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Post Partisan
Posted at 05:53 PM ET, 09/26/2012

PostScript: Dionne and the Sargent Theorem [UPDATED]

For PostScript, today is Navel Contemplation Day. We shall look deeply into ourselves to evaluate the fairness of a reader’s allegation that this newspaper looks too deeply into ourselves.

The reader was responding to a Tuesday blog post by columnist E.J. Dionne, which credits our own Greg Sargent of the Plum Line blog with originating the now-prescient-looking theory that everyone who thought the economy would be Barack Obama’s weakness in this election is wrong. (Or, as Johnnie Cochran might have said of Obama: “The economy’s sick, but it don’t stick.”). Only Sargent was saying it before it was cool.

Anyway, that first comment that PostScript read on Dionne’s piece says:

FloridaChick

Yawn. So now Dionne is covering . . . Greg S.? Seriously? How inbred is the remaining Wash Post newsroom? Given no original ideas, they are now recycling each others’? No thanks. BTW - Florida is no slam dunk for BHO. Nope.

PostScript is not about to let this inbreeding challenge go unanswered. So she is going to give you her view on what commenters say about what E.J. says about what Greg said. (Please note PostScript is violating standard newsroom rules by using first names on second reference. That is because we’re all such good friends.)

We are pretty sure there is no intellectual inbreeding going on: If it were true, someone would have told PostScript because we share everything here.

Dionne argues that a cruddy economy doesn’t necessarily mean voters will select Mitt Romney; indeed, current polling suggests Americans think the economy is extremely cruddy, but they still favor Obama, for now. The economy was supposed to be Obama’s millstone, but as Sargent theorized, it doesn’t look that way right now.

WandK contends that the conventional wisdom that’s making Sargent look prescient, and Dionne too collegial, is flawed: It’s making too many assumptions about the relationship between right-track/wrong-track polls and the willingness of the voter to assess blame to the president:

It is interesting that reporters don’t dig more deeply into the right track/wrong track numbers. If the majority feel that the country is on the wrong track then it is assumed by reporters and pundits that this is a reflection on the policies of the President. Not necessarily so. I support Obama but I feel that country is really on the wrong track. I feel this way because of the denigration of science, the erosion of women’s rights, the suppression of the vote, our failing infrastructure, the disparity of wealth and income, the huge amount of anonymous money in our political campaigns, and a terrible Congress and Supreme Court. None of this is Obama’s fault or the fault of his policies.

ceflynline agrees:

The problem with trying to tie right track / wrong track on the economy to Obama or Romney is that even the people who don’t think that Obama is doing a good job on the economy can decide that he is still doing a better job than Bush did, and look at Romney’s economic prescriptions and decide that Romney would be even worse than Bush.

flyover22 says Romney’s pivot to foreign policy doesn’t mean, as Dionne concluded, that he’s giving up on talking to voters about the economy:

General polls on the economy show Obama and Romney pretty even; in fact one poll in the Post, maybe it was in campaign essentials, had Romney ahead in the economy question. Past polls in foreign policy gave Obama a double digit lead. From Romney’s standpoint it easier to swing a few votes in this area (recent polls have shown that this gap is narrowing) under the current conditions than to change people’s opinion about the economy.

lynnman1 agrees. It would be an odd time not to be talking about foreign policy:

Maybe he is talking about Foreign Policy since there are critical issues going on right now and since Obama seems disinterested in attending to them - it makes sense for Romney to speak out and set an alternative course. How about if we see how the debates go and the actual election before you get so gleeful about certain polls but ignore the others.

And rmorris391 says maybe there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, conventional wisdom anymore:

Assigning “conventional wisdom” to political pundits is clearly a big mistake. There is no definition of “conventional wisdom” because the current situation is so dynamic. The global economy is much broader than the U.S. economy; the Arab Spring (trending to self-government); and the U.S. intervention in the Middle East make for unstable politics.

PostScript agrees that punditry isn’t in the conventional-wisdom business anymore, if it ever was. Conventional wisdom, and even accuracy in prediction, get you very few retweets and links, while saying something wild and unexpected about the presidential race — even something unlikely to be true — gets all kinds of notice. Except for today, when E.J. Dionne gives Greg Sargent a shout-out for being kind of wild AND right. At least he looks right. Right now.

Let’s all vow to check back on Nov. 7, when we won’t care.

Updated (5:53 p.m.): E.J. Dionne responds:

Thanks to readers for responding to my post on Greg Sargent, and to Rachel for her PostScript. I wanted to address three points quickly.
 Who needs Posties commenting on Posties?: There is a lot of mean stuff thrown around these days. That’s okay; I’m for free speech. It just struck me that, once in a while, a colleague might usefully call attention to another colleague who turns out to be right in challenging a widely held view. I thought Greg deserved credit here, and I wanted to give it to him.
“There is no definition of ‘conventional wisdom’ because the current situation is so dynamic.” That’s a good point, but some ideas are still so taken for granted that they deserve the “conventional wisdom” label (which, by the way, was invented by the late, great economist John Kennth Galbraith.) I think it’s fairly conventional to link economic numbers rather mechanically to election outcomes. That’s what Greg was challenging, as are some political scientists, such as Alan Abramowitz.
“How about if we see how the debates go and the actual election before you get so gleeful about certain polls but ignore the others.” As a famous politician might put it, you betcha — sort of. Yes, things could very well change between now and the election, and I do think the debates matter (a view, by the way, that is being challenged by others as another mistaken piece of conventional wisdom). I don’t, however, agree that the polls showing Romney in trouble are biased. As my colleague Chris Cillizza showed yesterday, The Post’s Ohio and Florida polls that put President Obama ahead include fewer Democratic identifiers than  did the 2008 electorates in those states, according to the exit polls. But Rachel was right to end her comment with the words “right now.” With apologies to Kenny Rogers, we’ll do the real countin’ when the dealing’s done.

By Rachel Manteuffel  |  05:53 PM ET, 09/26/2012

 
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