I was chatting with a friend recently when I recalled a prediction that I’d made many, many years ago. It’s useful to look back at such things in order to differentiate one’s self from the huge mass of agitprop-spewing talking heads in today’s Mainstream Media. The current standard for punditry requires no adherence to fact or reality at all, and this in turn makes it pretty entertaining. (Take John Derbyshire’s recent swan dive into the shallow end – so breathtakingly free of sense that his brothers-in-pomposity at the National Review have been spinning like tops in their efforts to pretend he never actually wrote for them.) Alas, I like to look at the facts of the situation in as sober a way as possible, and change what I think when it doesn’t conform. Nowhere near as much fun to read, I’ll grant, but I never claimed to be anything but stodgy.
In any case, before I get to that prediction that I made long ago, I’ll pull out a number of predictions I made on this blog just before, and about, the 2008 Presidential Election to see if they conformed with any kind of observable facts. Let’s start with some actual numbers, and the reactions to them by a commenter or two. My sister, a former Democratic activist and still staunch Dem for some odd reason, was in an absolute panic prior to that election, believing that my analysis was too “optimistic” in favor of Obama; the state of Pennsylvania in particular caused her a great amount of anxiety, and she produced all kinds of questionable poll numbers and said the word “tightening” a lot.
So here are the actual numbers and other predictions:
Popular Vote Percentages
Hmm, not too bad. I overvalued the full democracy parties, which is understandable given my point of view, but not tremendously so.
My electoral vote count was 311 for Obama; in reality it was 365. Looking more closely, I called 47 states out of 50 correctly, missing only when crediting Indiana (Obama +1.03%), North Carolina (Obama +0.33%), and Florida (Obama +2.82%), as well as the single electoral vote in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District (Obama +1.19%) to McCain. These were four of the six closest state or district races in the country, and could have easily gone the other way. I’m counting that as a win as well – a pretty big one.
Seems my last prediction for Pennsylvania was Obama +8.5%; my sister went with Obama +4% and apparently falling rapidly the closer we came to Election Day. Obama won Pennsylvania by +10.33%. Again, a pretty solid win (against the forces of hysteria).
The others were a bit more difficult to call, and they drew some unfocused “tinfoil hat” accusations from another commenter. Among them: that the Greens would win three state legislative seats (they won one), and that there was a “non-zero” chance of election shenanigans by both sides involving intimidation or violence (did not come to pass, this time; I think this was what the accusation was referring to, to which I should only need mention Florida in 2000, or Illinois in 1960). One of the more interesting possibilities I envisioned was a 1% chance that either the evangelical wing, the libertarian wing, or both would separate from the Republican Party in the aftermath of the election. This was before the rise of the Tea Party, which, as you recall, was started by one and eventually owned by the other.
As for some predictions in the forward direction, I read an interview with Rolling Stone editorial columnist Matt Taibbi immediately after the supposedly disastrous 2010 election (link not provided, sorry), during which liberal pundits were running about beating their breasts over the Democrats’ completely predictable repudiation as a standard party-in-power during a mid-term election. In the midst of this hysteria, he calmly declared that Romney would get the nod for the Republicans and would go on to lose to Obama, because of the Tea Party’s influence in not allowing a nominee who wasn’t crazy. This seemed to me to be a pretty good explanation of how things would go, though I would chalk it all up to another factor: money. The Citizens United case would magnify the effect, in fact; Romney had more money than most Third World countries and would buy the nomination, helped out by the Republican apparatus, which is used to letting the richest guy lead the way, and Obama would beat him because he’s more than just a super-rich guy, and more even than the President of the United States: he’s a brand. Brands as successful as Obama attract truly obscene amounts of cash as opposed to the more garden-variety staggering amounts commanded by Romney. All of this has held true so far and I don’t see any reason to update it, although it is worth mentioning that the Democratic Party, ungrounded in principles as it is, is stunningly inept at capitalizing on political advantage and almost hopeless at leading any genuine people’s movement. It is possible they can calculate a method to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
All of this leads to the actual prediction that I was making in the first place during that discussion with my friend. It’s a considerably darker one.
Our discussion had turned to Faux News, the propaganda arm of the Republican movement and its Neanderthal interpretation of a very dark populism. After discussion of its latest yawp, my friend commented that he wouldn’t be surprised if Ted Nugent were to whip up the crowd at the Republican National Convention with calls for the slaughter of all registered Democrats, carried live on Fox. I pointed out that something similar had happened before – with calls to “cut down the tall trees” over the radio that led to the start of the genocide in Rwanda – and that such things were closer to our own experience than one might think.
“Back when we were in college, or maybe just as we finished,” I said, “I made a prediction that the U.S. had maybe a 50% chance of dissolving or changing its form significantly during my lifetime.” It was in an email we were trading on a mailing list at the time; I went further and suggested that the split would come due to a financial, not merely a political, crisis. About two years afterward, still in the early 1990s, I revised that and said that it was more like a 25% chance, with a 50% chance occuring during the lifetime of my children (who had yet to be born at that point).
I concluded by saying I hadn’t found a reason to revise that estimate since.
Edited to add: