GROVER NORQUIST'S EERIE PRESCIENCE. Today in The Washington Post, Grover Norquist argues not only that "Karl Rove changed history," but that his vision "of the modern Republican Party as the dominant governing power" will "come sooner for his life and work." (Norquist implies that the Democrats' current hubristic overreach during their brief moment in the majority will itself help to usher in "a conservative Republican majority in Congress to last a generation," just a bit later than Rove had anticipated.)
Norquist, because he's a master of the deadpan, deliberately blunt maximalist pronouncement, has always been my favorite bad prognosticator. Most political commentators, of course, are terrible at predictions, but few make them with Norquist's gusto. Recall his contribution to The Washington Monthly's September 2004 "What If Bush Wins?" roundtable:
The modern Democratic Party cannot survive the reelection of President George W. Bush and another four years of Republican control of both Congress and the White House.
No brag. Just fact.
(True, Grover can weasel out of this prediction given that the Republicans lost control of Congress two years later rather than four, but still.) Norquist made quite a case:
Other shifts in national policy will also occur. Abroad, four more years under President Bush will move America and the world towards greater free trade, spreading prosperity throughout the world and bringing more countries into the trading systems that require property rights and rule of law, draining the swamps that breed radicalism and terror. At home, a second Bush administration will permanently abolish the death tax, which not only threatens to confiscate up to half of your parents' lifetime earnings, but also leads to the creation of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations that inevitably are taken over by liberal bureaucrats. And a steady increase in the number of honest gun owners will continue to reduce street crime and make America safer … Less crime means fewer prison guards and parole officers, shrinking the government workforce which tends to be 10 percent more Democrat and less Republican …
But that's not all:
Four more years of President Bush will also accelerate one of the most important demographic changes in America over the past 20 years: the number of Americans who own stock. In 1980, only 20 percent of adults owned stocks in mutual funds, 40lks, IRAs and direct contribution pensions. Today, that number is over 60 percent and growing. Bush wants to create Retirement Savings Accounts to allow every American to sock away up to $5,000 for retirement tax-free; similarly, the president has proposed Lifetime Savings Accounts allowing Americans to save $7,500 for education, housing, or health costs during their working lives … Four more years of more and bigger individual retirement accounts, heath savings accounts, RSAs, and LSAs means four more years of more Republicans and fewer Democrats.
As Chris Suellentrop noted back in 2003, Norquist has been forecasting the coming permanent Republican majority for over twenty years.
Meanwhile, it was a slightly more specific prediction of Norquist's, aimed at an audience of disaffected small-government conservatives, that's my all-time favorite. It came in a February 2004 article in The American Spectator entitled "The Second Term Diet: Tired of out-of-control government spending? Then re-elect the President and his reform agenda" (PDF). Norquist duly noted the uncomfortable reality that government spending rose under basically unified GOP rule during Bush's first term, but he laid out six reforms we could confidently expect from a second-term Bush administration that would lead to smaller government: privatization of the civil service, military base closings, Social Security privatization, the new Doha round of trade negotiations (which would result in the U.S. cutting its farm subsidies), Health Savings Accounts ("The more Americans pay for their own health care directly, the more competition will lower health care costs for all Americans"), and the initiation and expansion of "school choice" programs. There were, of course, at least three different levels on which these predictions were erroneous (the specific predictions themselves, Norquist's logical and causal assumptions about their relationship to the size of government, etc.). But if you're going to make bad prognostications, you might as well do it ambitiously.