I don’t believe in a “zero sum game”

This blog is not an appropriate place for me to express my personal political opinions. On the other hand, recent political events could well influence the Holden mission of reducing the burden of cancer for those we serve. I therefore decided it would be appropriate for me to use this forum to discuss the potential impact of current national politics on cancer research.

We are all too aware of recent political happenings such as the government shutdown, the resulting short-term continuing resolution that reopened the government (at least for now) and the major issues of ongoing political contention. We know recent haggling has been accompanied by political name calling, finger pointing and what seems like an endless discussion of who got a “win” and who got a “loss.” It comes across as if we are keeping score in a game rather than trying to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Indeed, the discussion seems to be based on the assumption that political deliberations are a “zero sum game.” If one side is to win, the other side needs to lose. And, if decisions are viewed in this manner, no matter how bad a politician appears, that politician still gets a “win” if their opponent can be made to look worse.

I just don’t think this way. For example, cancer research is NOT a zero sum game. Cancer causes pain and suffering across the political spectrum and progress in cancer research will benefit everyone irrespective of your political perspective. True progress comes when we work together.

When I visit Capitol Hill in Washington, it is clear that support for cancer research is highly bipartisan. Both Democrats and Republicans have endorsed increasing the budget for cancer research supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This is really good news. That said, many politicians are willing to accept that issues on which there is agreement (such as support for cancer research) can be put aside if they can come up with that “win” on the contentious issues. The result? Non-contentious issues such as the level of federal support for cancer research didn’t get addressed during the government shutdown and isn’t getting addressed by the current continuing resolution. The real life implications of this are enormous. We all suffer when fewer grants are funded and researchers across the country are unable to predict what funds might be available and when.

Deep down, I am an optimist, and remain hopeful we will get beyond (or at least briefly bypass) the current political dysfunction to the point where congress will pass an actual budget bill that the President will sign. Given bipartisan support for cancer research, it is highly likely that such a bill would include an increase in funding for the NCI. This would provide cancer researchers across the country with the resources to pursue more of the exciting cancer research opportunities I hear about every day at Holden. Instead of calling that a “win” (which implies someone would “lose”), I would call it a “success.”

So, if you are so inclined, tell our legislative leaders that life is not a “zero sum game” and that a “success” is more important than a “win.” Tell them that they should not let debate on contentious issues get in the way of moving forward with those items where there is agreement such as support for cancer research. And, if you would like to hear about my private perspective on the political issues of the day, I would be happy to discuss them during my personal time, with the understanding that the goal for such a discussion would be for both of us to learn something and gain new perspective since I don’t believe in a “zero sum game.”

4 thoughts on “I don’t believe in a “zero sum game”

  1. Mary C McCarthy, RN

    Bravo Dr. Weiner – Your comments apply to more than cancer research. In view of the last year I think leadership needs to come from the minions. Yes, people like you and me! Although you are in a far better place to discuss and lead than I; however, it does take a village. Best to you – keep up your good work.

  2. Lisa Sotelo, RN , BSN

    I am planning a trip to Des Moines Wed to attend the The American Cancer Society Action Network day at the capitol . I have not participated in cancer research advocacy at a legislative level before and am looking forward to learning more about the current status of state initiatives . The Eastern Iowa Oncology Nusre Society sends representatives to advocate for patients each year . ONS plans to mentor nurses on how to advocate for patients as well as how to have their voices heard by legislation
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective on “a zero sum game “I am hopeful that nurses in eastern Iowa willl represent patients well and embrace the idea that a success not a win is what facilitates progress .

  3. Connie Stuefen

    I do not understand how they could bicker over this. Anyone who goes thru cancer or has a family member would know. My husband Marshall died of Leukemia 13 yrs ago and now my platelets have dropped and I am seeing an oncologist tomorrow and find it very frightening, they have to keep this research going, its a very expensive disease they cant keep this up. I feel Trump is so self centered to his needs that he is not seeing the whole picture God help us if someone cant get thru to them Thank You Connie Stuefen

Comments are closed.