Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Back/Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual crystal ball gazing and retrospective. A year ago I made some predictions, so let’s see how I did.

On December 31, 2009, I wrote:

– Healthcare reform passes after some wrangling and compromises that make it slightly palatable to both the left and moderates; a milquetoast version of the public option will be added somehow. The Republicans are out of the picture on it except for their plan to run in the mid-year elections on a platform of repealing it, which, as Steve Benen notes, hands the Democrats their own platform: “A vote for a Republican is a vote to let insurance companies screw over American families. Know those new protections that just became law? Republicans will take them away unless you vote Democratic.” The president will shift the focus back to the economy just in time to ride the inevitable upturn in the economy which will show growth by the end of the second quarter and at last a noticeable drop in the unemployment figures. That will be just in time for the mid-term election campaigns to go into full speed, and prevent more than the usual number of losses for the majority party that come in the first mid-term election of a new president. The House will stay Democratic but just barely, and the Senate will probably go 55-45 for the Democrats, making Senate rules reform, i.e. changing the filibuster rules a priority … and a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that; right on healthcare passing except for the public option part, not quite right on the economy (more wishful thinking than economic wonkery) and half-right on the mid-terms outcomes, although I am pleasantly surprised that I was right about the Senate staying Democratic.

More below the fold.

– In Florida, the GOP primary race for the open U.S. Senate seat between Gov. Charlie Crist and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio will get really nasty; you can expect to see some ads put out by the teabaggers about Mr. Crist’s private life coming out of the, uh, closet. I predict that Mr. Crist will narrowly win the primary and it will make the general election race close between him and Rep. Kendrick Meek with Crist narrowly winning. Alex Sink (D) will beat Bill McCollum (R) for the governor’s race. I’m basing that purely on style and wishful thinking; Mr. McCollum is truly the tale from the dork side.

Okay, I blew that one completely. Wrong on the Senate race; Mr. Crist bailed on the GOP before it got nasty, turning it into a three-way, and Kendrick Meek never got off the launch pad. As for the governor’s race, I don’t think anyone thought Rick Scott would have a chance no matter how much money he spent. It just goes to show you that if all politics is local, it’s also much more volatile at that level. It’s like the difference between a flash flood and a glacier; they both change the landscape, but at different rates.

– Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will be repealed, not because the president pushes for it but because the Congress finally gets around to it. Marriage equality will still be an issue as the sex-obsessed homophobes and Jesus-shouters try to force it onto the ballot in other states that haven’t already dealt with it. This battle will be fought in the courts; Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal case filed in California by Theodore Olson and David Boies on behalf of same-sex marriage, is scheduled to go to trial on January 11, 2010. No matter the outcome there, it will inevitably get to the Supreme Court, where there will probably be at least one more appointment to the court by President Obama by the time the case gets there. Meanwhile, the glacial process will go on.

Nailed it. Slam. Dunk. Yip-yah.

– It’s still a scary world out there. The war in Afghanistan and the president’s steps to wage it are giving me flashbacks to 1967, and, as I said earlier this year, not in a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band way. We are, like in Vietnam, butting into a civil war in a country with a weak and corrupt government and a population that doesn’t really care about abstract ideas like democracy and free elections; they want food, shelter, and peace in their valley. I hope that a year from now, the president will have the insight to get out. Terrorism will arise from every corner; this year it’s Yemen, next year it’s Colombia or Venezuela or North Korea or Alabama. Trying to preemptively stop terrorism is like trying to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder: no matter how well you plan or think you’ve got all the food safe, they still find a way to sneak in. You don’t stop feeding the birds, though; you just try to keep ahead of the squirrels.

We have ended combat operations in Iraq and we’re supposed to be getting out of Afghanistan starting in July. I hope so, but it doesn’t look any better for the people there than it did a year ago.

– The Tigers will go all the way this year. (I say that every year.)

– There will be the usual silly distractions in the manner of balloon boys, ditzy pageant queens, celebrity melt-downs, hypocritical bluenose politicians getting busted for screwing around, and the usual hand-wringing over how technology is taking over the world and leaving no one with any privacy. That last missive will be twittered, by the way.

– I won’t get all ghoulish about predicting who will leave us this year; it was tough enough to see people like Ted Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, and Robert Anderson go. I just hope we remember to cherish and honor them while they’re still with us.

The Tigers broke exactly even, winning as many games as they lost. Every year brings the distractions and the ditzes out of the woodwork, and an election year brings them out as if they were on crack; everything from vuvuzelas to witchcraft, Snooki to fixing the votes on Dancing With the Stars. It’s hard to go wrong on that forecast.

