As the Dow rose with the sun on the morning of November 8 after a chaotic and unresolved election, the Wall Street talking heads checked in with what they clearly believe to be the country's most important political constituent: the stock market. Philip Coggan, editor of the Financial Times, reported on CNN's In the Money that the market "prefers a divided presidency and Senate." The next day, news of the presidential stalemate had yet to faze the markets, and Bruce Bartlett, an economist at the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, told viewers that "markets like gridlock, they don't really want to see a lot of legislation coming out of Washington, they like things on automatic pilot." But as the battle for Florida dragged on, the market apparently changed its mind. On the Tuesday after election day, In the Money host Bill Tucker reported that "markets would like to see some sort of resolution." A guest on CNN's Moneyline, agreed, saying, "The market's just happy to see somebody finally win."
The market, it seems, has become a voter. According to the financial pundits holding forth around the clock on CNN and its ilk, the market has political likes and dislikes--preferences, desires, wishes, and opinions that it expresses through a complicated series of leaps and dips. It's up to the commentators, in their role as financial shrinks (what is the market really feeling about all this?), to decipher the meaning of the market gyrations.
The ups and downs of the market--and what they signify about its political preferences--have been watched as closely as the undecided voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania before election day. Consider the following play-by-play analysis provided by CNN correspondent John Metaxas during the November 14 edition of Moneyline:
At 11:00 James Baker made a Republican proposal in the recount dispute. No reaction from the market. It remained up. At 12:00 William Daley came back, rejecting that proposal. No real reaction in the market. We got the court decision on the five p.m. deadline at 1:00. The market remained higher. Warren Christopher spoke at 2:19. The market closed at the same level it was when Christopher started speaking.
With pundits displaying such quivering attentiveness to the market, it's only natural that politicians must begin attending--and even pandering--to its wants. On CNN's sunrise show Ahead of the Curve, David Jones, chief economist at Aubrey Lanston, predicted that "we are going to have more of those nosedives ... unless, essentially, both candidates say: When the vote is finished in Florida ... it is over, and won't be challenged any further." Forget fairness, accuracy, or even what actual flesh-and-blood voters really want. The market has spoken.
And the politicians have listened. At a press conference in Florida, James Baker remarked: "I'm concerned about what's happening in international markets... . Why are the markets disturbed? Because they don't see any finality here." Never mind that finality would favor his candidate. He's only responding to the market, that ficklest of swing voters.