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The prisoner’s dilemma

For a long time the accepted optimal strategy for the prisoner’s dilemma was tit for tat.

I don’t know if Barack Obama is a student of game theory, but his campaign pursued that strategy throughout. He doesn’t hit at his opponent until they have hit him, but once he’s been hit, his campaign always hits back.

Over the past couple of days, Sarah Palin has repeatedly claimed that Obama pals around with terrorists. Today, the response.

Update: Here’s Barack Obama speaking on this subject:

One of the things we’ve done during this campaign: we don’t throw the first punch, but we’ll throw the last. Because if the American people don’t get the information that is relevant about these candidates and, instead, in the last four weeks, all they are hearing about are smears and Swift Boat tactics, that can have an impact on the election. We have seen it before, and this election is too important to be sitting on the sidelines. If Sen. McCain wants to focus on the issues, then that is what we focus on. But if Sen. McCain wants to have a character debate, that is one that we’re willing to have.

5 Comments

  1. Obama has run a brilliant campaign. It is nuanced and carefully thought out, and even when there has been an unforeseen development, as for example, the Rev. Wright controversy, he has confronted it head on, and usually turned it around to make a larger point. He has run on real discussions about the real issues of governance, and he has called his opponents on it whenever they have tried to pull something. To their credit, for the most part, the other Democrats in the primary field also ran campaigns that were worthy of a great democracy.

    It isn’t just that he is a class act– it’s that he is smart, and also smart about politics.

  2. yeah, I agree, Bill. even when I had reservations (as with the no-attack approach to the first debate), his approach has proven much savvier than my understanding (with McCain getting pegged as Mr. Meanie) — you’d like to think that was always the case with so many professional smart guys, but obviously not the case in recent experience. every note here strikes me as right. imagine.

  3. This doesn’t detract from your main point at all, but you might be interested to hear that a group from Southampton finally won the 20th-anniversary Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma competition with an strategy that was not Tit-for-Tat.

  4. (and by finally, I mean years ago.)

  5. I actually did see that when researching this post.

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