President Obama and the Prisoner's Dilemma
The word about negotiations is that Speaker Boehner has vowed not to negotiate one-on-one with President Obama anymore. Not after being stiffed twice by the president -- first in the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, and second in the fiscal cliff deal.
In this the speaker is merely admitting to a little piece of settled science: the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.
The Prisoner's Dilemma is an arcane piece of game theory that takes forever to explain. But reduced to essentials, it tries to answer the question: should I trust the other guy?
If your answer is "more research is needed," go straight to the head of the class.
But in the real world we want answers, and fortunately, answers have emerged from a famous experiment in the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma conducted by Robert Axelrod. He invited people to submit strategies for an iterated game of Prisoner's Dilemma. The winner submitted a simple strategy, TIT-FOR-TAT, which copied the opponent's every move.
It's obvious, really. If you are in a short-term relationship with another person, then you profit by cheating him. If you are in a long-term relationship, then you should always copy the other person's actions. In other words, you should trust people who demonstrate trustworthiness, and you should not trust people who stiff you.
We can see that Speaker Boehner has been a little slow on the uptake. But now he's learned his lesson, and he won't be fooled by the president again. Fool me once...
It's obvious where the president's cheater tactics come from. They issue from his lefty culture and its formalization in Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. We could say that Rules is a primer on how to act with people you are determined to mistrust. Heck, let's expand the problem and say that the whole point of left-wing politics is to sow distrust. Don't trust the banker; he's greedy. Don't trust the grocer; he's a company store. Don't trust your employer; he's making a profit off your labor. Don't trust Wall Street; it's a casino. Don't trust the family; it's a patriarchy. Don't trust the church; the priests are hitting on little boys. Don't trust the community organizer...no, wait! The community organizer is the good guy!
The end result of all the mistrust is to cut your followers off from all relationships except their relationship to you, the community organizer. Then, of course, your followers are stuck. They have burned all their bridges, and so they must follow you, even if you lead them to national ruin like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or the Peronists in Argentina.
Ominously, the president's tactics follow precisely the tactics of an enraged female cobra in Kipling's Jungle Books. You'll remember Nagaina telling the Brit colonial exploiters: "If you move I strike. And if you do not move I strike." Hell hath no fury like a widowed snake. She was so angry, you would think that she was upset about cuts to U.S. social programs.
Conservatives just want to get on with the sensible middle-class job of cleaning up the national balance sheet, just as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi wanted to clear the garden of cobras. But instead, it is probably best just to make life miserable for the president and the Democrats, because they still don't get it.
Here's an example. It is Joan Walsh at Salon, burbling on about "Obama's Great Society" and indulging in a little rational factual socialist argument while rearranging the administrative deck chairs on the unsinkable entitlement programs. You see, we need "universal programs for more than just the elderly - universal preschool and higher education, to cite two pressing priorities." Too late, Joanie. We already spent all the money on the elderly.
Anyway, President Obama has made his choice. He believes in mistrust and division. Without trust, there can be no deal on anything, let alone a grand bargain to reform the Democrats' beloved entitlements. But that is all right. We are never going to do anything about entitlements anyway until the inevitable sovereign debt crisis arrives. Maybe, when it does, we'll do what the Liberal Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin did in the mid 1990s: cut programs.
When we racists, bigots, and homophobes actually do get our teeth in the neck of the administrative welfare snake, it had better be with the grudging consent of the Democrats. Otherwise, they'll be sending their thugs out into the street to start a national conversation.
Until then, conservatives and Republicans should remember the rules of the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. When your opponent shows by his actions that he can't be trusted, it means you shouldn't trust him. Ever.
Christopher Chantrill (mailto:email@example.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.