Jefferson Morley is a Washington-based writer and author of “Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.”
Humanity’s faith in predictions was tested this time last year, when the floods, famines and other disasters predicted by the end of the ancient Mayan calendar failed to materialize.
But a look back at 2013 shows that the art of divination is alive and well.
As predicted by political analyst Michael Barone, Mitt Romney arrived for the presidential inauguration in January with a mandate for change, after having won the 2012 election handily.
Romney was constrained, though, by the busted economy he inherited from President Obama — and the economic picture promptly grew worse. “Watch for unemployment to climb above 9 percent,” right-wing sage Cal Thomas wrote a year ago. He got that exactly right.
So did the analysts at Wells Fargo Securities, who shunned the irrational exuberance of some market-watchers at the end of 2012 and instead predicted that the S&P 500 would remain relatively flat this year.
The only positive economic indicator was the price of oil. As Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson anticipated last December, “Sometime in the first half of the year, the price of oil — which, depending on the type of crude, has hung stubbornly in the $90 to $120 a barrel range — will drop sharply to between $60 to $80 a barrel.”
Although it was a bad year for President Romney and the economy, Congress finally redeemed itself in 2013. Liberal talking head Bob Beckel called it. “In the aftermath of the massacre at Newtown,” Beckel said a year ago, “Congress will finally get the backbone to reinstate the assault weapons ban that ended in 2004.”
Also as Beckel predicted, House Speaker John A. Boehner forged bipartisan agreement on comprehensive immigration reform. “The Republicans have been trounced enough by Hispanic voters that they realize resistance to immigration reform has backfired on them,” Beckel explained.
There was redemption to be had, too, in the New York mayoral race. Few people took Salon’s political editor Blake Zeff seriously when he presciently observed in May that once-disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner could win. “His challenges are not as great as they’re being portrayed,” Zeff wrote. “And his strengths are more important than people think.”
Sure enough, Weiner outdistanced long-shot leftist Bill de Blasio. Afterward, Weiner invited Tiger Woods (whose capture of his fifth green jacket at the Masters Tournament was accurately predicted by USA Today’s Steve DiMeglio) for an official visit. When Woods and Weiner took selfies at a Hooters restaurant in Times Square, the Internet responded warmly.
In sports news, it was an exceptional year for Washington teams. The acumen of ABC News’s Jonathan Karl was affirmed when the Nationals won the National League pennant. And the town football team will take the field Sunday with a 9-6 record, including an impressive showing against the overmatched Kansas City Chiefs. “The Redskins are no longer a team that plays down to the competition,” said the experts at Bleacher Report ahead of the season. Of course, they’re no longer the Redskins, either. Owner Dan Snyder retired the offensive team name in October, vindicating Post sports columnist Mike Wise, who predicted that the name change might come “sooner than anyone thought.”
Every January brings predictions that this will be the year of the woman. In 2013, that finally came true. Post columnist E.J. Dionne thought it was the “longest of long shots” when he said that a nun should be the next pope. But the Vatican saw the wisdom in that idea, and when the white smoke cleared in March, Dolores Hart, mother prioress of the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, was named the next pontiff. In an upset, Pope Dolores was edged out for Time’s Person of the Year by Miley Cyrus — the first woman to be so honored in 27 years. Few were surprised, however, when 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, as Kristian Berg Harpviken of Oslo’s Peace Research Institute had told us to expect.
In foreign affairs, 2013 was a good year for democracy, especially in the countries associated with the Arab Spring. The days of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were indeed numbered, as the White House and Washington pundits had been predicting for more than 1,000 days. Meanwhile, Egypt’s political evolution continued to be a model for the region. “The discipline of governing has exerted a moderating influence on the Muslim Brotherhood, the military has relinquished a desire to rule, the country has stuck by its peace treaty with Israel, and political violence is the exception not the rule,” Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, accurately assessed in her predictions for the world in 2013.
Back in the United States, the year finished with the successful rollout of the federal and state health insurance exchanges, a key piece of Obamacare. As Dan Mendelson, chief executive of Avalere Health, foresaw a year ago, “The bureaucracy will rise to the challenge because the risk and importance to the president is so great.” Although many Americans found more affordable plans, those who liked their existing insurance were able to keep it.
The implementation of the new health-care law, along with the worsening economy, have given millions of American voters reason to think more fondly of former president Barack Obama. One recent poll shows that if the presidential election were held today, Obama would win handily over Romney. Some pundits have gone so far as to predict that Obama will return to political respectability in 2014.
Others say only time will tell.