As a new year approaches, pundits in Louisiana and elsewhere are polishing their crystal balls for another round of prognostication about what the next 12 months will bring.
Prophecy is our national pastime, or so it seems, even though each passing year brings ample evidence of how poorly we predict the future. 2015 was, perhaps more than most years, a time when professional forecasters found themselves eating ample servings of crow.
Take, for example, the defining political prediction in Louisiana this year — the assumption that U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, would be elected as the state’s next governor. That notion was embraced as a near-certitude among many politicians and journalists, based on Vitter’s shrewd political skills and his ability, in a previous re-election bid for the Senate, to overcome his connection to a prostitution ring.
Vitter’s status through much of 2015 as the presumptive governor-elect was bolstered by a related tenet of conventional wisdom — namely, that in the prevailing political climate, no Democrat could get elected governor of Louisiana. The outcome of this year’s gubernatorial runoff, in which Democrat John Bel Edwards trounced Vitter, was a case study in the limits of political punditry.
Political handicappers had other misses in 2015. Gov. Bobby Jindal wasn’t a favorite in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes, but numerous observers assumed he would stay in the race at least through the early primaries. His especially poor showing and withdrawal before the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire surprised many.
Jindal’s quick exit wasn’t the only surprise in the presidential race. Many members of the political establishment didn’t expect Donald Trump to make more than a ripple, and his emergence as a GOP frontrunner shocked the political cognoscenti. They have since predicted that Trump would fizzle out — something that could happen, although it hasn’t happened yet. The Democratic field of presidential contenders has outdone predictions, too. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, was expected to be little more than a token candidate for the Democratic nomination. Although former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still heavily favored to win the nomination, Sanders has commanded huge crowds across the country, including Louisiana. Few horizon-spotters saw that coming.
The future isn’t the long, straight highway that the chattering classes like to think it is. It’s full of detours and hairpin turns that no one can fully anticipate, even those of us who claim to have a roadmap.
But that won’t stop the know-it-alls, including quite a few editorial writers, from speculating on what tomorrow will bring.
The only sure prediction for 2016, in fact, is that pundits will keep making predictions.