Speaking of losing it all

(Scott Johnson)

In her omniscient narrative voice, George Eliot says in Middlemarch that prophecy is the most gratuitous form of human error. It is an insight from which we can learn a lot. The other forms of human error are less gratuitous. They are nevertheless probably all inherent in humanity.

Why undertake to predict the future under uncertain circumstances? It’s part of the job of political punditry. Error is an occupational hazard. Moreover, there is no price for error. One can always excuse oneself for failing to see the unexpected. Few pundits seek to hold themselves accountable in any manner for the errors of their prophecy in any event. They don’t even seek to hold themselves accountable for their failure to see what’s in front of their nose.

E.J. Dionne represents a case in point. In a September 27, 2016 column, for example, he observed “Clinton shifts the election in her direction.” And yet Clinton lost. What happened?

Looking back in December 2016, Dionne wanted “to see us revisit our Electoral College,” although he didn’t see much chance of it changing any time soon. Good prediction!

One can see the spirit in which Dionne wrote in his September 21, 2016 column on the stakes in the election: “How we vote will determine whether the forces of democracy, openness and religious tolerance remain strong, or whether our country throws in its lot with tribalism, prejudice and authoritarianism.”

Republicans obviously confront an unfriendly map as they seek to maintain their Senate majority this coming November. They are defending 23 of the 35 seats that will be on the ballot, several of them in races that would be close under the best of circumstances. Democrats only have to defend 12. The odds faced by Republicans are daunting and the consequences of the pandemic deepen them.

What purpose is served by predictions under the circumstances? When leftists like E.J. Dionne predict that Republicans “may lose it all” in Senate races this November, they serve the cause they support. In Dionne’s case, it is part of the accustomed cheerleading. It expresses his activism. He seeks to encourage political friends and demoralize political enemies. And he may be right! If he’s wrong, he can assert that his prediction was tentative. He only said Dems had a good shot at it.

Anyone can see that Republicans seeking election or reelection do so in an environment raising unprecedented challenges. Let’s seek to deserve victory, muster our resources, and overcome the challenges in every decent way possible.

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