JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 6, 2011
Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg has a column lashing out at everybody who has ridiculed his 2009 column saying Republicans would not take back the House:
I have been writing about campaigns and elections for more than three decades, but some of the people who comment about my work still don’t seem to have a clue what I do.
I’m quite certain that some who talk about politics like the prognosticator or pundit label. I’m not one of them. Here’s a bulletin: I don’t predict the future. I don’t try to predict the future. If you can predict it, I’m impressed. Congratulations. ...
All of this seems pretty obvious to me, but I figured I had better be explicit about what I do after reading that I “predicted” in an April 2009 column that Republicans would not win the House in 2010.
When I wrote my April 23, 2009, column, just three months after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the data clearly indicated that Republicans had no chance of winning back the House.
As I wrote in that column, the GOP needed a political wave to develop for that to happen, and in April 2009 there were no signs of a wave developing. None. Zero. Zilch. In fact, at that time, public sentiment about the future (specifically about the direction of the country) was improving.
Okay, let's go back and look at what Rothenberg wrote in April of 2009:
Over the past couple of weeks, at least three Republicans — House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and campaign consultant Tony Marsh — have raised the possibility of the GOP winning back the House of Representatives next year.
That idea is lunacy and ought to be put to rest immediately.
None of the three actually predicted that Republicans would gain the 40 seats that they need for a majority, but all three held out hope that that’s possible. It isn’t. ...
there are no signs of a dramatic rebound for the party, and the chance of Republicans winning control of either chamber in the 2010 midterm elections is zero. Not “close to zero.” Not “slight” or “small.” Zero.
He was not writing that there were no signs of this happening as of April 2009. He was saying it would not happen, period.
But imagine the April 2009 column did say what he now says it did, rather than what it actually said. What he's saying now is that there were no signs in April of 2009 that Republicans could win the House. Of course there weren't. So what? The point is that things change. Moreover, they often change in predictable ways. Newly-elected presidents are almost always popular. But when a party holds power after two straight wave elections, at the outset of a massive economic crisis, then that party is very likely to get less popular by the midterm elections.
Rothenberg is now saying his 2009 column only asserted that the chances of GOP control of the House were zero based on conditions in April of 2009. But if that's all he said, why would that have any value at all? The midterm elections weren't taking place in April 2009. It's like saying my five year old son has zero chance to ever attend a university because he's barely literate. If Rothenberg is actually making absolute statements about future events based solely on current conditions, without taking into account not only unknown future events but very predictable future events, then he's offering zero value to his readers.