Fairies A-Fading

Paul Krugman observes that one of Mitt Romney’s main rationales for becoming president–that his reassuring plutocratic presence will inspire the kind of “confidence” among investors and “job-creators” that will in and of itself boost the economy–is getting a little ragged:

As it happens, Mr. Romney offered a testable proposition in his Boca remarks: “If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy.” How’s that going? Not very well. Over the past month conventional wisdom has shifted from the view that the election could easily go either way to the view that Mr. Romney is very likely to lose; yet markets are up, not down, with major stock indexes hitting their highest levels since the economic downturn began.

This is perhaps a bigger problem for Romney than is generally realized. Obviously, anything down the home stretch that makes economic prospects look worse is at least marginally bad news for the incumbent, and anything encouraging even a scintilla of optimism is good news. But beyond that, Romney more than any recent GOP nominee can credibly claim to be an authentic representative of the people who more or less run the United States and global economies. To the extent that undecided voters believe their own and their country’s prosperity depends on decisions by this class of people, they may lean towards giving them exactly what they want, even if it makes them a bit ill. Even people who hate “The Man” recognize that The Man is still “The Man,” right?

Again, perhaps I emphasize this phenomenon because I am from a region of the country where voters have for many decades consciously endorsed public policy positions against their own long-term interests so long as it might lead to immediate jobs. In some lovely but poor parts of my home state of Georgia, local folks would happily level the side of a scenic mountain if they could trade it for a cut-and-sew apparel plant paying minimum wage.

But in order to offer this sort of implicit devil’s bargain, politicians have to be able to show they can deliver. And that could be a serious intangible problem for Romney, aside from the abstract impact of better economic indicators on perceptions of the incumbent. If voters don’t have confidence that Mitt is the candidate who can instill confidence among economic movers and shakers, the whole confidence game breaks down, and the “confidence fairy” could fade to a mere fantasy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.