Thus spake the prophet Micklethwait on September 27, a week before the US presidential debate that has just taken place:
Romney is not nearly as big a jerk as a lot of disappointed Libbos and Conservatives seem to think, or as Dems hope. He keeps on winning. I think he will do much better in the debates than most others seem to, because he has a story to tell, to and about an opponent who does not. Romney is indeed not a genius debater, but he knows it, and knowing also that he is winning, he will prepare hard and go in with exactly the right amount of and kind of confidence, like a winning sportsman. He will surprise many by how well he does.
Meanwhile Obama, surrounded by yes men, and fatally arrogant, and tired, a fed-up and probably knowing he is going to lose, and having nothing to say, will not prepare well enough for the debates. He faces a near-impossible task, and will not be up to it.
Correct in every detail bar two. I do not think Mitt Romney knew he was going to win the debate and I do not think Barack Obama knew he was going to lose.
Romney was a Mormon missionary in France for two and a half years. Apparently he met with a slightly less overwhelming proportion of rejection than most, and was promoted. Whatever your opinion of Mormonism, no one can emerge after thirty months of knocking on doors and trying to proselytise the French, in French, and not have developed some debating skills and also seen the limit of what any such skills can do. No one can do this and not learn, ineradicably, that the world contains people who do not think like them at all. Romney lives among the heathen. Obama lives among those who defend him from the heathen.
Unlike some on this blog, Paul Marks, for instance, I do not see Obama as a hard core Marxist. Real Marxists live among the heathen, even on university campuses. I do not see Obama as having a hard core at all; he flows into the shape of whatever vessel he finds himself inside. His current vessel is fine and comfortable. I think he could not quite make himself believe that Romney would dare intrude.
Elections are mostly mere show, but what a splendid show a hard-fought one can be. I caught myself the other day being resentful because I could not turn to the back of the book or look up the episode guide on Wikipedia to see how it will all turn out. Aesop would have sold more fables if he had thought to have the moral (better yet, a hundred competing morals) in the middle but leave the tortoise and the hare still running right until the last page.
In 1992 I turned down a bet that would have obliged me to pay ten pounds for every parliamentary seat of Neil Kinnock’s majority, or gained me ten pounds for every seat short of it. I only turned down the bet because I’m a wimp who has never so much as been inside a bookmakers*; I knew that John Major was going to win because I eavesdropped on my fellow commuters on the Victoria Line. The UK media then were almost as domineering as the US media now; whenever obliged to interview someone willing to admit to the intention of voting Conservative the interviewer would visibly stand back to avoid contamination. I wanted Labour to win – I had stopped being a socialist but I was tired of the Tories – but I could tell, I could just tell that the media and the Cool People were talking each other up while the troglodytes on the Victoria Line were bullied into whispers but not into voting for the Cool Party just because the Cool People said that everyone who was anyone would.
Splendid as I am and nearly always right about everything, I have also been known to make wrong predictions. In the next UK election I thought the Shy Tory effect would still be present. If it was it was washed away in a flood of voters not shy in the least about finally having had enough of the Conservative party in power.
All this talk about bubbles has also reminded me of two occasions on which I specifically took note of obvious signs that the other sort of newsworthy bubble, a house price / stock market / tulip bubble, was expanding serenely away – noted these signs, cogitated upon their meaning, and ignominiously got it wrong. Or at best totally missed their major meaning because I was so keen to lecture the world about a minor sub-meaning. One such sign was seen in Ireland about six or seven years ago. My family is from Ireland and I always listen a little harder to news from there, so I was interested to learn from several different recent visitors to Ireland that everywhere you looked, on every little hillock and crammed into every little gap among the drystone walls, a new holiday cottage was going up, spoiling the austere beauty of the landscape somewhat but nice to see so many people doing well. I knew what that meant. It meant I could write a post for Samizdata about planning laws. Good thing I never got round to that one.
The other sign was from the United States. I, I will have you know, knew what “redlining” was, and knew of the laws and government pressure put upon banks to foribid this practice, and could speak knowledgeably of the Community Reinvestment Act long before the Crash of 2008. I knew what the CRA meant. It meant I could write a post for Samizdata about how the suppression of incentives for poor and marginalised people to act in ways that would help them get out of poverty (such as saving for a deposit on a house, or getting a steady job in order to qualify for a mortgage) would do them no good in the long run, not to mention encouraging them to take on debt they could not afford. There might still be a post in that, but the great floating balloon marked WORLDWIDE FINANCIAL CRISIS COMING TO YOUR TOWN SOON floated straight past me.
Blow me your bubbles, tell me about your predictions, especially the ones you got wrong.
*and also because the person offering it had endowed me with all his worldly goods anyway.