Political pundits have speculated about the possibility of another presidential candidate entering the November race. (Damon Winter / The New York Times)
I haven’t written much lately about the spate of articles either calling for, or at least wistfully speculating about, a “centrist” third-party presidential candidacy in the United States. It’s nonsense, of course, on multiple levels.
For one thing, if you look at what pundits calling for such a candidacy want, it’s all already in President Obama’s proposals. For another, it’s not going to happen. For a third, the favorite imaginary candidate, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, turns out to be totally ignorant about the economic crisis.
“It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a panel discussion last November. “It was, plain and simple, Congress, who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp."
But I realized that it’s even worse than that. What defines centrist heroes, as far as I can tell, is that they are people who, faced with a catastrophic slump driven by private-sector abuses, and a severe shortfall of spending, declared that our most urgent priority is … to reduce budget deficits.
That’s often described as a courageous position, but it’s actually anything but: nobody in the Beltway dinner-party circuit has ever been ostracized for demanding entitlement cuts. And aside from being totally conventional, it’s also deeply wrongheaded — and if you ask me, somewhat unethical, too, because it involves exploiting a crisis to push an agenda totally unrelated to that crisis.
It Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain’t Got the Swings
There’s been an interesting back and forth between the commentators Ezra Klein at The Washington Post and Ryan Avent at The Economist over whether Mr. Obama has a problem in swing states, even if the national economy is doing a bit better. Overall, swing states have higher unemployment than the nation as a whole; but elections generally turn on the rate of change, not the level, and by that criterion things weren’t clear.
Well, I couldn’t resist some number crunching. I ranked states by the John McCain margin in 2008 (at USElectionAtlas.org), and decided to define the swing states as the range in that ranking from Missouri to New Mexico, on the general grounds that Mr. Obama ain’t gonna take Montana, and despite our loud governor, Chris Christie, I very much doubt that Mitt Romney can take New Jersey.
And I took changes in the unemployment rate over the period December 2010 to December 2011 (January state numbers aren’t in yet), then took an average weighted by electoral vote.
And the results are … unimpressive. My “average” swing state had a 1.1 percentage point fall in unemployment, compared with a national fall of 0.9. No big difference.
But by normal political standards, either fall is enough to give Mr. Obama a decent chance. If the labor market continues to improve, there may be much howling in the G.O.P. come November.
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008.
Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007). Copyright 2011 The New York Times.