Joe Conason's Journal

This year's election might turn out just as our journalistic soothsayers predict. But the unknowable and unforeseeable almost always intervene.


Salon Staff
January 3, 2004 4:13AM (UTC)

Predictable predictions
As the cheap currency of the season, resolutions and predictions are both best avoided. Cheapest of all are those predictions suggesting that the entire democratic process of the coming year will be pointless because its outcome is already preordained. The pundits who offer this wisdom can only do so with impaired memories. Every election cycle has begun with such confident fortune-telling by journalists and politicians -- and as often as not their forecasts have been worthless.

In 1992, for instance, we were assured again and again that the incumbent President Bush would be unbeatable. The Democratic aspirants were mocked as second-rate small-timers, bickering in the shadow of the great popular hope who had declined to run. (Mario Cuomo then, Hillary Clinton now?) The Democratic primaries, not unusually vicious nor any more unpleasant than the Republican contest four years earlier, were described as so unrelentingly brutal that the winner would be left mortally wounded. And the man who did win was presented to the public as a figure so flawed that his own fellow Democrats would shrink from supporting him. (And of course some of those Democrats obliged with nasty quotes about their victorious rival, just as several candidates seem all too eager to do this year.)

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Does any of this sound familiar? It is the same old script, droning over the airwaves today as it did then. Perhaps everything will turn out this year just as our journalistic soothsayers insist is inevitable, with a Dean nomination and a Bush victory. But the unknowable and unforeseeable almost always intervene, as they did against Bush's father.

So as the new year begins, please consider this preserved gem from June 1992, a month before the Democratic convention -- back when Bill Clinton was 20 points behind the president he later defeated, and the great minds of the time said that his victory would be impossible.
[3:30 p.m. PST, Jan. 2, 2004]

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