Niall Ferguson Returns To Explain Why Obama Is Winning

A few weeks ago, Niall Ferguson wrote an article in Newsweek explaining all the failures of the Obama administration. With that article, Ferguson joined the Romney campaign in his disdain for “facts,” resulting in scathing point-by-point reviews.

Now Ferguson is back to explain why Obama is winning. He gives four possible reasons for this, and they are all hilarious:

Explanation one: I am lying to you. The economy is doing great. No doubt the self-appointed “fact checkers” of the blogosphere are armed and ready to tell you this. (Did I forget to mention that the fiscal cliff is made of green cheese?)

The derisive tone toward fact checkers should infuriate every American citizen. Fact checkers can always be wrong on an individual call, but to dismiss research and evidence out of hand is essentially giving the finger to the concept of deliberative democracy.

Explanation two: People aren’t telling the truth to the pollsters. The deciding factor in this election will be whether or not a relatively small slice of the electorate—suburban, middle-class voters in a handful of states—deserts the president. Four years ago, as Michael Barone has pointed out, many such people voted for him. Now they are suffering from buyer’s remorse. But there is a certain stigma attached to voting against the man who came to personify not just political change but the end of centuries of racial prejudice. So when asked by pollsters, the swing voters simply don’t fess up.

Oh wow. Remember this was an “issue” in the last election, too. How did that work out for you, Niall? He goes on to suggest that African-Americans aren’t going to turn out for the President. Yes, that’s likely… I’d like to see the fact checkers look into the enthusiasm among that demographic.

Explanation three: People vote more prospectively than retrospectively. “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” was the question Ronald Reagan asked voters back in 1980. It’s the question Republicans started asking again last month, and for a moment the Democratic spin-doctors didn’t have a good answer. It took Roger Altman (one of the president’s dwindling band of supporters on Wall Street) to come up with one. Sure, things have been bad—but they are about to get better as housing bounces back and the United States fracks its way to energy independence. So the real question voters should ask themselves is: “Will I be better off in four years’ time than I am right now?”

This actually stumbles into the truth. Niall Ferguson suggests that this is a matter of spin rather than standard operating procedure for voters. The Carter-Reagan election involved the wheels coming off a relatively stable economy (though not great by any means) in the last few months of the campaign. There was real fear that the economy would be worse four years hence. Reagan’s line should not be taken literally — it was a proxy for confidence in the future. By contrast the trend line is positive in this race. So…that’s what’s happening here.

Explanation four: The economy isn’t the No. 1 issue, despite what people say. The more I watch of this election, the more I incline toward this last explanation.

Seriously? Expect to hear more of this from hand-wringing conservatives over the next few weeks — “I guess you all don’t care about the economy because there’s no way we aren’t a better choice for the economy!” Unfortunately, for Niall Ferguson and the Republican Party, reality doesn’t match their belief, and this reveals the real answer to the title question that eludes Ferguson.

The media often cites the statistic that “Mitt Romney gets higher marks on the economy,” but in reality that poll shows a lead well within the margin of error (for example this poll from May). The problem for Republicans is not that the economy is not the biggest issue in the election, it’s that the Republicans do not have the hegemonic lead on the question of the economy that they think they do. Almost the same number of voters believe the economy is important and Obama has the correct economic policy vision.

Niall Ferguson does not consider this poll, and will likely characterize me as one of the evil fact checkers out there for merely pointing it out. But the takeaway from Ferguson’s article is that along with facts, Republicans are simply unwilling to recognize that reality isn’t living up to their dreams.

1 comment for “Niall Ferguson Returns To Explain Why Obama Is Winning

  1. September 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Niall Ferguson is an odd duck. When he works on his television documentaries, he can say some interesting, if conservative, things. (I especially liked his treatment of the ramifications of the underlying racism in the Russo-Japanese war.) But then he turns around and becomes a run-of-the-mill partisan hack.

    Now that I think about it, I can’t think of a historian I really like as a political analyst other than Richard Hofstadter.

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