The Perils of Prophecy

On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, I wrote some predictions about the Presidency of Barack Obama, folded them, stapled them shut, and put them in my desk drawer at work. On December 1, 2010, I didn’t open it, but added a scorecard.

Today, on the last full day of his Presidency, I opened it to see how I did, and graded myself on the scorecard.

For those who can’t read my handwriting (i.e., most people), I’ll transcribe both below.

  1. Obama will disappoint progressives, early, often, and hard.

I gave myself a “Dead-on” for this one. I remember listening closely to Obama’s campaign speeches and noting that while his rhetoric was soaring and visionary, his policy proposals were moderate. But progressive Democrats were enchanted, and heard in his tone what they wanted to hear in his policies.  It’s not Obama’s fault that he did, in fact, disappoint progressives early, often, and hard. He had never promised what they thought they heard.

2. The Democratic Congress, even with a big majority, will continue to act as if their fate was to be decided by an omnipotent Newt Gingrich–wimpy, tentative, centrist to spite itself.

I chose “More right than wrong” for this. Democrats always seem to govern in terror, even when they have a majority. But they passed the ACA, so we have to give them some credit. 

3. We will get healthcare reform, but it will still be controlled by  insurance companies. Like Medicare D, it will help some people somewhat, but fall way short. Bipartisan compromise fans will love it.

Perhaps my “Dead-on” here is too enthusiastic, or maybe fans of bipartisan compromise were already a dying breed in 2008, and I didn’t know it yet.

4. We will make big progress on alternative energy and global warming.

This earned a “More wrong than right.” We made progress on global warming, but not nearly as much as needed, and the improvements in alternative energy have come more from technological advances and disruptions in the oil market than from President Obama’s White House. We may be grateful for this soon–the new President may overturn policies, but he can’t set the clock back eight years on technology. (Fifty years on women’s rights will be much easier).

5. The press will never give President Obama a moment’s peace. It will be Clinton’s first year all over again.

I gave myself a “Dead-on” because the punditocracy treated fabricated stories about Obama’s birthplace, influences, and secret motivations as if they had some sort of basis in reality. There was a time when Orly Taitz was nearly a household name, and some mouthy NYC real estate developer swore he had the goods to prove Obama was born in Kenya. Charges that the essentially conservative and business-friendly Affordable Care Act was modeled more on a plan of Fidel Castro’s than of Mitt Romney’s were discussed seriously on Sunday morning talk shows. Fox News and Breitbart went mainstream, and  even noted fantasist Alex Jones set the agenda for a lot of people and organizations who should have known better.
It’s a little difficult to remember now, because ever since that same punditocracy decided that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were equally appalling and despised figures, they also fell in love with the romantic poetry of the lame duck President, and since November 9, 2016, they can barely speak of him without a catch in their throats.

6. We won’t be out of Iraq by the end of his first term. Not completely, anyway. Not enough.

Was my ignorance of military matters showing here? You betcha. I didn’t know how an army leaves a place. Was I hedging due to my ignorance? Right again. I had no idea how to define “enough.” But I gave myself a “More wrong than right” for this, because most of the troops withdrew. For the record, in 2008, there were 164,250 troops in Iraq. Today, there are around 5,000.

7. We will renew relations with old allies and cultivate new ones. That will improve a lot.

I might have graded this differently four years into Obama’s Presidency, when he had won the Nobel Peace Prize and Made America Cool Again. Perhaps this deserves higher than “More wrong than right.” But Obama  could not have predicted the anti-immigrant, anti-liberal democracy backlash in Europe and here. Obama made great efforts to repair the damage done by the international arrogance of the Bush administration, and promoted a more cautious role for the U.S. World leaders other than Vladimir Putin and Bibi Netanyahu seemed to like him personally. But the drone program did him no favors with the people of the Middle East and human rights advocates everywhere. Given the new President, though, we may look back on today as a zenith of American popularity for many years to come.

I’m keeping my day job and staying out of the dangerous business of prophecy in 2017.

Anyone who tells you they know what lies ahead of us now is a liar or a fool.

Even at the privacy of my desk, on a scrap of paper hidden in my drawer, I don’t dare to guess.

If you do, please leave a comment with your inaugural predictions.





About Julie Goldberg

Julie Goldberg has lived a life entirely too entangled with books. She is a school librarian, former English teacher, compulsive reader, occasional jazz singer and the author of Lily in the Light of Halfmoon. You can email her at and follow her on Twitter @juliegoldberg.
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4 Responses to The Perils of Prophecy

  1. Ceil Kessler says:

    I love political prognosticating, but with this next administration, there is literally no telling what might happen. The only guess I will make is that even the people IN his administration who think they know the plan will find that they don’t know the plan. I predict frequent veering off course, if indeed there ever is a discernable course.

    My only actual prediction, though, is that Pence will have the documentation for impeachment together before the Democrats do, and articles of impeachment will be invoked before the end of Spring.

  2. I think I will take the time today to write a new set of predictions, after all. I don’t see how mine can be any worse than those of the people who get paid more money to prognosticate on TV than I’ll ever see in my life.

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