5 Best Tuesday Columns

On the hazards of forecasting the midterms, the folly of demographic destiny, and the fall of left-center politics

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  • Dana Milbank on Gazing Into the Crystal Ball of the Midterms  The Washington Post columnist attends a wonky Washington conference, "The Mid-Term Election Results a Day Early," and finds few revealing details about the election's results. As prognosticators haul out the "hoary convention" of the election prediction, only one thing is certain: "Participants must state with conviction that which they cannot possibly know." In fact, predicting elections is like filling out a March Madness bracket, except "with unreliable seeding." Top pundits like Mark Halperin, James VandeHei, Charlie Cook and Claire Shipman have done their best to forecast the future, but their numbers are all over the place. "Seems you'll have to stay up late Tuesday night after all," figures Milbank.
  • Jonah Goldberg on Demography and Political Destiny  After Obama's sweeping returns in the 2008 election, pundits across the board predicted that America had witnessed a permanent realignment, with Republicans ensured of being a minority party for the near future. They, meaning nearly all prognosticators, were obviously wrong, argues The Los Angeles Times columnist. "Obama's 'sturdy' coalition is coming apart like wet Kleenex in a blender," he writes. Republicans now have an advantage among women, have made gains among young voters and have pulled nearly even with the president in a hypothetical match-up with a generic GOP candidate. While there is merit to the idea that "demography is destiny," Goldberg notes that "identity politics can poison demography's predictive power." If anything can be gleaned from Obama's first two years in office it's that "straight-line predictions lead to political hubris. Events change and attitudes change with them, for every demographic."
  • Michael Lind on the Death of Center-Left Politics  The struggles faced by Democrats in this year's midterms are hardly unique, writes the Salon politics columnist. Around the world, center-left political parties are in decline. "Every major country in Europe--Britain, France, Germany and Italy--is now ruled by the center-right. From the Baltic to the Mediterranean, social democratic parties are crumbling." Lind does not believe this move to the right means voters are "rejecting the middle-class welfare state that social democratic parties built in the 20th century." Rather, he argues voters "are tossing out a more recent generation of social democrats who went too far in their embrace of markets." They are particularly angry with "'Third Way' leaders of center-left parties like Tony Blair, and their continental European counterparts" who have espoused deregulation and free trade, abandoning "social democratic economics for a watered-down version of libertarian conservatism." In the process, progressives in Europe and the United States "sought to replace the traditional bread-and-butter concerns of working-class voters with idealistic campaigns about multiculturalism, climate change and obesity," further alienating lower middle-class voters.
  • George Monbiot on Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Natural World  Last week's Nagoya biodiversity summit in Japan may indeed end up being worthwhile, but it reminded The Guardian columnist of the problematic way we approach the natural world, even when trying to save it. Studies such as those by The Economics of Institutions and Biodiversity (TEEB) that "attempt to price the ecosystems we're destroying" are actually fueling that same destruction. "As soon as something is measurable," writes Monbiot, "it becomes negotiable. Subject the natural world to cost-benefit analysis and accountants and statisticians will decide which parts of it we can do without ... ask the right statistician and he'll give you any number you want." Such an approach--despite the best intentions of the people who carry out the studies--"reduces the biosphere to a subsidiary of the economy...the market now owns the world."
  • Gideon Rachman on the Obama Interlude  The election of Barack Obama was supposed to represent a new phase in America's relationship with the world, one featuring deeper engagement on an international scale. Judging from the rise of the Tea Party and Obama's own sagging poll numbers, the Financial Times columnist wonders if the Obama presidency was just a brief detour into the realm of transcontinental cooperation. "Perhaps Mr Obama represented not a new beginning in American relations with the rest of the world, but a temporary aberration? Maybe, after a brief stab at internationalism and engagement with the rest of the world, the US will revert to a more unilateralist and nationalist foreign policy?" While Obama's foreign policy accomplishments are few and far between--apart from a "markedly improved relationship with Russia"--Rachman argues his temperament and vision are good for the world. "The personality and beliefs of the commander-in-chief still matter in foreign policy--as the world may rediscover, if Mr Obama loses power to a Republican in 2012." Though the Tea Party derides the "hope and change" message, Rachman argues that its own vision of America--as "uniquely powerful and virtuous"--is one that leaves it inherently ill-equipped to handle the "inexorable rise of new centres of power around the world."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.