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Obama, Romney, and the Ludicrousness of Political Determinism

Eight weeks from today, 140 million people will go to the polls to elect a president. According to the most confidently expressed theories about this election, the result is already determined. It is the operative theory at Romney headquarters that their man is going to win because the economy is so sour, two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and the small number of undecided voters will break for Romney three-to-one and he’ll edge across the finish line in first place.

The Obamans appear to believe that their man is going to win because he was ahead in the polls after the conventions and the candidate ahead after the conventions usually wins (except in 2008, when John McCain was ahead, but whatever). He has a four point lead today in the Real Clear Politics average and, as former George W. Bush pollster (and later political turncoat) Matthew Dowd said today, “A 4 or 5 point lead in this environment is as significant as a 10-12 point lead 15, 20 years ago.” Polls suggest voters like Obama more than Romney; there’s even a data point on one today about whom you would like by your bedside when you are sick, a question the very existence of which indicates we are halfway on the road to Idiocracy. One eager-beaver website has even already declared Romney the loser of the debates.

So here’s my question: Why campaign at all? If it’s all baked in the cake, why will the candidates travel relentlessly, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, and wake up in cold sweats five nights out of six?

Because, of course, it’s not.

The problem with all these theories is this kind of determinism serves as crazed comfort to those working on these campaigns when things may be going wrong with their strategy. I suspect that is true of the Romney campaign, which is relying to a strange extent on the presumption that its leader can win without giving people much of a reason to vote for him. I expand on this point in today’s New York Post. Suffice it to say that if the panjandrums in Boston are relying on the voters to make up their own reasons to vote for Romney, they might be on the way to making the biggest political blunder in our lifetimes.



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