Obama: The 'Tech Bubble' Candidate

For my first professional job after college, I didn't have a cell phone or e-mail. I only occasionally used a computer, accessing a crude spreadsheet program through an MS/DOS prompt. I mention this to say I had a front-row seat for the technological innovations that have transformed how we work and live. 

Its easy to forget that the early days of the internet gave rise to one of the biggest speculative stock market bubbles in history. Trillions in wealth were lost when it became clear that "old" rules of business still applied to the "new" economy. Overly optimistic assumptions that somehow every had "changed" with the birth of the internet were simply fantasy. It bears a striking similarity to the state of the presidential race today and Barack Obama. 

Since the political conventions ended, the entire political narrative before the first debate was that Obama was a shoo-in for reelection. Both national and swing state polls showed Obama with solid, consistent and, at times, significant leads over Romney. As I have pointed out for weeks, all of this was purposely misleading. All of it was based on the rosiest of assumptions about turnout in November. 

The predicate for the media's narrative was based on Democrats equaling or, in many cases, surpassing the turnout advantage they had in 2008. How this was going to happen it was never clearly explained. Like the expected earnings bonanza of the dotcom era, it was just something that was going to happen. You know, he's Obama and all. 

None of the "old" rules applied to Obama. The economic recovery could stall, millions of people could remain out of work, and Americans' incomes could fall, but, somehow, the Democrats would be able to turn out even more supporters than in 2008. Obama could disappoint major swathes of the left by maintaining Bush's anti-terror policies and have his own "kill list", yet there would be an even stronger, more committed base of support than he enjoyed four years ago. 

It didn't make any sense. Data dives into the polls showed there was a clear enthusiasm edge for Republicans. In 2008, the party was coming off 8 years of Bush and had just gotten shellacked in the 2006 midterms. Hell, there was a global financial meltdown happening in real-time at the climax of the campaign. In this climate, the Democrats, led by an Obama with soaring rhetoric and zero record, achieved a turnout advantage of D+7, a record in the modern political era. How the hell were they going to top that? 

Today, though, after Obama's debate debacle, even "getting the old gang back together" isn't enough. A poll released today by ARG assumes an electorate in Ohio that is more Democrat than the one in 2008. Still, Romney leads by a point. 

Yesterday, Buzzfeed sarcastically reminded us about 8 "seers" who, back in September, called the election for Obama. Amusingly, one of those "prophets" was Henry Blodgett, founder and editor of the generally great BusinessInsider news site. 

Blodget's career before he was a political analyst/booster for Obama? Stock analyst during the dotcom bubble. He famously hyperventilated glowing and overly optimistic earnings reports on dozen of Internet start-ups. Somewhat unfairly, he was one of the analysts fingered as causing the ridiculous run-up in the stock price of many soon-to-be-defunct companies. 

Soon after Blodget and others "called" the election for Obama, the President's "price" on InTrade spiked at around 78, implying a 78% chance he would win reelection. Nate Silver, who is furiously trying to duct-tape together his "forecast model," moved Obama's chances of winning to something like 125%. 

There are 4 weeks to go and two more Presidential debates. This is an eternity in American politics and the press is dying to write the "comeback kid" story about Obama. He is still in a strong position to win reelection, but he's going to have to slog it out by the "old" rules of politics. He no longer has the magic touch that can just assume a huge turnout advantage. He is not going to have one. The Obama bubble has burst. 

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