It's pass the hemlock time again, the annual occasion when the proprietor of this column is sentenced, for his sins, to re- read the damning evidence of the previous 12 months' folly and make public acknowledgement of his failings.
This having been an election year, there is enough raw material for a "Masterpiece Theater" epic, so let's get right into the mess I made of 1984.
First, to repair a few factual errors that did not really tarnish the beauty of my analyses, but understandably puzzled the people involved. Apologies to Gov. Richard F. Celeste of Ohio for moving him from the Methodist to the Roman Catholic church without his permission; to Speaker Tip O'Neill, for overlooking his 1976 endorsement of Rep. Mo Udall in recounting his history as a presidential power broker; and to retired Sen. Howard H. Baker, Jr., for saying he had previously served in the House, when I should have known it was his father and stepmother who were House members.
In a year relatively devoid of my usual literary malapropisms, I did manage to mangle the simple line, "I should of stood in bed," by making the third word a prissy "have." Gregory M. Fisher was the first to give me the correct Joe Jacobs version.
Now, as to the oracular malfunctions and malignant misjudgments. I want to nail the canard that I was consistently wrong in my political pronouncements. In the very first column of the year, I said, "I like (Ronald) Reagan's chances. . . . He's got a lot of things going for him." Among the reasons cited were:
"Yuri Andropov. Critics say Reagan is the first president since Herbert Hoover not to meet the head of the Soviet Union, but no president can be blamed for not holding a summit with a man who is not there.
"Congress. Next to running against Andropov, running against Congress is Reaga's surest winning ploy. Congress also doesn't come to work much. When it does, people wish it didn't.
"The deficit. The deficit is terrible. Conservatives abhor deficits. Reagan is a conservative. Ergo and ipso facto, Reagan's the one.
"Jesse Jackson. Since Jackson entered the race, no other Democrat running for president has been able to get two minutes of television time. By the time the primaries are over, most voters will believe Jackson is the Democratic candidate, because he is the only one they will have seen. If the Democrats don't nominate Jackson, there will be a voter rebellion. Likewise, if they do.
"Walter Mondale. Mondale is ready, he says. He is ready to defend the Carter administration, the AFL-CIO, the teachers' unions, the Great Society and even welfare spending. With a defense like that, who needs an offense?"
Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that, absent a footnote or two for Geraldine Ferraro and Bert Lance, the whole story of 1984 was there, laid out in advance, in that column.
Regrettably, I had to fill this space about 97 more times in 1984, and in my zeal not to bore you by repeating the truths of that first column, I may have strayed a bit. For example:
Feb. 5 (three weeks before the New Hampshire primary upset by Gary Hart): After gaining the endorsement of such mighty men as O'Neill and Bob Strauss, "it is going to take a big jolt to wipe that smile off Mondale's face -- or deprive him of the nomination."
Feb. 26 (two days before New Hampshire): In a serenade to Chuck Campion, Mondale's New Hampshire manager, it was said that "if Campion has done his job as well as rival managers think he has, then he will stand next to Walter Mondale Tuesday night at a moment when Mondale takes another large step toward the nomination. It has been a long time coming, but Campion's time has come."
March 18: In the first of an embarrassing number of peek- a-boo hints that Mario Cuomo might ride in from the wings to save the Democrats from themselves, "It is cruel even to suggest the thought, when the surviving candidates in the Democratic presidential race are working themselves into exhaustion trying to keep up with the demands of the caucus and primary calendar. But the notion keeps intruding that the winner of the nomination may be someone not now in the contest."
Oh, my goodness. We're down at the bottom of the column, and we're only up to mid-March on the goofs. What a shame.
Let me end on an upbeat note. On June 6, after watching the Chicago Cubs move into first place by beating the Philadelphia Phillies, I grasped the essential link between the Cubs' bright prospects and Ronald Reagan's:
"The Cubs are Reagan's kind of team. They prefer not to work nights. They believe that three hours of labor in the afternoon are enough for any job. They know the old ways are best."
So what if Reagan won 49 states and the Cubs got bounced out of the playoffs by the San Diego Padres, of all people? Hell, nobody's perfect. Wait 'til next year.