The Homework Test
I spent a delightful morning with a longtime friend who provided one of the inspirations for the creation of libertyPell.com. The conversation, which took place about a decade ago, led to the idea of running for president with the express intention of obtaining no votes at all. This was to be accomplished by saying only the things that needed to be said and only to the people who least wanted to hear them.
My friend is a hockey goaltender, though strictly speaking, he is a retired hockey goaltender and the past tense might have been more appropriate. But tending goal is a state of mind more than an activity and goaltenders retain that state of mind long after stacking the pads is behind them.
After beginning the day with oatmeal, we played a round of golf and finished with Cobb salads. It was during the Cobb salads that he revealed the secret of the “homework test” for determining who would be elected president. The test does not tell you who to vote for because we are free-market guys, but it does tell you who is more likely to win in November.
The homework test has two parts and the most successful candidates are likely to get both of them right. Sometimes a candidate will win with only one correct answer, but he has virtually no chance if he gets both of them wrong. One of the beauties of the homework test is that you do not need to be a historian or a political scientist to apply it.
Think back to some of our recent elections:
1976 – Jimmy Carter versus Gerald Ford
1980 – Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan
1984 – Walter Mondale versus Ronald Reagan
1988 – Michael Dukakis versus George H. W. Bush
1992 – Bill Clinton versus George H. W. Bush
1996 – Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole
2000 – Al Gore versus George W. Bush
2004 – John Kerry versus George W. Bush
2008 – Barack Obama versus John McCain
2012 – Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney
That should provide a sufficient sample to test our theory.
The first part of the homework test takes place on a Friday afternoon just as class is about to be dismissed. Tension in the room is high because the teacher has forgotten to assign the homework for the weekend.
Which candidate is more likely to remind the teacher of her omission? That candidate is likely to lose the election. We’ll call that the Friday test though calling it the goody two shoes test was a possibility.
The second part of the homework test takes place early on Monday morning and you are nervous — frantic even — because you have “left undone those things which you ought to have done and you have done those things which you ought not to have done” and you are in serious need of someone’s homework to copy.
Which candidate is more likely to have the best homework? There is a subtlety here. You are assessing whether the candidate has the best homework not whether he has done the best homework. The candidate you would choose to get yourself out of your jam is likely to win the election. Will call that the Monday test.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter would clearly have failed the Friday test but Gerald Ford would have failed the Monday test by more.
1980 and 1984: Reagan 2-0 in each case. Being a goody two shoes has unfortunate consequences.
1988: Bush 2-0. Dukakis was such a goody two shoes that he wore a helmet in his tank.
1992 and 1996: much too easy, Clinton 2-0.
2000 and 2004: another easy one, Bush 2-0. In aggregate, his opponents were goody four shoes.
2008: both fail the Friday test, but Obama is the better choice on Monday
2012: again, both fail the Friday test so it all boils down to which one you think would be in possession of the most useful homework and whether he would let you copy it.
Political chat shows throughout the land can now go out of business and the Citizens United controversy is behind us because campaign contributions are no longer needed.
If the stock market stays dodgy, take your predictions to Intrade and go all in.