– Personal predictions: I will finish that novel that I’ve been working on since I put Small Town Boys on hiatus. Can’t Live Without You will get another production, this time in a bigger theatre. It’s going to be another interesting year at work but things are looking up as the SAP rises. This year will be my 20th trip to the William Inge Theatre Festival in April, and this year will be the best yet…until next year. I will not get an iPhone, a Twitter account, or even text messaging on my cell phone. I will still be driving the same car this time next year, and the Pontiac will still be in the garage, an orphan but still loved.

I am, if nothing else, predictable myself. I’m still writing that Great American Novel, and I’m still sending out Can’t Live Without You to anyone who hints that they’ll read it. Work has been interesting; we moved to a new office, said goodbye to some friends and made some new ones, and found out how temperamental a certain brand of software can be. I will be back at the Inge Festival in April to honor Marsha Norman. I do not have an iPhone, Twitter, or texting. I am still driving my Mustang, and the Pontiac is still in the garage. Some things never change.

And now, to boldy go into 2011, splitting infinitives all the way.

– If you thought 2010 was the year of gridlock, Hell No You Can’t, and strange pronouncements from political characters and punditry, that was only the curtain raiser. With the House in the hands of the far-right and the Tea Party unmoved and unimpressed with reality, we’re going to be constantly entertained, horrified, disgusted, and gob-smacked. Speaker of the House John Boehner will be dealing with a group of people who resemble a classroom full of sugared-up eight-year-olds. All the attempts to repeal every bill passed by a Democratic president since 1960 will energize the base only to have them ground to a fine powder and blown away by the Senate or a veto pen. There will be heroic, if not Pyrrhic, attempts to cut spending and bring down the deficit, but the crazies are driving the bus and as long as they do, it’s going to look more like a pie fight than civil discourse. The DREAM Act will not pass; Republicans need someone to beat up on, and immigrants, like Muslims, are easy pickings since they know that they’ll never vote for the GOP. Meanwhile, they’ll keep up the kinderspiel of doing things like reading the Constitution while constantly trying to subvert it and re-write it, especially when they get to the part about “equal rights under the law.” Of course they believe in that… as long as you’re white, straight, and Christian. There will be hundreds of subpoenas issued by House committees to investigate everything in the Obama White House, up to and including the bidding process for the swing set built for the Obama children. If you want to make a fortune in this economy, graduate law school in January, pass the bar exam, and move to Washington.

– The economy will continue to improve, albeit slowly. That’s how they do it; they go in cycles, and especially after this last Great Recession, there will be a lot of changes, just as there was after every economic downturn. A year from now the unemployment number will be around 8%, which is still high, but on the track to be lower by the time the 2012 election comes around.

– Of course Sarah Palin will announce she’s running for president. We’ve known that since the day after the 2008 election. Her competition will include Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and just for the fun of it, John Bolton. A year from now, we’ll be weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. President Obama will not have a serious primary challenger. The “professional left” is a pale shadow of a threat compared to the hard-core on the right; when they form a circular firing squad, they usually end up winging it.

– We’re going to see more progress on gay equality, but at about the same pace as this year. Court cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act will make it to the federal level, and Perry vs. Schwarzenegger will be appealed to the Supreme Court no matter the outcome of the current appeal, and it should land on the steps in Washington in time for the 2012 term. By then, perhaps, Antonin Scalia will be retired and living in Sicily. Based on the make-up of the House and Senate, you can forget about passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

– Florida politics will be fun to watch. Gov. Rick Scott will get a lot of stuff through the legislature since they’re all Republicans, but it will be interesting to see what he does with the economy since it’s the only thing bigger than his personal wealth. At some point even he and the legislature will figure out that cutting taxes and services will hit the wall, and even Republicans send their kids to public schools and take prescription medicines. I give it until June before some kind of scandal about cronyism and questionable dealings hits the state; it’s in their DNA. And in Miami-Dade politics, it would be an event if there wasn’t a scandal, threats of recalls, and some people doing the Miranda macarena.

– Another perennial favorite: This will be the year that Cuba will see some big changes, through the passing of one or more of the Castro brothers and the de facto relaxation of the U.S. embargo to the point that by next year, Cuba will be like Vietnam; nominally Communist but practically capitalist. (I’ve been saying that privately since 1989, though.)

– As for the distractions and trendy trends, who knows? Who could have predicted the oil spill — well, actually, it was kind of inevitable — or the Chilean miners, or whatever fads came and went so quickly that you’re left wondering “why did we even care?” But each year is made up of thousands of fifteen minutes, and Andy Warhol was right, everyone gets theirs.

– Personal predictions… the same, I hope, as last year: I will keep writing, I will continue to go to Inge and to Stratford, I’ll still be driving the Mustang, the Pontiac will still be in the garage. If I upgrade my technology, it will be to get a Samsung 42″ flat screen HDTV, assuming I can come up with the money for it.

– And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.