They Can't Both Be Right, Cont.

From Republican friends -- and not-such-friends -- response to this earlier report is, In your dreams! They say that Romney really does have the "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" momentum behind him. No matter what the polls may show.

From Democrats and others, a variety of messages of which the one below is a good representative. I'll quote it; then return to finishing an overdue article; then start showing more Foxconn pics. A reader writes:

I fear you are being waaaay too kind to the people pushing the Romney line. The far more likely story is that there is no actual conflict of systems because one group is simply lying.

The Romney partisans, of course, do so to create expectations that will suppress Democratic enthusiasm. a) They know that in the even of an Obama win they will not only not look foolish, but they can come out and admit they were "bluffing" and suffer no consequences. Reporters will roll their eyes at this roguish behavior and keep coming back to them for quotes in the next election, because hey, they give good quotes. Dick Morris still gets quoted by some people! b) Those who were most loyal to the candidate will be viewed more favorably in future years than those who were seen as pessimists or who "gave up" before it was all over. Being honest would in fact hurt him whether Romney wins or loses. So a rational Romney-ite would lie if he knew Obama was likely ahead -- it benefits his side now, and will not hurt him later, whatever the result.

The supposedly non-partisan observers do it because they can only pitch one of two narratives: this is close, and will be decided by slim margins, or this is falling into Romney's lap. The former is old news, and boring. The latter is exciting. Again, though, there is no downside to being wrong. Nate Silver in his book measured the predictions of pundits on the McLaughlin Group and found them no more accurate than coin tosses. Yet nobody ever cared about past bad predictions because accuracy was not the issue -- having something interesting to say was. Nate Silver has his reputation -- and thus livelihood -- on the line. Gut-instinct pundits really don't.

(To the extent you are hearing Romney is leading from people who you respect as thoughtful and serious, I would be wrong. But how many are truly a) nonpartisan, b) experienced, and c) well-informed?) [JF note: Many of those I have heard from are "thoughtful" and well-informed; none I can think of are nonpartisan.]

This raises the question, why doesn't Obama's camp follow the same logic? Why aren't they trying the same thing? It has to be the leadership styles of the candidates and those they surround themselves with. Romney and his people are gung-ho, all American, outgoing... Obama is the exact opposite. As John Keegan wrote of U.S. Grant in "the Mask of Command," "He lacked the essential quality to be what Jacques Barzun called a 'booster,' one of those bustling, bonhomous, penny-counting chance-grabbing optimists who .... were to make America's fortune." Romney is 100% booster. Obama is much more Grant. I take comfort from that comparison.

The lack of any penalty, career-wise or in other terms, for "experts" who are completely wrong in their forecasts was one of the themes I went into in Breaking the News.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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