March 28, 2010
Hope and Change, as PredictedBy Randall Hoven
In January 2009, I wrote "Predictions of Hope and Change." President Obama had been in office barely a week, and the big topic was his "stimulus" plan. It had not yet passed, and there was some uncertainty that it would. Nor had he released a proposed budget of any kind. In fact, everything about his presidency was a guess.
I made ten fairly specific predictions. How did they turn out?
Prediction 1. "Obama and the Democrats will pass a massive stimulus bill ... it will cost just a smidgen less than the $850 billion [TARP] bailout ..."
Actual results: They indeed passed a $787-billion stimulus. But they were even cleverer than that. Shortly after, within two weeks, they passed a $410-billion omnibus bill. So the total was well over the $850 billion mark, but no one noticed since all the focus was on the thing called "stimulus."
Prediction 2. "The $849 billion stimulus will be a bit short on construction spending but chock full of funding for the left."
Actual results: The Dept. of Education spent about ten times as much stimulus money as the Dept. of Transportation did. Of all the stimulus money going to the states, only 8.6% went for "transportation," while 85% went for "health, education and training." In any event, a net 880,000 construction jobs were lost from February 2009 to February 2010. Apparently, Robert Reich got his wish about the money not going to "white male construction workers."
Prediction 3. "The current recession will end later this year, although its end might not be declared until some time in 2010 ... the markets will start recovering. Not to a Dow of 14,000 though..."
Actual results: The NBER has not yet called it a recovery, but almost everyone else has. Just about all economic indicators show that the recession ended mid-2009. Real GDP grew in both the third and fourth quarters of 2009, as did industrial production. The Dow went below 7,000 in February 2009, but it drew back from the abyss and has hovered around 10,000 to 11,000 for the last six months.
Prediction 4. "Obama will keep his promise about pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq."
Actual results: The Iraq pull-out plan appears to be on or ahead of schedule. There were 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq last February and 98,000 this February. What we didn't know then, and what I didn't predict, was that the troops would be assigned to Afghanistan instead. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan went from about 30,000 to almost 80,000 in the last year, with more planned through this summer for a total close to 100,000.
Prediction 5. "Benjamin Netanyahu will be elected Prime Minister of Israel. When the Mideast situation degrades ... It will be blamed on Israel's right wing, intransigent Prime Minister."
Actual results: Netanyahu is now the Prime Minister of Israel. And everyone from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden and even General Petraeus is blaming Israel for making things tough across the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Prediction 6. "Iran will get the bomb ... In any case, no one will take action against them... Sanctions will either be lifted or ignored ..."
Actual results: Iran doesn't seem to have the bomb yet, but it is on its way. Even president Obama admitted as much as far back as last February. There is still a lot of talking, but no doing, about sanctions. So this prediction is still open, but it appears to be on track.
Prediction 7. "Osama bin Laden will be killed or captured ... We'll release some former Gitmo detainees ..."
Actual results: Osama bin Laden has not yet been killed or captured. But efforts to kill Taliban and al-Qaida in the AfPak area have intensified. We kill a Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan one day, and release a Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 9/11 plotter, from Gitmo another. Ironically, releasing terrorists from Gitmo might be a good idea: They'll go back to their terrorist ways, and then we kill them and everyone around them with bombs from 10,000 feet -- no tribunal, no trial.
Prediction 8. "A host of leftist legislation will become law ... universal health care ... Banks and banking will be effectively nationalized ..."
Actual results: Universal health care is now law. That is, we started getting taxed for it, but the coverage doesn't start until about 2015. Banks are pretty close to nationalized. The government now owns 60% of what was General Motors and 10% of Chrysler. Most of the other legislation is on its way, with nothing to stop the Democrats for at least the rest of this year now that those silly House and Senate rules are made up as they go along.
Prediction 9. "In a development that will surprise many, President Obama will not spend like a drunken sailor (or a compassionately conservative Republican), at least in 2011 and 2012."
Actual results: We have not hit 2011 yet, but projections of Obama's budgets through the next decade show deficits averaging about $1 trillion each year. Now that the stimulus and national health care are under his belt, Obama is starting to talk about deficit reduction. He even kicked off a commission for it. The good bets, though, are that "deficit reduction" plans will come in the form of increased taxes, not reduced spending. No matter, since it is perception that counts. By November, Obama will have transformed himself into a "deficit hawk," and the voting public (50% of it) will believe it.
Prediction 10. "Barack Obama will be re-elected in 2012 with approximately 60% of the popular vote."
Actual results: The 2010 elections have not happened yet, much less the 2012 elections, so we don't know how this prediction will turn out yet. But despite a loss of almost five million jobs during his tenure, an unemployment rate hovering near 10% and passage of a huge and mostly unpopular health care bill, Obama's job approval rating is close to 50%, and he matches the likely big names on the Republican side in popularity. Nothing so far indicates that Obama is not headed for a second term.
By my score, six of my ten predictions have come true or mostly true (1 to 5, and 8). Not bad for four years' worth of predictions after one year. The other four are still open, but most look on track.
Before Obama took office, I characterized the possible scenarios of his presidency as the good, the bad, and the ugly. I was hoping for "the bad."
I believed that Obama would have to go "ugly" to sneak through his leftist agenda. That is, he could not be open about it, much less in-your-face, because the electorate would not let it happen.
It was worse than I thought. Not only would Obama take the "bad" route, but the electorate would not mind. Yes, the Tea Party movement sprang up, but it seems limited to a subset of the 47% of the people who did not vote for Obama in the first place. Among those who voted for him, I'm seeing very little mind-changing. As stated earlier, his poll numbers are not really all that bad.
Imagine if the NBER declares the recession over and unemployment falls below 9%. Imagine we pull out of Iraq as planned. Imagine things go well enough in Afghanistan that we leave there as planned also. Obama hovers around 50% approval right now. Things don't have to get all that much better to put him out of reach of any Republican opponent you can name.
It does look like the Democrats will lose some seats in Congress this year, but enough to switch control? Of both houses? Even if so, Republicans would face filibusters in the Senate and presidential vetoes through 2012. And what if, God forbid, Thomas, Scalia, Roberts or Alito leaves the bench?
It looks like we'll get the bad and the ugly. We have so far.