Ah, the sweet fire of a presidential election year. I love it. Making my daily blog rounds from the sidebar, I see that Amitai Etzioni, champion of communitarianism, has challenged the Economist to put its money where it's mouth is.
The Economist predicts that the presidential election will be a close one; that our economic recovery will be jobless; and that the unemployment rate will not be lower on Election Day than it is today. I would like to bet this socio-economists predictive powers against those of the Economist’s libertarian follies.
I hereby offer to meet any amount they are willing to bet, for a charity of our choice (most any other than Hamas), that (a) the election will not be close and (b) the unemployment rate will be lower than it is now by the time we go to the polls in November.
I love this kind of stuff. For, if the Economist is not just hedging their bets, and predicting the opposite of what many believe, then this could be an interesting publicity stunt for them. After all, Etzioni and the communitarians are ideological adversaries, and very well known. Too bad we won't see it happen.
Thinking about the differing predictions, however, gets me thinking. First, as the Economist lays out, if the unemployment rate does not improve by the election, remaining at the historic and absurd level it is today, I'm curious how they think it will be a close election, and not a clear victory for Howard Dean and/or Wesley Clark. By my read, Bush is dead in the water if he can't improve the job situation, especially since the "triumph" of Iraq will definitely have worn off by then, while we still will be active over there, strained for military resources, and paying the bill. My hunch is that there will be a case of buyer's remorse right about that time, which, combined with Dean and/or Clark's intention to challenge the wisdom of doing Iraq when and how we did it, as opposed to other ventures, in an overall frame of cost-benefit analysis, will spell doom for Bush.
Indeed, with mainstream media attention, and especially if Clark is on the ticket either as the president or vice-presidential candidate (or Zinni), the Bush foreign policy is not going to come up smelling roses. By then, the impact on our free world relations and the global economy also will be coming clear. Everyone will know that the Bush Administration exposed a CIA agent working on WMD for (at best) political reasons, Bin Laden will most likely still be on the loose and issuing threats and demands, color-coded alerts will still be intermittently blared, even if continually fine tuned more than the college football BCS formula, and the likely affect of our cynical treatment of our troops, in the sense of "support the troops", while cutting their benefits, then not allowing them to retire as planned, will be dawning on people, as we have to spend more money to try to bribe people to join (or remain enlisted in) the military when recruitment will be seriously challenged, and vague talks of military drafts continues.
So Bush needs to create some jobs, or get Bin Laden, dead or alive. This is really his only hope. Everyone who keeps making this out to be about foreign policy is just wishful thinking. If jobs grow a little bit, enough so people feel it, and the unemployment rate is not mainly a measure of how many have given up looking for work, then, if successfully spun along with a resurgent economy, the election will be close.
Keep in mind that this thing will start out, after the Democratic Convention, at around 53-47% in favor of Bush, if nothing dramatic happens between now and then, and on balance things are more likely to get worse for the incumbent than better.
Especially if Dean is the candidate, riding his grassroots organization, a few points will be made up in previously disaffected non-voters alone. All Greens will vote for Dean, and he has an excellent crossover chance at fiscally concerned and moderate Republicans, as would Clark, though these Republicans, more likely than not, would stay Republican in their votes on their representatives in Congress.
Throw in some criminal convictions, or another attack, or a worse-than-already-expected lagging job market, Congressional hearings on the failure of intelligence and the Administration in justifying the war in Iraq, warning cries from international financial organizations and fiscal watchdogs about the dangerously growing deficit and the falling dollar, and you've got many causes of potential chaos that could sink W. Bush just like his father, if not worse.
On the other hand, if job growth is strong, and most scandals and negative attention are avoided, than Bush should have an edge, but not much. Forget the conventional wisdom about the incumbent - Americans are in an anti-incumbent mood, and many will be coming to the polls (for the first post-9/11 presidential election) that have largely been staying away and not voting. Most of them will not be coming back because they think that they need the protection provided by a strong president (everyone knows we're the baddest force on the planet), they're going to come back because they believe they can't stand aside anymore and let American treasure and liberty be sacrificed in the name of other people's liberty and welfare, especially while we're vulnerable and suffering right here in the homeland.