A year of wrong

Posted: Dec 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Maybe old acquaintances should indeed be forgot, as the song goes, but the foolishness of the past year shouldn't. The end of the year lends perspective on some of the mistakes and lunacies that during the past 12 months were repeated by self-consciously earnest political commentators and desperate liberal politicos. Herewith a brief reckoning:

    *Finishing the Job in Afghanistan. A favorite cliche of Bush critics was that he had failed to stabilize Afghanistan in his rush to divert resources to Iraq. As it turns out, Afghanistan is stabilizing quite well, thank you very much. This is how The New York Times put it in a report about a recent military assessment of Afghanistan, "Since July 2003, attacks on allied forces have declined, the power of regional warlords has diminished, militias are being disarmed, a moderate Islamic constitution is in place, and the elections on Oct. 9 were conducted with relatively little violence and few irregularities." Compared to what it was even three years ago, Afghanistan today is practically Sweden.

    *Conflagration in the Middle East. Oh, the alleged perils of not "engaging" in the Middle East peace process. The Arab street would rise up in reaction to the American occupation in Iraq. Ariel Sharon's crackdown would end all possibility of progress in the region for a decade. The lack of talks would ... [insert dire warning here]. Instead, with the death of Yasser Arafat and a budding realization among Palestinians that the intifada is a failure, an Israeli-Palestinian thaw seems entirely possible -- partly because President Bush has had the fortitude to insist on something better than despotic thievery in high-level Palestinian politics.

    *Dumping Dick. Vice President Cheney was supposed to be a terrible political liability, associated with the dreaded Halliburton and energy task force. Bush had to get rid of him. Well, Cheney won his debate with the once highly touted wunderkind John Edwards, and by the end of the election had a more positive favorable-unfavorable rating than John Kerry in some polls. With a liability like this, who needs assets?

    *Alienating Swing Voters. When Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban gay marriage, elite opinion-makers tsk-tsked that Bush was bound to turn off "swing voters" with his unregenerate social conservatism. But gay marriage proved broadly unpopular. The issue didn't even turn off voters in liberal Oregon, where a state-level referendum to ban gay marriage passed with 57 percent of the vote. The swing voters who made the difference to Bush in key states like Ohio turned out to be unregenerate social conservatives themselves.

    *Turnout Hurts Bush. Republicans could only win by suppressing turnout, countless pundits averred. Only a vote-discouraging weather system out of "The Day After Tomorrow" could possibly save Bush from the throngs eager to push him out of office. As it happened, Bush built a 1.4 million-strong grass-roots army in the battleground states that stoked turnout above and beyond what anyone imagined.

    *Channeling Herbert Hoover. Democrats invoked his name frequently in discussing the economy. This line maintained some plausibility through sheer repetition during the campaign. Now it is more laughably absurd than ever. Gross domestic product growth has been 4 percent during the past year, higher than the post-World War II annual average. The unemployment rate is at 5.4 percent, historically low. The first monthly jobs report after the election heralded more than 300,000 new jobs created in October -- jobs that would have become part of a miraculous "Kerry recovery" should he have won on Nov. 2. The stock market is in a vigorous post-election rally that has it at a 3-1/2-year high. Hoover would be proud.

    This just skims the surface of 2004 folly. Whatever happened, for instance, to that impending draft we heard so much about? But it's time to move on. We have a spanking-fresh 12 months ahead, in which the same people will likely be wrong again, but in entirely new and interesting ways. Happy New Year!