Top 10 Stories Of 2006
Columnists are endowed with the gift of perfect clairvoyance, so here are a few predictions for 2006 -- each guaranteed to be at least as accurate as George Tenet's "slam-dunk" intelligence about Iraq:
(1) George W. Bush will continue his bid to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for "Most Frequent Use of the Blame-the-Messenger Strategy (Modern Era)." We saw the latest example Friday when the administration reacted to disclosure of its vast domestic surveillance program by launching a Justice Department investigation -- not to reexamine the electronic spying itself, which seems to violate the law, but to identify the whistle-blower who brought this practice to light. Next target: Who's leaking all that unhelpful news from Iraq, such as figures on American casualties and reports of torture by U.S.-trained Iraqi police?
(2) The administration will see steady "progress" in Iraq, even if the new government's first act is to sign a friendship pact with Iran. This "progress" will allow some U.S. troops to be brought home in the summer and fall. Unfortunately, they will have to be sent right back to Iraq in mid-November, after the midterm election. But who could have foreseen that?
(3) Congress will soldier on in its brave attempt to spend and collect public funds without the use of a pocket calculator. It seems that whenever a senator or representative tries to bring one of those devices into the Capitol, it gets confiscated at the door. It's wartime, and simple addition can be a security risk -- to say nothing of multiplication. The only duty of Congress is to spend money as fast as the Chinese will lend it to us.
(4) Whenever she's asked, Condoleezza Rice will deny she's even thinking about running for president. But when reporters get back to the office and review their notes, they'll discover that the door was left open just a crack -- that she said "I don't want to" run, not "I won't." Meanwhile, Rice will discover that solving the world's crises somehow requires taking quite a few domestic trips, a la her recent homecoming tour of Alabama. Photogenic little children, American flags and miles of campaign-style bunting will magically appear whenever the cameras are rolling.
(5) Hillary Clinton will also deny that she's running for president -- at least until she gets reelected to the Senate. But all the while, she will slog ahead on her epic rightward march, reinforcing her change of allegiance in the Culture War. When her support for a bill to outlaw flag-burning fails to soften the hearts of the most adamant Hillary-haters, she may have to go all the way and announce she intends to honor our troops in Iraq by baking a batch of cookies for each and every brave unit.
(6) Many other potential candidates will not deny they are running for president in 2008. In fact, anyone who might need to travel to New Hampshire or Iowa any time in the next two years should book now, because flights and hotel rooms are filling up. Of all these hopefuls, though, only John McCain will gain any real traction. The White House will attempt to seem pleased by this development.
(7) Any and all of the above will be driven from the public consciousness, or at least crowded off the cable television news shows, by an engrossing, ratings-boosting saga: An attractive young white woman will vanish.
(8) Fox News Channel, having had such success inventing and then covering last month's imaginary "war on Christmas," will go on to concoct imaginary "wars" against other holidays. A "war on Easter" would be too obvious and a "war on Independence Day" too easy, so here's a challenge to my talented friends at Fox: Come up with a "war on Labor Day." It sounds tough, since organized labor isn't a natural Fox constituency, but maybe there's a way to work in the illegal immigration issue, or examine how the practice of outsourcing jobs robs Americans of employment opportunities.
(9) When the summer hurricanes come to batter Florida and wipe out what little progress has been made on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, the president will give a bold speech full of noble promises. Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, still in their cramped trailers and temporary apartments, will not applaud.
(10) Americans will suddenly wake up and question the Bush administration about Iraq, about domestic spying, about global warming, about tax cuts. But just then, as the president fumbles for answers, a compelling news event will steal away the nation's attention.
Hard to believe, but another attractive young white woman will vanish.