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The Annals of Prescience

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"The Annals of Prescience"

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Hey look what some idiot wrote on page 152 of a book called Heads in the Sand (this is me writing about the 2006 midterms from the vantage point of 2007 with emphasis added):

The difference was that the increasing deterioration of the situation in Iraq had turned the war into an albatross around the GOP’s neck, motivating Republicans to attempt their own version of the Democrats’ evasion strategy from 2002. To try to exploit Democratic ambiguity on the issue [i.e., of withdrawing from Iraq], Republicans would need to be willing to talk about it. And as Election Day grew near, the GOP was eager to talk about anything else. On November 3, the New York Times reported that “Republicans seized on a drop in the unemployment rate to assert on Friday that tax cuts were invigorating the economy, highlighting just four days before the election an issue that party strategists are counting on to offset bad news about the war.” In reality, just as Democrats had learned four years earlier, candidates for office don’t get to unilaterally decide what elections are going to be about. Nothing in the ups and downs of the twenty-first century economy — neither its relatively weak condition in 2002 nor its relatively strong condition in 2006, nor the downturn that followed the collapse of the subrpime mortgage market — suffices to trump the drama surrounding questions of war and peace.

Oops!

Thus the perils of book publishing. At the time of writing, I knew that we were in for some economic headwinds. But I had no idea how bad they would be. So instead of just biting the bullet, I chose to guess that the 2008 elections would be conducted amidst some relatively mild economic problems. In fact, they turned out to be quite severe. I made the same point in what turns out to have been a smart way, all the way back in the February 2005 American Prospect:

Re-reading John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s popular book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, after the election, I noticed the same thing. The majority was repeatedly prophesied to emerge “when memories of 9-11 fade,” or equivalent formulations. But while memories of the attacks as such are likely to fade (and indeed have to a reasonable extent), the salience of the issue isn’t going anywhere. A study by Democratic pollster Mark Penn has shown that public interest in world affairs reached a low point in the 1990s not seen since the Great Depression. Democrats can hope that it happens again, but hope is not a plan. Besides, history suggests that it will not. The Clinton years were highly unusual; foreign policy has consistently been a prominent element of presidential campaigns since America’s emergence as a major world power in the Spanish-American War, and will probably continue to be for the foreseeable future. The only reliable method of pushing it off the agenda is a 1930s-style economic collapse, but hoping for something like that would be perverse and unrealistic.

Turns out to have been substantially more realistic than I would have guessed.

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