Monday, October 22, 2012

Bond Atomically

There's something going on akin to the 1960 "Missile Gap" issue - Kennedy said that the Soviets had more missiles than the US, and Nixon, being the Vice-President, knew this was untrue but knew that he couldn't say so because the information on missile numbers was classified.

Similarly, Obama can't acknowledge the very successful cyberworm attack on Iranian nuclear facilities (which the administration denies but there are books, articles etc about it), nor can he mention whatever number of covert operations are in progress. Consider, for example, if this election had occured in April, 2011, when Obama knew Bin Laden's location and was planning to execute an operation against him - Romney could have hammered him for not having caught Bin Laden, and Obama would have had to keep quiet.

Beyond the Iranian worm attack, I can't really begin to speculate what kind of stuff Obama's hands are tied on, but it's an interesting angle to consider.

That said, Obama looks strong on foreign policy. It's unlikely that any of the real "third rail" issues will come up, just like they didn't in debates one and two - surveillance, drone attacks and shadow wars. If they do, expect them to be dealt with superficially.

By the way, anybody who has not read Bob Woodward's book about the Afghan strategy review, Obama's Wars, is doing themselves a disservice.

Friday, October 05, 2012

What Color Is Your Lambo, 2012 Edition

Again we reach the time where month-to-month economic data, ignored for years at a time, data only tangentially related to the power of executive office, becomes the basis upon which we make long-term political decisions.  Some new unemployment numbers came out today, they look good for the President, especially in light of his punch-pulling, wonky performance in the first presidential debate.

I think that people vastly overestimate the control the President has over many elements of the economy, especially the stock market.  However, people tend to use some of these indicators as measurements of the President's success, especially right around election time.

"It's the economy, stupid," as James Carville memorably said.  Obama got a boost in 2008 from bad numbers rolling out in the early fall.  Reagan destroyed Carter in 1980's stagflating economy.

This year, if Romney is to charge back, it will be on the strength of bad economic news as he follows the standard challenger's game-plan - assail the incumbent as the cause of any and all things bad in the country.  Write some checks with your mouth that your ass may or may not be able to cash once you get elected.  Obama did the same to the GOP in 2008, and found out that steering the economy isn't quite the same as ordering an admiral where to take his aircraft carrier.  Perhaps this is because the President is really just the people's elected zeitgeist, one who is expected to set the tone for the country through his or her leadership.

This all reminds me of a recent Freakonomics podcast (which was in fact an updated reprise of a 2010 podcast).  If you want to know what people as diverse as Don Rumsfeld, Joe Maddon, John Ashcroft and a whole crapload of economists think about the actual power (or lack thereof) of the presidency, check out this March, 2012 episode of Freakonomics Radio.  Rumsfeld's opinions are perhaps the most interesting.  As much as I dislike the guy's personality and politics, he has been either an advisor to or cabinet member for every GOP president since Nixon.

Freakonomics Radio, March 29, 2012 - The Power of the President