should have started at home.

One of the depressing details of the “Landslide” game, which struck me as a native Illinoisan, is to see how far the Prairie State has declined in the past thirty years. During the Seventies, Illinois held a total of twenty-six electoral votes. After the next census, it is projected that Illinois will lose another Congressional seat. This will reduce the size of the state delegation in the House of Representatives to eighteen (for a total of twenty

electoral votes, one for each representative, plus two for the senators).

Once upon a time, when Illinois was more prosperous and populous, it commanded thirty electoral votes. There were twenty-six individual congressional districts and two at large districts. The at large representatives were chosen in statewide elections. The at large seats came into being when the legislative map makers were exhausted. One notable politician who served as an at large Congressman was William G. Stratton. Although he was the son of a formerly prominent Republican state politician, Stratton was elected to Congress the hard way. He walked and hitchhiked around the state and visited all of the one hundred and two counties that comprise Illinois during his 1940 campaign. He

managed to accomplish this walking tour more than three decades before a future Democratic governor, Dan Walker, repeated the feat. Stratton later served two separate terms as treasurer before being elected to two terms of governor.

While one could posit various theories to explain the decline of Illinois influence in the Congress and the Electoral College, it is worth noting that the Republican Party dominated Illinois politics before the erosion occurred. Once the tax and spend Democrats took over, businesses and residents began voting with their feet and sought out greener pastures elsewhere. Not all of the retirees and businesses fled the country and went offshore. Some simply moved to the South and West.

In 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, in part, by issuing mock “Get Out of Jail Free” cards patterned after those used in the game of “Monopoly.” That was the last time a Republican presidential candidate carried Illinois. Tony Rezko may be hoping to receive one of those cards from a lucky player who rolled the dice and ended up on Park Place.


Daniel J. Kelley is a regular contributor to “The Chicago Daily Observer.”


  • :) (author) said:


    you forgot RISK. When playing with 3 players could last for ever because when someone got ahead the other players would gang up on them.

  • Dan Kelley (author) said:

    The list could be endless. If you want to discuss nationalized healthcare, Milton Bradley’s “Operation” would the perfect game comparison to refer to.

    Although a majority of voters thought that they were electing to play a friendly game of “Candyland,” I fear that we may all be playing an adult version of “Risk” beginning next January.

  • Lighthouse (author) said:

    Politic today has become a blood sport; winning at any price is fair game. In the 1950’s debates between candidates for President were full of substance and issues. Even in the 1960’s candidates with the exception of LBJ stuck to the issues. The mushroom cloud commercial was over the edge for its time but would be considered tame by today’s standards. In the last three Presidential election cycles we have heard less and less about the issues and more and more about personal attacks.

    Some blogger attempted to suggest that Obama was a modern day Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson gave the American public issues and ideas, Obama gave the American public vague suggestions of change with no facts attached. Obama won the election and he will be judged by how well he plays by the rules. Since I was raised in a board gaming home I will give the President elect the respect that his office requires. I can only hope that the President does not attempt to rewrite the Constitution.

  • susan (author) said:

    The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC). It has been enacted in Illinois.

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

  • :) (author) said:

    yea, so when a chicago precinct captain steals 100 or so votes it polutes the country no just the state of illinois.

  • Sara (author) said:

    Thanks for the article. Board games also taught children to graciously accept losing and winning. It taught them to think strategically. Also, that cheating – breaking the rules in order to win – is dishonorable.

  • Finn Kacy (author) said:

    When I played these games every defeat became an opportunity to learn what I did wrong and what the person I played against did right. In other words it exercised my mind. It also helped build and reinforce the skills I use in my everyday life.

    When I go shopping and run into the situation when someone has to make change without the assistance of a calculator/computer and is unable to do so it troubles me deeply. What do games teach today? Well it appears that they are very effective in teaching how to drive irresponsibly, use violence as a solution for every problem and when all else fails to quit (hit the reset button) and not accept the fact that losing was inevitable.

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