As entertainment, Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention was brilliant. Her interviews are a bit lacking, but the speechifying is first rate. If I had half that talent onstage I'd quit economics and try my luck as an off-broadway drag queen performing my very own musical adaptation of "It Can't Happen Here" set in Anchorage to music by Amy Grant and Frank Sinatra.
As one Republican National Committee attendee said of Sarah Palin on the Daily Show: "She makes Americans feel like anyone can be president." Yes indeed, she certainly does that.
Well, dreams do sell. The vicarious pleasure of seeing nobodies become celebrities has made "American Idol" the most watched television program in this country for the past 4 years in a row. Could it propel a McCain-Palin ticket to the White House?...
And if a Palin celebrity bubble is enough to bring about a Republican Presidential win in November (what else would? Senator McCain's natural charisma?), what is the likelihood of an ensuing Palin Presidency? Historically, of 46 U. S. Vice Presidents to date, fourteen have become President. Five were elected in their own right; four inherited the office through the natural death of the incumbent, four following an assassination, and one by resignation. That comes out to a 30% chance of a Palin Presidency--not controlling for such factors as age or physical health of the President upon assuming office.
The McCain candidacy has thus degenerated into a dare. In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, here posed to the American public by the designers of the McCain-Palin ticket (whoever they might be, since McCain apparently wanted Lieberman): "You've got to ask yourself one question, 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"
What will be the response of the American public to this dare? In these challenging economic times, with no end in sight to a war of historic duration and century-old financial institutions crumbling before our eyes, will people become more cautious?
A report in Saturday's New York Times on the sales of lottery tickets provides some indication. It turns out that, as the economy slows, lottery ticket sales have accelerated to record-breaking levels. "With companies tightening and not giving cost-of-living increases, you have to try to make money elsewhere," one lottery ticket purchaser is quoted as saying.
Such belief in the ability of an individual to overcome the odds and succeed when the deck is stacked against them is the stuff that dreams are made of. Well, actually, nightmares in this particular case, if you deepen your poverty by sinking your money into an activity that my callous fellow-economists sometimes refer to as "a tax on the stupid."
The thing is, there is no reason whatsoever to conclude that lottery ticket buyers are "stupid" simply because lose systematically. The lottery customer mentioned above actually admits to the New York Times an awareness that her logic "might be convoluted." Well, from a statistical standpoint, it is convoluted. Her logic is, in fact, mistaken. But the ticket may be worth buying in the short term because it makes her fell better. So she's not stupid. She just wants to feel better. In that, she has plenty of company. And if a lottery ticket, which costs money, is worth the expense for the temporary thrill it gives, why not a vote in November for Sarah Palin and her running mate?
Indeed, why not!? Let other people be reasonable. I'm for the underdog. Let other people clean up wars and financial collapses. I'm for the beauty queen. Let all the losers and cry-babies moan about the need to invest to repair crumbling infrastructure and sustain leadership in science and technology. I'm going to celebrate. I'm going to drill holes and pump oil--American oil. I'm going to spend. And I'm going to party--not tomorrow, but right now!
Wanna know why?
Because I feel lucky.