Looking into the distance in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2011.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Predictions are hard, especially about the future

For the last several years, Attorney General Eric Holder has heard all kinds of predictions about what would happen if the United States tried terrorist suspects in civilian courts on American soil. It would be too dangerous, critics said. Suspects would make a mockery of the proceedings. The rules of evidence are all wrong. It’d be too difficult to get a conviction.
Of course, there’s ample evidence those predictions have been completely discredited, and yesterday, Holder used Sulaiman abu Ghaith’s recent conviction in New York as proof that the right was wrong. “This verdict has proven beyond any doubt that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call home, as in other locations across our nation,” Holder said.
And while the A.G. is correct, it got me thinking about the greatest of all Yogi Berra aphorisms: Predictions are hard, especially about the future.
The trouble with making political predictions, especially in an era in which search engines exist, is that it’s pretty easy to see whose prognostications turn out to be wrong – and in the Obama era, conservatives have been wrong a lot. Benjamin Hart, for example, published some of the predictions Republicans made in recent months about the Affordable Care Act:
* Healthcare.gov Can’t Be Fixed.
* The Administration Won’t Hit Its Sign-Up Target.
* The Law Is Unworkable.
* The Exchanges Will Be A Disaster.
* The Law Will Be Repealed In Advance Of The Midterm Elections.
* Uninsured People Aren’t Signing Up, So The Law Can’t Work.
* Obamacare May Be Obama’s Katrina [and/or] Iraq.
Note, TPM pulled together a similar list of demonstrably false claims ACA opponents have pushed recently, including clear examples of dishonesty such as, “More people have lost coverage than gained it” and the White House “is cooking the books on Obamacare enrollment.”
But while lies certainly matter, it’s this track record of failed predictions that’s especially interesting. Indeed, looking back over the last several years, it’s tough to find an area of public policy in which Republicans collectively made firm predictions that didn’t prove to be wrong.
The GOP said the Recovery Act wouldn’t improve the economy. The right said Obama’s rescue of the American auto industry would fail miserably. Conservatives predicted the president wouldn’t reduce the deficit. They predicted terrorist trials in civilian courts would produce disasters. Quite a few Republicans – I’m looking in your direction, John McCain – said repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would do real damage to the U.S. military.
The larger point isn’t to snicker and say, “Neener neener” to those whose predictions always seem to be wrong. Rather, when a major party keeps making specific policy forecasts, and reality points in the opposite direction, it matters on a much broader level.
Shouldn’t accountability count? Or put another way, how can those whose predictions fail claim credibility while continuing to make new claims?
In the world of sports, if a prognosticator told the public who he/she thought would win, and those teams invariably lost week in and week out, after a while, the prognosticator would probably need to find a new line of work.
So why is it in politics that those whose predictions go 0-for-100 have no trouble winning elections and being taken seriously?