Each year numerous pundits go out on a limb with New Year’s predictions, and each year I survey and critique the emergent conventional wisdom about the year to come, examining scenarios that seem unlikely, but aren’t impossible. Last year I questioned whether the immigration debate would really break out into a GOP-weakening melee (it hasn’t yet), whether Bush’s agenda would really hit a wall on Capitol Hill (it did), and whether Supreme Court fights would be as contentious as many were expecting (the intra-right fight over Harriet Miers wasn’t what forecasters had in mind).
This year the reigning prognosticator-in-chief, William Safire, retired from his perch at the New York Times op-ed page, and he’ll be missed. The predictions haven’t stopped, though. What’s on everyone’s mind?
American Politics. “If the stars align right we could actually take back the Senate,” Sen. Chuck Schumer recently told the AP. As head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Schumer is required to say things like that. But if Schumer is serious about the seven states he says the DSCC is targeting — Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, and Arizona — he’s going to be wasting a lot of money. Assuming Lincoln Chafee fends off a conservative primary challenge in Rhode Island, all but one of those states — Pennsylvania — will be an uphill battle for Democrats, some of them absurdly so. Jon Kyl is leading his likely challenger by 20%, according to Rasmussen. Markos Moulitsas thinks Conrad Burns of Montana is in trouble because he’s “the most unpopular senator in the country.” It turns out that Senators are awfully popular: Rasmussen has Burns’s favorable/unfavorable rating at 55/37.
Most conservatives are cautiously predicting mild losses for the GOP; at the National Review Online predictions symposium, Cliff May, John J. Miller, Peter Schweizer and Andrew Stuttaford all say that, more or less. That’s probably right. But don’t forget how much things can change in ten months. A scandal, an international crisis, or a terror attack can tilt things in either direction rather fast.
International Politics. At NRO, Denis Boyles predicts rising political fortunes for socialist Dominique de Villepin. He could be right, but Nicolas Sarkozy will be doing everything to trip his rival up in advance of the ’07 elections to replace Chirac. Mark Steyn predicts that the German government will fall, which isn’t much of a stretch given the unwieldy coalition that Christian Democrat Angela Merkel currently heads; Stuttaford writes that “all those folk who believed that Angela Merkel might be a Frau Thatcher will be shown up for the wishful thinkers that they were.” But International Herald Tribune columnist Richard Bernstein, writing from Berlin, is much more sanguine: “Merkel is not only a smart and capable politician, she has the decided advantage of having an easy act to follow.” New data on how utterly the previous Social Democrat-Green coalition’s policies have failed, Bernstein writes, “will induce the Social Democrats to agree to Merkel’s reforms…. But Merkel here will have to be bold and tough. It will be her opportunity and her test.” Who knows? She might succeed.
(The most interesting political show of ’06 is one that’s barely been noted outside of Canada: the upcoming election for control of Ottawa. Watch for welcome changes in U.S.-Canadian relations if the Conservatives prevail.)
Iran. Congenital pessimist John Derbyshire writes at NRO that “Iran will test a nuclear weapon….The European nations will issue a joint statement declaring their very, very grave displeasure.” Stuttaford likewise writes that “the Iranians will have come even closer to securing [nukes]. We still won’t know what to do.” The IHT‘s Bernstein predicts diplomatic failure and adds helpfully: “After Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will go nuclear too, and just when the post-Cold War world is supposed to reduce its nuclear stockpiles, a nuclear arc will be forming from India and Pakistan in the East all the way to North Africa, and it will be forming in the most politically explosive, death- and extremist-prone region of the globe.”
It could hardly be stated more starkly why a consensus for bombing Iranian nuclear facilities is quickly forming in Israel — and why the U.S. has a big decision to make about granting access to Iraqi airspace and/or aiding in the strike. Can the Mullahs talk and deceive their way into the nuclear club? Yes. But they haven’t done it yet.
Happy New Year.
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