Political Hay

Predicting 2005

It's going to be a lot more dull than gloomy.

By 1.2.05

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One year ago, to make the point that we live in a world far more unpredictable than we pundits must pretend when we make New Year's forecasts, I examined the possibility of five unlikely-seeming scenarios for 2004. Strangely enough, three of the five scenarios actually happened, though to underscore my Heisenbergian point, none played out the way I thought it might. We had a "Deanless Summer," but it was John Kerry's Iowa ground-game, not Dick Gephardt's, that blindsided the Deanieboppers. There was "War in '04," but it was within Iraq -- most notably with the Fallujah offensive -- that the U.S. military went on the attack, not without it. And indeed "He Lives," though it was videotape of his pre-election commentary, not his capture, in which Osama bin Laden's medical status was confirmed.

("President Dean," of course, was mutually exclusive with "Deanless Summer"; Bush's electoral advantage, then, was the one piece of year-end conventional wisdom I examined that was proven entirely correct, though the CW wobbled quite a bit more than was warranted over the course of the year.)

The conventional wisdom on the coming year is not so solid as it was twelve months ago, mainly because there is no upcoming national election. Last New Year's, forecasters weren't just predicting that Dean would win the nomination -- some were simply assuming he would, and making their general election predictions accordingly (note how Rick Brookhiser phrased his election call). Nonetheless, surveying the conservative commentariat (liberals, for some reason, don't seem to offer much in the way of New Year's predictions), I do notice some common threads that could use closer examination.

Illegal Immigrantzzzz. In that other website's prediction symposium, Cliff May sees immigration as one of 2005's "most contentious debates;" Andrew Stuttaford likewise forecasts "a nasty fight over immigration" that weakens the Bush Administration. And William Safire predicts that "Republicans in Congress will remind President Bush of his lame-duckiness by defeating his proposal for... registering illegal immigrants."

Well, maybe. But the Republican leadership on the Hill has shown a talent for maintaining party discipline that suggests that if they feel they cannot move the President's preferred reform (which is, as Brandon Crocker has correctly argued, really not so bad), they will let it die quietly rather than risk an intraparty battle. It's in the GOP's interest to keep this conversation a dull one. (If the infighting does begin, it'll be the first sign that the Republican majority may be less solid than it now seems.)

Spoils of Victory. There's a lot of pessimism about the prospects for Bush's second-term agenda. It's true that second terms don't tend to go all that well, but the pessimism seems overwrought. "John McCain, Nurse Ratched, Bill Frist and Joe Biden are already campaigning for '08. Their posturing will make the Senate a quagmire for the President's agenda," predicts Jed Babbin. Jonah Goldberg -- who's predicting no major tax reform and no major Social Security reform -- echoes the point: "Bill Frist will be forced to choose between carrying President Bush's agenda through the Senate and running for president. He will run for president." Cliff May: "Bush will not succeed in reforming the tax system"; Kate O'Beirne: "no immigration reform, no Social Security reform, and only modest tax reform."

Why so gloomy? If Frist wants to run for President from the Senate (not, generally, the best way to go about it), then he may actually want some accomplishments to point to; there's no reason that he wouldn't view the Bush administration's goals as the coattails he wants to ride. The Democratic wannabes may fight with more bluster than usual, but they're no more of a threat than their less aggressive co-partisans. As for McCain, his loyalty to the party could be no more consistently inconsistent than in Bush's first term, where the President's legislative priorities certainly made some headway.

Order in the Court. Jed Babbin writes that "the fight to confirm a conservative Supreme Court justice or two will make the Bork battle look tame." But as James Taranto noted in his Wall Street Journal op-ed page brief for a Chief Justice Thomas, New York Times sources suggest that Democrats are prepared to give Bush a pass on replacing the ailing William Rehnquist. Jonah Goldberg may be on to something with his prediction that the "second confirmation battle concludes with Democrats and Republicans literally eating each other on the floor of the Senate," but there's a good chance that won't happen in the coming year, as justices seem to stick around longer than anyone thinks they will -- remember when we were told that the winner of the 2000 election would be appointing several justices? It would be no shock to see the relatively smooth confirmation of just one conservative justice.

Back in Iraq. Here, there is actually no consensus: There's the pessimism of John Derbyshire ("The Iraqis will fail to take charge of their own affairs... The U.S. public will get increasingly fed up with the whole business."), the optimism of Victor Davis Hanson ("By autumn 'liberal hawks' will be writing 'As I have previously argued' essays in The Atlantic and New Republic, attesting to their long-time support for Iraqi reconstruction and democraticization..."), and several shades in the middle. I myself lean toward optimism. This is, after all, the time to wish one and all a happy new year.

Happy New Year.

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About the Author

John Tabin is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator online.