General principles on election 2012
Some general thoughts on November's election, in no particular order:
1. Trends are true until they are not. Just because something hasn't happened doesn't mean it won't. Obama's negative approval rating and the general malaise of the country would in most years be a sign that he would be doomed to a Carter-like defeat. Obama's fecklessness, after a strongly assertive first six months in 2009, would similarly result in a severe electoral defeat.
Yet, my conservative friends are ignoring one thing: The crash in the fall 2008 and subsequent recovery scared the shit out of everybody. Scared the living crap out of them. For better or worse, things have stabilized. They have stabilized at a worse state than we've been used to for the past 25 years, but they are at least stable. For now. Thank God.
As Ming the Merciless once said, people are satisfied with less. We have an official 8.2 percent unemployment rate, closer to 15 percent if you include discouraged workers. That's high and brutal, and there is a lot of suffering out there. People who have played by the rules are getting hammered. About five full percentage points of the U.S. population (based on labor force participation rates) have essentially been knocked out of the economy through no fault of their own and not through medical bills or other calamity. That's about six million people.
Normally, this would mean an easy call for an incumbent defeat. But not when people can imagine it much much worse.
2. Things that can't go on, won't go on. Our deficits are unsustainable. They have been unsustainable. Neither political party can politically do what's necessary as long as they risk losing power.
Thus, neither side will do what's necessary until either: (A) one side wins decisively, or (B) the situation gets so bad that there is a political will for a bipartisan solution.
(3) People remember clearly the crash occurred during the Bush Administration. They remember clearly that the Republicans did not reduce the deficit when they had the opportunity. They don't trust the Republicans.
(4) The news media is interested in the horse race and in generating seeming conflict, even if the result is obvious for all to see. They can be extremely compelling in persuading people things are close when they are not. And then sometimes they are right and things are close.
This should be a slam-dunk landslide for Romney. It should be easy to call. But we seem to be living in different times than any I've known. Obama is much more popular than he should be at this stage of the race. Given his performance, he should have suffered a nomination challenge that either knocked him out of the race, such as Truman in 1952 and LBJ in 1968, or faced a tough primary challenge, such as Carter did in 1980.
There was no challenge. Despite this, some unknown challengers won significant quantities of the primary votes. It's this lack of a challenge despite his vulnerability that has me thinking we are in different times.