Friday, October 24, 2008

The problem with the future

The future has never happened before. Those who expect the political future to replicate the past will inevitably be disappointed. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have lived through an age of extreme political turbulence. The election of 1994 commenced a series of high-profile partisan battles -- the 1995-96 budget battle, the 1998-99 impeachment battle, the 2000 Florida recount battle, etc. -- in which the contending forces were very closely matched. After substantial GOP victories in 2002 and 2004, Karl Rove convinced many that the "permanent Republican majority" was at hand, a conviction that has rapidly unraveled since.

Beware, then, the confidence with which Marc Ambinder predicts the future:
[I]f there's an enormous Democratic sweep, the odds of a reverse sweep two years from now are slim. 2010 won't be like 1994, where Republicans allegedly punished a Democratic Congress and president for the health care debacle and gays in the military. (Would the nation dump 70-80 Republicans over two years only to return them to power two years later?)
We have no idea what voters will do in 2010 or 2012 for the simple reason that we have no idea what the political environment will be like in two or four years. Not everything that affects politics is within the control of the political class. Mohammed Atta and Hurricane Katrina were such transpolitical phenomena.

Obviously, the larger the Democratic majority in Congress, the more difficult it will be for Republicans to take away that majority. QED. Still, we have no definite idea what policy disputes or scandals will erupt over the next few years, or what transpolitical events might shape public attitudes.

Go back to 1964, and see if any pundit predicted, on the eve of LBJ's landslide, the coming Nixon presidency. Go back to 1976 and the triumph of Jimmy Carter and see if you find any predictions of the looming Reagan revolution. Or go back to 1988 and see if, in the ashes of the Dukakis debacle, anyone foresaw the future Clinton presidency.

(Cross-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

1 comment:

  1. "permanent Republican majority".
    Didn't that ever sound to anyone like a
    “Thousand-Year Reich"?

    just sayin....