No doubt chastened by painful experience, Casey Stengel said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” With all due respect to the sage skipper, there is an alternative to giving up the habit altogether: just avoid bold predictions in favor of more cautious language that allows some face-saving wiggle room when you turn out to be wrong. You don’t want to end up like poor Bill Gates, who never even said “640K is more memory than anyone will ever need.” I see it as a fine line, since the greater the risk of ridicule, the sweeter it is when you do nail it, as I think I did – once – back in November, 2008.
The occasion for my (slightly qualified) prediction was a column titled Of Tears and Fears that I wrote for TPJmagazine soon after Obama won the election and before he started wasting his time pursuing the chimera of bipartisanship. Yeah, I choked up when the networks declared him the winner . . . and so there I was, two weeks later, writing about my feelings on election night – how happy and relieved I was and, yes, proud of my country, albeit in a restrained way. I also wrote about my fears, which turned out to be about as prescient as I’ll ever get:
But it has been two weeks, plenty of time for reality to reassert itself. As a confirmed skeptical realist, I can’t help looking for the dark cloud behind every silver lining. And looking out across today’s political landscape, I would have to be blind or in denial on the scale of Phil (it’s a mental recession) Graham not to see many dark clouds gathering on the horizon. In fact, everywhere I look there is a huge mess to clean up, the result of eight years of calculated treachery, criminal neglect, squandered opportunities, and monumental incompetence. So my skeptical-realistic take on the situation is this: Despite the bipartisan, inclusive intentions of the new president, the fragmented opposition may soon reconstitute itself into a purer and even more virulent form of right-wing extremism – not just lipstick on a pig. We will still be assailed by the daily din of a dogmatic, hate-mongering, dishonest, and frighteningly determined opposition. At their most menacing, they will be a kind of political Borg requiring our utmost vigilance. Other times their simpleminded, faith-based assertions will evoke images of the comical, ultra-capitalist Ferengi. But however they come across to us, the army of political, religious, and media demagogues will continue to exploit the ignorance, fears, prejudices, and superstitions of their sizable and angry constituency. . . . And they will continue to fan the flames of the culture war in increasingly ugly ways and obstruct progressive change with their familiar lock-step tactics. One of their highest priorities will be to protect the gains they made in the Federal judiciary during eight years of Bush appointments with little opposition from a timid Democratic Congress.
Let’s not forget that a small, well-disciplined army of like-minded fanatics with a well-defined long-term strategy can be more than a match for a larger, poorly coordinated force of well-intentioned individuals. Democrats by nature are a diverse, often fractious group. In principle that is what healthy democracy is all about, assuming that the large majority of citizens are well-informed, loyal to the ideals of Constitutional democracy, and participating in good faith. I leave it to you to decide if that’s where we’re at in the United States at the present time.
In the next several columns I will discuss the dangers of complacency and the kinds of actions progressives need to take to keep the right-wing social and political cancer in remission. We have won a major battle, but the fruits of victory remain elusive.
One more thing: It remains a matter of great uncertainty how the elephant in the room – I’m talking about the very real possibility of an economic depression – will affect everything all of us have been talking about.
Well, I sure got it wrong about that depression thing, didn’t I? Why the stock markets are higher than ever – the future lies ahead!
But it occurs to me that I really have nothing to crow about, because the way things have unfolded could have been anticipated by anyone who was paying attention; and also because the whole damn B-movie phenomenon – the right-wing corpse crawling out of the grave one more time – is just so damn grim and discouraging. It sure is hard to believe so many basically decent Americans buy into conservative malevolence and thus enable it. Well, maybe not so hard when you consider the huge overlap between political conservatives and Americans who believe in a 6,000-year-old universe, Noah’s Ark, and every sperm is sacred. There’s a serious knowledge and critical-thinking gap in this country, which is just the way conservatives want it.
P.S. The latest predicting the future is dangerous comment that I’ve seen comes from none other than the odious Karl Rove. He does say he wants to be held accountable, so I think I’ll bookmark the link.