David R. Henderson  

Michael Barone's Mistaken Prediction

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We should be happy when "Ain't it Awful" Predictions Don't Come True

Often, when I make the points I made in my recent post, "Why Am I So Cheerful?", people hand me their distress. That is, they argue back about why I shouldn't be cheerful or why they shouldn't be cheerful, all based on why the world is much worse than I think and is getting even worse.

I actually haven't had that kind of pushback this time but the point I want to make is that it's important to look at one's past predictions about how awful the world would get and measure them against what actually happened. Last week, I came across an October 2008 piece by Michael Barone. It was titled "The Coming Obama Thugocracy." In it, he made the case that candidate Barack Obama and many of his most ardent supporters are foes of free speech. His evidence ranged from weak to strong.

Barone's weak evidence?

Obama fans jammed WGN's phone lines and sent in hundreds of protest emails. The message was clear to anyone who would follow Rosenberg's example. We will make trouble for you if you let anyone make the case against The One.

It's true that that was the message, but it wasn't an attack on free speech. Indeed, it was the exercise of free speech.

Barone's strong evidence?

In September, St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Bob McCulloch and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce warned citizens that they would bring criminal libel prosecutions against anyone who made statements against Obama that were "false." I had been under the impression that the Alien and Sedition Acts had gone out of existence in 1801-02. Not so, apparently, in metropolitan St. Louis. Similarly, the Obama campaign called for a criminal investigation of the American Issues Project when it ran ads highlighting Obama's ties to Ayers.

Based on his reasoning, Barone made a prediction, writing:
To their credit, some liberal old-timers -- like House Appropriations Chairman David Obey -- voted against the "fairness doctrine," in line with their longstanding support of free speech. But you can expect the "fairness doctrine" to get another vote if Barack Obama wins and Democrats increase their congressional majorities.

That was a legitimate fear. I remember fearing it at the time myself and talking to a friend who makes his living in libertarian/conservative talk radio and who was also concerned. And the Democrats did increase their congressional majorities.

So what happened? It didn't get another vote. [The following two passages are from Wikipedia. Why? Maybe this had something to do with it:

In February 2009, a White House spokesperson said that President Obama continues to oppose the revival of the [Fairness] Doctrine.

Moreover, Obama moved in the other direction:
In June 2011, the Chairman and a subcommittee chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, both Republicans, said that the FCC, in response to their requests, had set a target date of August 2011 for removing the Fairness Doctrine and other "outdated" regulations from the FCC's rulebook.
On August 22, 2011, the FCC formally voted to repeal the language that implemented the Fairness Doctrine, along with removal of more than eighty other rules and regulations, from the Federal Register following a White House executive order directing a "government-wide review of regulations already on the books", to eliminate unnecessary regulations.

Coda: One of the biggest mistakes and, fortunately, one of the easiest to correct, is to refuse to accept yes for an answer.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
JLV writes:

File this under another reason to be cheerful depending on your position, but it strikes me that alarmist rhetoric about the evils of liberalism tend to require a naive faith in the ability of the Democratic leadership to herd cats.

Tom West writes:

> require a naive faith in the ability of the Democratic leadership to herd cats.

I have to admit, I do find some dark amusement in the alarmism that allows the bad guys to go between being incompetent boobs and ultra-competent conspirators, often in the same sentence!

Was it Ezra Klein who recently pointed out how no-one had the competency to pull off the grand schemes that the fringes of either wing are so fond of dreaming about?

Since we did once have a 'fairness doctrine' it's hardly outrageous to think we could have one again. Of course, reinstating it--either by FCC regulation or legislation--would be met immediately with lawsuits from interested parties. Which would probably include Rush Limbaugh AND Rachel Maddow.

MingoV writes:

Among well-informed people*, a major determining factor between cheerfulness and frustration, anger, or gloom is how one reacts to helplessness. There are many unpleasant or adverse situations we are helpless to change (such as TSA hassles before flights or federal spending that will impoverish our children). Some people do not let such situations bother them, and they remain cheerful. Other people cannot help but be bothered by such situations, and they lose any cheerfulness they had. Given the plethora of such situations, the latter group rarely is cheerful.

*I use that constraint to avoid complicating my argument with people whose ignorance results in no knowledge of adverse situations.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tom West,
Was it Ezra Klein who recently pointed out how no-one had the competency to pull off the grand schemes that the fringes of either wing are so fond of dreaming about?
I don't know. But I do know that Milton Friedman often pointed this out.
@Patrick R. Sullivan,
Since we did once have a 'fairness doctrine' it's hardly outrageous to think we could have one again.
I agree, as I pointed out in the post.

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