Beltway Confidential

Year-end pundit atonement: Where I was wrong in 2013

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Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,MSNBC,Chuck Hagel,Libertarian Populism,Government Shutdown

In keeping with my annual tradition, here are the biggest mistakes I made as a journalist and a pundit in the past, along with an explanation.

I'll start with some reflection on one of the broadest themes of my writing for years.

The dangers of populism

At the end of my 2009 book Obamanomics, I called for a political movement I alternately called "Libertarian Populism" and "Free-Market Populism." Over the summer of 2013, there was a boomlet in debating the concept, with criticism and praise coming from conservatives, libertarians and liberals.

I think strains of libertarian populism have crept into both the GOP and the Left (not because of my writing, but because the things I have been observing have become more obvious). Liberals are increasingly attuned to the cartelizing effects of regulation, and conservatives are increasingly distrustful of Big Business. All good.

Since 2009, though, I've worried that populism could be a dangerous force, though. I think we saw some of it this fall.

The Tea Party-led effort to defund Obamacare through a government shutdown -- with a debt ceiling cliff just around the corner -- was largely an exercise in folly, I think. But that fight was driven by all the same forces I've hoped would grow within the GOP: distrust of the Washington establishment, disregard for the pleas of big business, commitment to limited government, listening to the grass roots.

All these forces led us to the hot mess of October. It's forced me to think harder about the need for populism to be tempered.

Now onto some smaller-bore specific errors I made:

I thought Chuck Hagel's nomination would be killed

Eight days into the New Year, I tweeted "66% chance Dems abandon Hagel." I even put money (beer) on the line.

My thinking: Hagel was taking body blows from gay rights groups and from Jewish groups, plus he didn't strike me as terribly well qualified. I thought this was too toxic a mix for Obama to stomach. I was wrong. (I bought those beers for Justin Green. I still owe them to Dan Drezner.)

I said MSNBC wouldn't suspend Martin Bashir for his foul treatment of Sarah Palin

"This will not get an MSNBC host suspended," I tweeted after learning about Bashir's comments. I figured Bashir's job was to be tendentious, and that Palin was an unsympathetic enough figure to the Left, that Bashir would get away with simply an apology, if that. I was glad he apologized. I was surprised -- and not necessarily cheered -- that he lost his job for it.

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