What a year this has been! A year of posthumous promotions, premature and erroneous prophecies and frequent lapses of fact. And all of it attributable not to the politicians who are the subjects of these commentaries, but to the author of the column himself, the very dunderhead whose name can be found just upstream of this runaway sentence.
We're talking "goofs," ladies and gentlemen, the annual accountability exercise that provides you loyal readers a few laughs and me a chance to make amends for my lapses.
Let's start with the most recent example, highlighted in a letter from Derek Burney, Canada's ambassador to Washington.
Commenting on a November column, he wrote that "the broad-brush references to Canada in your column today offer more flourish than fact, specifically when you suggest that 'Canada's economy has been in the doldrums for years.' It is certainly true that the Canadian economy has turned down in recent months, but the record in recent years is dramatically different.
"Since 1983, real output in Canada has grown at an average annual pace of 4.25 percent, faster than all the major industrial countries except Japan. ... If this kind of performance is considered 'the doldrums,' then I can only assume that you would believe that the rest of the world has been on the rocks!"
No, ambassador, but you would be correct to assume that I have rocks in my head.
How else would you explain my writing back in March that "Republicans have just received the best political news since George Bush won the presidency." That was the lead sentence in a column discussing, of all things, Clayton Williams' capture of the GOP nomination for governor of Texas -- a feat, I confidently said, that gave "the GOP the inside track in the Lone Star State."
Williams and I wound up with egg on our faces -- and Ann Richards, with the governorship. That March misjudgment set the standard for a year of bum political and governmental prophecies.
At various times, I wrote optimistically about the prospects of such doomed enterprises as campaign finance reform legislation, the "motor-voter" bill to ease registration procedures and the bill to grant workers unpaid family emergency and medical leaves.
More embarrassing still, I wrote the following sentences back in February:
"The most basic question that parents, teachers and students can ask of the president of the United States and the governors of the 50 states is this: Are you serious about the goals for education improvement, which you said this week America should pledge to meet in this decade? The answer to that question is unequivocally yes."
Judged by what has happened in the 10 months since then, that answer was unequivocally wrong.
Someone left stranded on a limb as long as that can hardly be shamed by a dangling participial phrase, but I have at least one of those on my record this year, as many of you pointed out. "Cleaning out the garage over the weekend, a headline in an old newspaper caught my attention," I wrote. In revenge, the garage-cleaning headline left an even bigger mess behind it.
An old friend, Jack Calkins, spotted another case of language abuse when I wrote about President Bush having his "glance fixed" on his right flank. A glance is brief, Calkins rightly said, while a gaze may be fixed. My only excuse was that my eyes were barely open when that was written, early in the morning after a very late election night.
In one column, I gave Earl Mazo, retired now from reporting for the late Herald-Tribune, credit for a wonderful Olin Johnston story about Strom Thurmond really believing that "stuff" he spouted in a long-ago civil rights filibuster. It is a Mazo yarn. But Harry McPherson, the wise veteran of Lyndon Johnson's staff, says Johnston actually made the comment to him in the Senate cloak room, and McPherson quotes it in his marvelous memoir, "A Political Education." Being chicken, I'm going to turn the custody question over to them.
Speaking of the Senate, William H. Pruden III of Towson, Md., pointed out that I was wrong when I said that Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Albert Gore, Jr. (D-Tenn.) "hold seats their fathers held before them." They serve in the same body, he noted, but actually hold the other seats from their states, having succeeded colleagues of their fathers.
That same column on "Whiggery" in Congress elicited a wonderful letter from former Sen. Harry F. Byrd, Jr., of Virginia, saying that "of the 1,792 persons who served in the U.S. Senate, only two have been elected as the direct successors to their fathers, Robert M. LaFollette Jr., of Wisconsin and myself. ... My grandfather, my father and myself collectively spent 111 years in public office, almost consecutively and some overlapping from 1886 to 1983. Together, we were on the ballot 34 times without a loss."
That's the sort of infallibility I'm aiming for -- some year!