McManus: A pundit's cloudy 20-13 crystal ball

  • (M. RYDER / Tribune Media Services)

To err is human. To err twice a week, you have to be a columnist.

In 2012, I cemented my reputation as a pundit by making some notable blunders — predicting, for example, that the presidential election would be too close to call. The race was “unpredictable,” I wrote, “razor close.” President Barack Obama won by a healthy margin, you’ll recall. As for unpredictable, a vocal legion of political scientists pointed out (a little gracelessly, I thought) that they had predicted the result all along.

Surely, I consoled myself, 2013 would be better. A year without a presidential election seemed certain to provide fewer opportunities for errors that would require an end-of-the-year apology.

But as it turned out, my crystal ball went cloudy even before January was over. As Obama’s inauguration neared, I wrote optimistically about how both sides in Washington had learned important lessons. After four years, I noted, the president was “a very different politician” than before: more realistic, more skilled and equipped with a resounding mandate from his election victory.

His opponents were wiser too, I opined. Chastened by defeat, “a smarter Republican Party” knew that it needed to change course to appeal to women, young people and Latinos.

I even ventured that a “grand bargain” — a deal that would raise taxes, cut spending and trim the federal deficit — was “more possible this year than any time since 2010.”

“There’s been gradual movement toward the center on the substance of the budget as well as the politics,” I wrote. “Leaders on both sides know how to get to an agreement — or, more precisely, how not to get there — because they’ve tried so many routes before. Both sides in the fight are older, sadder and wiser.” Obama must have agreed because he devoted several evenings to long dinners with Republican senators in pursuit of that elusive bargain.

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