Blogs > HNN > Mea Culpa: When history is a bad guide to elections

Nov 2, 2006 3:57 pm

Mea Culpa: When history is a bad guide to elections

It's confession time.

This was how I opened an article in the Baltimore Sun in 1998:

So much in life is unpredictable that I instinctively refrain from ever making predictions. Will the stock market continue its downward trend? I don’t know and refuse to guess. Will Yeltsin finish his term? Don’t know that either. But I can tell you with the utmost certainty that this November, no matter how the public eventually comes to feel about Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Kenneth Starr or Bill Clinton, the Republicans are not only going to hang onto their majority in Congress, they are going to add to it.

How did I know this? Because of history, silly:

It’s practically an iron law of history.

In the off-year elections the president’s party almost always loses seats in the Senate and always does in the House of Representatives, save for one exception. In 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, when Republicanism was synonymous with Hooverism, Franklin Roosevelt increased his party’s majority in the House of Representatives.

Let me put this another way, more starkly. Since the birth of the modern two-party system 150 years ago only once, during FDR’s first term, has a president succeeded in increasing his party’s control in the House. Pick any president you like. The story’s the same. Woodrow Wilson? His first term his party lost 61 seats in the off-year elections, the second, 26 seats. Harry Truman? 54 and 29. Dwight Eisenhower? 18 and 47. Ronald Reagan? 25 and 5.

I was wrong, of course.

Republicans, defying history, lost seats in the Congress in 1998.

I drew a lesson from this experience.

Be more of a weasel in making predictions.

In keeping with this spirit I decline to predict what will happen in 2006.

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More Comments:

HNN - 11/9/2006

The American people usually can be counted on to wise up ... eventually.

But boy oh boy.

In the interim what bloody mistakes can occur with them hardly taking notice.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/8/2006

I remember watching one of Nixon's early Watergate speeches. He was in the Oval office, a bust of Lincoln on the desk, the flag in the background, and I thought it was Checkers all over again.

The next day I visited my old high school history teacher. My high school was in a particularly conservative Dallas suburb. My teacher was a Republican. And neither she nor her students had bought what Nixon was shovelling.

That was a glorious moment.

Carl Becker - 11/8/2006

and proud to be an American; that more of us have wised up.

Carl Becker - 11/4/2006

If “… so much in life is unpredictable” why not go out on a limb since no one cares whether we look stupid or not. Our predictions have no effect anyway on those in our government who are committing crimes against the Constitution. They will continue to do so.

The Republicans will keep both Houses. Reason. Another prediction. The majority of voters have been thoroughly frightened by the likes of Cheney, Bush, and others and they will continue to make the same irrational choices and after the last Diebold debacle many Democrats on the margins of society won’t bother to vote. Why put up with the intimidation or have your dignity roughed up.

Look at another piece of evidence into the soul of America which Rove understands so well. Kerry called a spade a spade and got castigated by his own party, the wimps. Republican John Boehner, on CNN, later blames the US military for losing the war in Iraq, and it’s okay to say that. Even the phrase “losing the war” is ignored when uttered by a Republican. The mindless media and the voters, sound-bite con artists, swift-boater intimidators are enough to convince more than half of the voters to “stay the course” another phrase open to diverse interpretation. Although this isn’t a presidential election, these mid-terms may be on the level of the US 1876 election.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/2/2006

Worst regular-season record of any World Series winner in history, but yeah.

Kind of like the Democrats: can't do anything really well, but might win anyway....

HNN - 11/2/2006

What, the Cardinals won?

Jonathan Dresner - 11/2/2006

I decline to predict what will happen in 2006.

I'll go out on a limb and predict that the St. Louis Cardinals will win the
World Series...

oh, you mean the rest of 2006. Yeah, too many wildcards in the deck.