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The Politics of 2012 Can Wait

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On the second day of November last year there were 255 Democrats and 180 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives; one-day later there were 193 Democrats and 242 Republicans.

The Democrats were swept from power and the makeup of the incoming 112th Congress was dramatically changed - underscored the more by so many new members identifying with the Tea Party.

How this plays out for Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans, Congress, President Obama, and the country is unknown. But the paucity of uncertainty will not halt the pundit class from prognosticating future events. It's what they do - and they are neither constrained by past mistakes nor humbled by them.

In July of 2008 over lunch I told a writer for the San Diego Union Tribune that Barack Obama would be elected president and the Democrats would control both branches of Congress - and that it wouldn't be close.

I am not "officially" a member of the pundit class, but I don't recall anyone else making so bold a prediction. Of course, if I was wrong I was wrong. So what? My job wasn't at risk. They weren't going to take away my presidency of The City Club of San Diego (no sane person would want it; which means I have been "insane" for 35-years).

There aren't many victories one can claim in this life, at least not within my experience, but this victory was mine. I got it right.

But my prediction about the Democrats holding on to the House in the by-election of 2010 was egregiously wrong. I should have stopped while ahead; when some people were calling me a political "savant", when they thought I actually knew what I was talking about. But no, emboldened by having been gloriously right in '08, I stumbled into the hubris trap of thinking I could not err.

So a reality check was required. Here it is:

I will not read newspaper columns or magazine articles; watch MSNBC or CNN, so long as the subject is what will happen in the 2012 presidential or congressional races. What will happen in 2012 will happen. It will be what it is. We need to work our way through Now; the future can wait.

Neither Paul Krugman, Gail Collins, Thomas Friedman, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Mark Shields, Chris Matthews, John King, Eliot Spitzer, Kathleen Parker, Nicholas Kristof, Matt Taibbi, Richard Cohen, Richard Reeves, David Brooks, George Will, E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Chris Hayes, Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, David Broder, Dana Milbank, Fareed Zakaria, Mike Allen, Bill O'Reilly, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Joe Klein, Doyle McManus, Howard Fineman, Jim Wallis, Jonah Goldberg, Robert Kuttner, or me has a clue as to what will unfold over the 20-months (since this is my blog, I get to include myself among these Luminaries of the Fourth Estate).

Only God knows what lies before us, and He/She, isn't telling. I allow, however, that some Biblical literalists will find the key to divining 2012 in either Isaiah or Revelation. (And, since there are many who believe they are so anointed, they will undoubtedly be featured on Fox with Glenn Beck.)

As a political wonk, what brought me to this?

I think the shock of recognition came when John Witt, the longest standing-elected official in San Diego County (he's on the school board), asked me after church on a recent Sunday if Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate in 2012? Witt asked the question because Romney had just finished first in a New Hampshire straw poll.

No really, Romney won the straw poll and Witt thought that meant he would be the guy to face Obama. He didn't mention Sarah Palin, John Thune, Mike Huckabee, Ed Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Rudi Giuliani, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, or Eric Cantor. (Wouldn't that be sweet, a Jewish Republican standard bearer from Virginia. Don't dismiss it; didn't we elect a black guy from Illinois named Obama?)

As politely as possible I told Witt I had zero interest in straw polls or any other poll about 2012; that I wouldn't even look at polls until October of that year; that polls are useless until the election is at hand. I then added that in the spring of '92 George Herbert Walker Bush had a 90 percent poll approval rating, but, if my memory serves me correctly, Bill Clinton was elected president that year not Bush 41 (you can look it up, as they say).

My resolve to be done with the foretelling of future events was further strengthened Monday, January 24, the day before the president's State of the Union address. That day the White House media assaulted press secretary Robert Gibbs with one question - the words were different, the intent the same - "What will President Obama say tomorrow night?"

Excuse me? "What will President Obama say tomorrow night?"

Mr. Obama will give the speech, right? That hasn't changed, has it? He's not mailing it in by U.S. Postal Service, as did Washington through TR, is he? The streets of Washington will be shut down so the president can proceed speedily by motorcade to Capitol Hill, correct? He will wait until the Sergeant-at-Arm announces, "Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States", before entering the chamber, yes?

What, we can't wait? We have a need be told in advance what President Obama would say 24-hours later? Are we to believe there were no other questions for the press secretary, no other pressing national or world issue, only what will the president say the next day?

That did it. I wanted to hear what the president would say. I would be listening and watching, as I have the whole of my adult life, but I had zero interest in speculation as to what he would say before he said it.

I would hear my president out. I would listen to Mark Shields and David Brooks on PBS and read what the pundits wrote in The New York Times and on the Huffington Post; I would browse The New Republic and Politico.com's Web site, to see whether I was in agreement with the pundit class.

All of that I would do, but only after the speech not before. To have done differently would have been a monumental waste of time. Why do it? So I didn't. Besides, when you have lived your three-score and ten, the last think you want to do, is rush the future.

There is a life beyond polls and pundits - and I intend to find it.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.