Monday, August 15, 2011

If I Were A Betting Man

One of the sites I check compulsively each day is I like to look at the political prediction markets, which give what are essentially the market-determined odds of someone winning an election or a bill passing. I've been watching Obama's odds of re-election for a while now. After Osama bin Laden was killed, they temporarily jumped up to about 70%. The odds stayed above 60% for most of June but then began a slow slide down to around 56%. In August, the numbers plummeted to around 50%. And for a couple of days at the end of last week, for the first time, the market was predicting Obama would probably not be re-elected, with his odds at 49%. (As of this writing it's at 50.5%.)

It's fun to watch how the news affects the numbers, but let me tell you why I think Obama is still a good bet: The Field of Republican Candidates.

First of all, I think there are only three candidates with decent shots of winning the nomination: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. I think the primary will boil down to Romney, who seems to have lots of establishment support, versus an anti-Romney candidate who will have the Tea Party and the Religious Right. I think Perry will end up being the anti-Romney candidate. And I think Perry will be the nominee. Romney disappoints too many people on the right, whereas everyone on the right can find something they like in Rick Perry. He executes innocent people, is literally crazy about guns, kicks thousands of kids off S-CHIP insurance, champions a low-wage high-polluting economy, isn't very bright, and has ties to the neo-Confederate movement. What's not to like?

But it's not just that Perry is too far right to win the general election, it's that he will have to move farther right and put his wing-nuttiness on display for the next six months in order to win the nomination. That could be quite a display, because the Republican Party has moved even farther away from mainstream America in the last several years.

For example, remember how George W. Bush used to call himself a compassionate conservative? He knew he needed to present a humane side to independents and moderates to balance out his right-wingery. Republican politicians today don't give a damn about that! If a candidate brought up "compassion" in a Republican presidential debate, one of the other candidates would whack him over the head with some Ayn Rand quote about compassion being the utmost evil. They wear nastiness as a badge of honor now. They no longer talk about just "reforming" Social Security and Medicare. Rick Perry says Social Security and Medicare should be repealed. Even with unemployment above 9%, today's Republicans want to eliminate unemployment insurance altogether. Why? "Because it makes people lazy." Oh, and according to today's Republican orthodoxy, global warming is a hoax and the Earth is 6,000 years old. That's the party in which Rick Perry has to appeal to the most rabid activists.

All the while, Obama will be "negotiating" and looking for "grand bargains" with the House Republicans and generally looking like a reasonable and good intentioned (if weak) problem solver. That won't excite people on the left like me, and it certainly won't get the economy back on track. But it will allow him to pitch himself to a very broad swath of the electorate in 2012.

Of course there are still questions. Will left activists be so depressed that they don't turn out and volunteer? Will the economy be so bad that independents are willing to try anyone else, even Perry? We will see. But for now, if I had any cash laying around, I would be buying "Barack Obama to be re-elected President in 2012" at Intrade.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where To Begin?

First of all, here's the reason I haven't been blogging lately.

Careful. He's a little Wobbly!

This is Gabriel. He is two and a half weeks old, fat, happy, alert, and now sleeping somewhat through the night.

Wow. These past few weeks have been a sleep-deprived blur. But it looks like I picked a good time to tune out of politics for a little while. Because when I did periodically log in for a news update, I saw a glimpses of what looked like a freak show:

-- President Obama and the Democrats allowed Republicans to redefine a routine legislative formality (raising the "debt ceiling") as an epic struggle all about cutting spending on government services. Any talk of, you know, ending the historically low tax rates for the wealthy to help pay the nation's bills was quickly shut down, reminding us once again who really rules our politics. And any talk of, you know, stimulating the economy and creating jobs was quickly shut down, because the GOP needs a stagnant economy to beat Obama in 2012. Democrats let Republicans pick a fight on ground of their choosing, setting the tone of the national debate for weeks and weeks just as 2012 election fever was beginning. Then, Democrats rolled over on their key demands while acting like Republican demands were sacred and could not be touched.

-- A more extremist version of George W. Bush rose to near front-runner status for the Republican nomination.

-- Another extremist looked like a lock to win the Iowa caucus.

-- The 16th largest company in America, though enjoying billions of dollars in profits, demanded sweeping pay and benefit cuts for its union employees, causing 45,000 workers to strike.

That's what I can pull out of my foggy memory right now. There was also something about crying and wailing in the night and urine flying through the air, but that might have been Gabriel. What else did I miss?