The world is not nearly as predictable a place as some like to pretend, particularly when indulging in that annual rite of punditry, the New Year's prediction. In the spirit of uncertainty, let us examine some scenarios for 2004 that, it's widely agreed, are highly improbable, and demonstrate how each of these long-shots are fully within the realm of the possible.
Deanless Summer. We're stuck listening to Howard Dean until November, goes the conventional wisdom. Just because it's the conventional wisdom doesn't mean its wrong, but there's yet to be a vote cast. Dean may be leading in Iowa, but in a caucus system, a good organization can defy the polls. I wouldn't underestimate Dean's organization, but neither would I underestimate Dick Gephardt's. And in New Hampshire, where Dean leads overwhelmingly, he's never polled above 46%, suggesting that a two-man field would be quite competitive -- especially since there are plenty of anti-Dean donors to help narrow Dean's fundraising advantage. The trick, then, is for the candidates to narrow their ranks as quickly as possible. That will be quite difficult in this frontloaded primary season -- by the time the various wannabes' make-or-break states have passed, Dean will have accumulated momentum toward the March 2 Super Tuesday, with its mother lode of delegates. But it's hardly impossible.
Bush Loses. With the economic recovery chugging along, Saddam in the clink, and an exceptionally underwhelming field of Democratic challengers, Bush looks well positioned for re-election. But a lot can happen between now and November, and those same Democrats might not look as weak in the coming months. Gephardt, in particular, could turn several safe Republican states into battlegrounds. In fact, there's even a chance of ...
President Dean. With the country culturally polarized, a McGovern-style 49-state landslide is unlikely. Ten states and the District of Columbia are safe for almost any Democrat, and another six or seven will be difficult for Bush to pick up; together, these states comprise 240-250 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. A Dean victory would require a serious error on the part of the White House -- but that, too, is possible.
War in '04. "No War in '04" is rumored to be a slogan inside the White House, reflecting an understandable desire to avoid the risks of a high-profile military operation during an election year. But there may be no choice. The U.S. may be forced to respond if Syria keeps pushing its luck; given that Bashar Assad seems to have nowhere near the control over his regime's most thuggish elements that his monstrous father did, he may not be able to reform completely even he wants to. Can we afford not to intervene in Pakistan if one of Pervez Musharraf's many would-be assassins finally hits his mark? Political advisers are still not allowed in Bush's war cabinet meetings.
He Lives. I've long been convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead. (I'm not the only one.) The repeated lack of evidence to the contrary has bolstered my suspicion. But two weeks ago I was struck with some doubt, when General Richard Myers said that bin Laden would be caught if he is "still alive, and I think most suspect he is." It's not entirely clear what Myers meant by "most." Most people in the world? Or most people at the Pentagon? If it's the latter, then we may be in for a surprise after all: a captured bin Laden. Given his sense of style before he went on the lam, one must assume that Osama will make Saddam look like he came out of his spider-hole after a Kyan Douglas makeover.
And on that note: Happy New Year, Readers, and may all your surprises be pleasant.
John Tabin is a Baltimore-based freelance writer whose website is JohnTabin.com.
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