What do you do with a drunken sailor?

Notes from the political sidelines.
Oct. 29 2006 11:59 PM

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

With this election sinking fast, Republicans debate how not to lose the next one.

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Never mind the current Congress—the real value of political futures markets like Intrade is their potential to put someone else out of business: pundits. Intrade's predictions are erratic, unreliable, and meaningless—in other words, a perfect market in the conventional wisdom. Most Washington talking heads are just day traders in political gossip. Thanks to Intrade, you no longer have to listen to all the pontificators, because the market does it for you.

In politics, it's often hard to tell the difference between the conventional wisdom and "the wisdom of crowds." One man's CW is another man's WC. As further proof that the market works, this wisdom is now available for free—which is exactly what it's worth.

When it comes to the future, the present is always the last to know. Back in July, Intrade introduced a futures contract on whether an internet gambling law would be passed. On Sept. 30, the market was betting with 78 percent certainty that it wouldn't happen. The next day, Frist's late-night rider made that same bet worthless.

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So before your addictive behavior leads you to bet your living room on Bill Frist's 2008 nomination at the current long-shot odds of 70-1, don't forget that in predicting political events, there's a reason the market is clueless—because we are. ... 1:08 P.M. (link)

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Monday, Oct. 23, 2006

Book Him:In a White House melting faster than the polar ice caps, one figure maintains the confidence of the American people: First Lady Laura Bush. Her approval rating is roughly double her husband's. On the campaign trail, Republican incumbents embarrassed to be seen with him routinely welcome her. Most Bush advisers consider themselves lucky not to be fired or indicted, and many are unpopular even within their own party. But according to a recent Harris poll, 83 percent of Americans said Laura Bush was a good influence on the president's decisions.

America is probably right that this administration would do better with more Lauras and fewer Don, Dick, and Karls. But that's a very low standard. And while Laura Bush may be a good person, what little we know suggests that she has also given her husband some very bad advice.

If Mark Foley is the last straw for Republicans' chances next month, the first straw may well have been Harriet Miers. Laura Bush had a hand in pushing the nomination of her fellow SMU alum and infuriated conservatives by implying that they were sexist to question Miers' credentials.

For the right, the Miers nomination was the crash of 2005—the moment when thinking conservatives began to ask themselves, "Had Enough?" But Bush's 2006 strategy has been even worse—and while the trail is sketchy, the circumstantial evidence once again points to Laura Bush.

Going into 2006, many political experts thought the Bush White House's strategic motto would be Reductions in Force—a limited drawdown of troops in Iraq, along with a concerted effort to cut domestic federal spending. The first would allow Bush to claim the United States was turning the corner in Iraq; the second would signal conservatives that after five spendthrift years, the administration was coming home.

We were right that the White House game plan for 2006 was RIF. We just didn't realize it would stand for Reading Is Fundamental.

TODAY IN SLATE

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