Revisiting My 2008 Predictions

Shortly after the 2008 election, I made some predictions about how Obama’s presidency would turn out (original post here). Now that the 2012 election is upon us, let’s see how I did:

Obama will be a two-term president, though he will be significantly less popular by the time his presidency comes to a close. Stars that burn so bright tend to fade quickly. It will not help Obama that many of the problems with politics-as-usual that he speaks out against are systemic. Even the leader of the free world is powerless against the political process.

Verdict: we’ll know about the second term in about two weeks. But he is already much less popular than he was four years ago. People expect the impossible from their presidents. That means the only way to win election is to promise the impossible. When those impossible promises obviously aren’t kept once in office, people are disappointed. It’s a common pattern that will repeat itself in future administrations.

One-party rule will not be good for Democrats. As happened with Republicans during the Bush era, unified government will lead to sclerosis, hubris, and an increase in corruption. Obama will not help; he will not risk angering his party by vetoing bad legislation. Democrats will lose their Congressional majority, probably in 2012. Voters seem to prefer divided government, which is why we’ve had it about two thirds of the time over the last century.

Verdict: I got the year wrong, but the House did indeed change hands in 2010.

-We will not see a full-fledged nationalization of health care. The government currently spends about 54% of all health care dollars; I expect that figure to rise, but not above about 67%.

Verdict: There was a big health care bill, and it did not nationalize the health care system. It will be a few more years before it’s fully implemented, but my cost estimate still seems to be in the right ballpark. Too soon to tell.

Obama will withdraw most soldiers from Iraq sometime in 2011. Some small peacekeeping forces will remain there more or less permanently, as happened with Korea.

Verdict: Got it about right, though there is still sadly little peace to be had in Iraq.

-Obama will ramp up our presence in Afghanistan, and it will not go well. This will contribute to his declining popularity. The U.S. military can fight and win almost any battle, but even they cannot build a nation. That kind of change can only come from within. Like Clinton and both Bushes, Obama will not learn that lesson.

Verdict: Correct, as far as Afghanistan goes. But I did not foresee see Libya, Syria, Somalia, or the Pakistan drone strikes. I thought his foreign policy would be roughly the same as Bush’s. It turned out to be even worse.

-Taxes and spending will both go up, but not by catastrophic levels. Overall public sector growth will be slightly less than under Bush. That means Obama’s final budget will probably be the nation’s first to to exceed $5 trillion. When divided government returns, Obama will find his veto pen and strike down bad GOP legislation, no matter how similar it is to Democratic legislation. Government growth in Obama’s second term will be sharply lower than under his first term.

Verdict: The good news is that after a huge increase early in the administration due to the stimulus and the TARP bailouts, spending growth slowed. The bad news is that spending appears to be permanently stuck at the new, elevated level. This is not sustainable. Even so, Obama, Romney and Congress all appear disinterested in cutting spending to affordable levels.

Overall, I whiffed on a few predictions, but my batting average still looks pretty good. Just goes to show that, at least with politics, rampant pessimism can be a useful predictive tool.

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