Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Out on a Limb

One of the most destructive aspects of our public discourse is the supremacy of an accountability free pundit class. The op-ed pages were littered with war-mongering screeds dressed up as noble wisdom for the better part of the last decade. Even though their cheerleading led to thousands upon thousands of deaths, these Very Serious opinion makers suffered no loss of credibility. They are still held up as paragons of wisdom while the vindicated anti-war voices are still treated with contempt and derision.

Now, the pattern is repeating itself:

It isn't quite as extreme, but there are a lot of similarities between now and the Iraq debate. All of the Cool Kids know how fucking right austerity is, and are condescending to all of the silly children who think they're wrong. Team Austerity is where the cool kids are, at the parties with the fancy drinks, and all the losers hang out at that dorky Paul Krugman's house, playing dungeons and dragons.

Election season heightens accountability free prognostication. Horse-race style coverage turns election season into a sporting event where you root for your team instead of an informed democratic (small "d") endeavor. Information doesn't matter, so getting something wrong doesn't matter either.

All of this is prologue for saying that I got something wrong a few months ago when I complained the Democrats were far too passive in their politics and that they would remain meek while their electoral chances plummeted. Obama has stepped up his aggressiveness in a way that has been unseen in the last 15 years.

But I still think the President is more likely to lose re-election than win it. The reasons are largely structural and have nothing to do with the individual actions of either candidate.

Krugman recently explained why he has largely been correct while his detractors have repeatedly come up short. His economic predictions are built around a mathematical model that accurately describes the crisis. It's not that he's diving wisdom out of the ether. He's following a model.

I don't have the technical background of Krugman (or say Nate Silver). But there are several structural factors that seem to be determining the dynamics of this race:
  1. The economy remains incredibly weak
  2. Citizens United has allowed the GOP to out-raise the Democrats 4-1
  3.  Voter ID laws are systematically disenfranchising minority and student voters.
The economy can change, but the last two points are here to stay. If Obama cannot overcome Citizens United and voter ID laws, we might look back on this election as a watershed moment. I firmly believe these outside forces are going to do far more to determine the outcome of the election than anything either candidate can do.

If I'm wrong about this prediction, I want to seriously look back at this model and analyze what I got wrong and what that means for understanding the world going forward.

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