If youíre in the prediction business, one of the areas you ought to steer clear of is politics, and presidential politics especially.
Some of you may be old enough to recall the election of Harry S. Truman in 1948. Opponent Thomas E. Dewey was deemed the frontrunner and he was leading in initial returns, so the Chicago Daily Tribune went to press with an early edition declaring that Dewey had won. Then the tide turned, and the paper scrambled to recover copies already distributed - but not all of them could be retrieved. Those who arenít old enough to remember the 1948 election have no doubt seen the photograph of President-elect Truman holding up a copy of that newspaper.
Sometimes, political forecasters base their predictions on which candidates are better in tune with the voters on key issues. Take, for example, the 1991 liberation of Kuwait from occupation by Iraq. The military operation was so successful, and was completed so quickly, that President George Bush (our current White House occupantís father) seemed to be a sure bet for re-election the next year. But the economy didnít cooperate, the heroic achievements of the U.S. military in the Mideast were forgotten. Bill Clinton got the votersí nod - with an assist from Ross Perot.
In less than four short, hard-fought weeks, the world will find out - barring a photo-finish as occurred eight years ago - who the next president of the United States will be. A year ago, the smart money was on whatever candidate was seen as having the popular position on the war in Iraq. Today, the war appears to be a secondary, tertiary or even lower-ary priority among the voting citizenry.
A few months ago, after the primary election season, we would have predicted that energy policy will be the most pressing issue on election day. Gasoline prices have fallen almost a dollar a gallon, though, and the price we see at the pump almost looks like a bargain now.
So once again, itís the economy thatís causing the most concern leading up to the election, and the economy is why gasoline prices have fallen so drastically. Itís an issue thatís affecting the financial health of the nation, the world and most importantly our individual nest eggs. Itís what has led all the news. Itís what has dominated conversations at coffee shops. Itís what has a massive Baby Boomer generation already in or still contemplating retirement worried about what has happened to plans for their carefree golden years.
I did miss portions of this weekís debate between the two leading candidates for president, but based on what I did see plus news reports, the discussion was somewhat lacking in regard to current events. John McCain offered a proposal that would have the treasury department buy up mortgages that have gone bad, but details have been a moving target since. Barack Obama, when asked if the country needed to adjust its priorities in light of the financial crisis, echoed his positions on energy, education and health care, critics said.
Perhaps both candidates thought we had bought some time on the economic crisis after passage of the bailout - or rescue - plan. But the sad performance of the financial markets this week has proven that assumption wrong. The economic crisis is here for the long-term. Or does that sound like yet another prediction?
Both candidates have put forth specific programs on a host of issues that will lead to federal deficits even larger than the $500 billion weíll chalk up this year. If the nation is in a recession, thatís the standard economic prescription. But if the financial crisis in which weíve found ourselves is indeed what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says it is - ďa problem of historic dimensionsĒ - itís time to update the stump speeches that have been in the briefcase since the primaries.
You donít necessarily want life to imitate art, but I recall a scene from the 1995 movie ďThe American PresidentĒ starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox. Douglas, as the president, has a policy epiphany just minutes before delivering his State of the Union speech, and orders Foxís character to rewrite the entire document. He happily complies.
I canít help but think itís time for such a directive to be given real-life campaign staffs, and for the candidates to aggressively seize this opportunity to underscore their ability to lead, this preparing this nation for the difficult choices which one of them certainly will soon be asking us to make.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.