How often have you heard a variation on this story? You’re sitting in the bar car of the train back from Washington to New York and bits of a conversation among some beautiful people waft their way across your double bourbon. Obama, they assure one another gleefully, has it “in the bag.” The campaign, they tell another another, is essentially over: it’s just a matter of hopping on the Hope & Change express and riding it — Forward! — to victory in November. It’s a nuisance that we even have to bother with the formality of voting, their conversation seems to suggest: the polls, the emotional weather of the country, God himself (except of course that there is no God) have ordained that Obama must win, has already really won, can you believe what a terrible campaign Mitt Romney is running? What a loser! Alienating 47 percent of the population by reminding them that they pay no income tax and are beneficiaries of government largess: what a moron! Imagine, telling people the truth about the Entitlement State! The man is a gaffe machine. Boy are we going to town on these losers when Obama starts his second term. . . .
Et very much cetera. I ran into an old Yale friend the other night who told me about a party he attended among what he called the bien pensant elite of New Haven. The conversation drifted to the election, and that febrile sense of grateful certainty asserted itself into the proceedings. My friend quietly demurred, breaking the mood of self-congratulation. Could it be that he had a different opinion? He didn’t really think, did he, that anything other than an overwhelming victory for Obama was possible? He simply smiled and suggested that they ask President Dukakis what he thought. I think the party dispersed soon thereafter.
“President Dukakis.” Remember him? He had it “in the bag,” too. He was a shoo in, a cert, the hands-down favorite, even the Republicans acknowledged it — right up until the moment he lost. As I noted last week, Isaac Newton had some illuminating things to say about inertia and momentum that bear on the art of psephology. Today, I see, Gallup has Obama and Romney running neck and neck, each with 47 percent of that part of the electorate willing to talk to the Gallup pollsters. Some conservatives are surprised and worried about the fact that Romney is not far ahead in the polls. On the domestic front, Obama has been such a conspicuous failure — the $16 trillion federal debt, the 8.3 percent unemployment when he promised to have it down to 5.6 percent, the annual deficit, which he promised to halve, hovering around 1.5 trillion, etc. etc. — how could it be that Romney is not killing him in the polls? And add to this the disaster that is Obama’s Islamophilic Mideast policy — our consulate overrun in Benghazi, our ambassador murdered, Obama is told 90 minutes into the assault, he goes to bed — where does it end?
It ends with President Dukakis. In other words, I am sticking with my prediction that Romney will win and win big. I even have a few modest bets on the race. Of course, it’s possible that Obama will win. It was possible that Michael Dukakis could have won, too. He had the illusion of momentum, just as Obama does. All the beautiful people who teach at Yale or Harvard or read the news for CNN or MSNBC, or write for The New York Times or The Washington Post, all the swell folks who entertain all the right opinions about abortion, taxes, Islam, and anything described as “green”: they are always right about everything and they just know Obama will win because (per impossibile) were he to lose it would not simply be an electoral defeat, it would be a repudiation of their entire world view: their brief for “a sustainable future” will have turned out to be unsustainable, George W. Bush would not be the Antichrist, and their Priuses would no longer be the golden chariots they had been assured they were. Again, I might be wrong. Possibility is cheap. It is possible Romney will lose. It is possible that Joe Biden will be coherent at his next rally. We’re not talking about possibility but probability. There is a famous though possibly apocryphal anecdote about the movie reviewer Pauline Kael (the movie critic the beautiful people most love). When Ronald Reagan [or maybe Nixon, see the comments] was first elected, the story goes, Kael found herself in a state of dumbfounded consternation: how could this be? How could this ignorant right-wing war mongering B-actor have been elected? The electoral result was not just mistaken, it was impossible. “I don’t know anyone who voted for him,” quoth la Kael. I wonder if anyone introduced her to President Dukakis?