In February, I wrote a column called "Prepare for the Economic Meltdown." I wasn't then and I'm not now a psychic, or even an economist. Even so, and as I noted in that piece, I used scientific public opinion data to help me read where the economy was going.
Back then, the numbers I saw from our polling suggested that Americans not only were convinced the nation was still in recession, but also that our chances for a full economic recovery in 2011 or even 2012 were not good.
Fast forward to this past week's news, which included one poll showing that two-thirds of the nation still believes we are in a recession. And a Wall Street Journal headline read, "Housing Imperils Recovery ... Consumer Confidence Falls as Pessimism Grows." Many other news organizations published similar sad stories.
Why is it that many pundits so desperately want us to believe that we were emerging from the recession, that the job market is getting better and that growth is returning to the economy? Perhaps it's because if the economy doesn't start improving -- or at least show signs that it soon might -- President Barack Obama's odds for re-election could be far longer.
Well, as of the week following Memorial Day 2011, let it be known with no uncertainty that things simply are not getting better. The conventional wisdom has had it that by hunting down Osama bin Laden, President Obama has made himself nearly impossible to beat in 2012. That view is no longer the conventional one. Rightly so.
Part of my theory that even investors might become gloomy this year is based on the simple fact that too many companies have cut their costs to the bone. This has allowed many of them to make impressive gains on their books compared to the corresponding financial quarter in 2010.
But they simply will not be able to continue doing this. They can't just keep cutting off more limbs and expect their corporate "bodies" to remain standing. And the jobs picture that was supposed to be looking prettier is now muddy again. Some economists believe the nation is on the verge of another Great Depression. This leads to an assessment of the current "conventional wisdom" about the 2012 presidential election. There are plenty of experts with all types of opinions that collectively make up what could be termed "early presidential conventional wisdom."
Among those opinions is the concept that no Republican can beat Obama; that longtime GOP leaders like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich can't possibly win in this upcoming election's "tea party" environment; and that some new conservative face will be necessary for the Republicans to have even a chance of defeating the president in 2012.
You can take these judgments, lump them with all the other conventional wisdom that's failed to come true over the last year and dump them overboard.
First, remember that as exciting as new blood is in a presidential race, the GOP has almost never won the presidency without a fairly well known commodity as its nominee. Even in 1968 -- arguably the greatest single year of discontent in modern American history -- it was the worn face of Richard Nixon that delivered the presidency to Republicans.
Yes, tea party conservatives are wary of Mitt Romney. But if he catches fire in the primaries, these same tea partiers will eventually hop onto his bandwagon because of the sudden perception that he has what it takes to actually take down Obama in the general election.
As for Gingrich: Yes, his campaign started out with more fumbles than the Carolina Panthers. But if he wins the first debate later this month, his candidacy could easily be resurrected.
There are bright new names that might emerge during the GOP caucuses and primaries, several of which I have written about. Whichever candidate emerges as the Republican nominee -- be it a "new new" personality or the same old thing -- will have a genuine chance of toppling President Obama.
And that, too, goes against conventional wisdom.
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