Friday, December 27, 2013

The Year of 2013 In Reflection

2013 was about as substantive a political year as one can have in an odd-numbered year in the United States.  Here is a look back at what, in my opinion, are the 10 biggest news stories of the year from a political standpoint:

10.  The Crazy New York Mayor's Race
Anthony Weiner's weiner was back on display with sexting abounding.  Christine Quinn was handed a gimme and proved to be an absolutely abysmal candidate.  Bill de Blasio, the boring looking white guy with the hip interracial family (I mean, come on, who doesn't love Dante and his afro?) sneaks in to win a resounding victory.

9. Cory Booker Takes the Next Step
There are quite a few of us in the political realm that have been watching Cory Booker for some time and think that he is probably Presidential timber.  Some in the past have questioned his sexual orientation, but I frankly think that is MUCH less of an issue on the national stage than it was 20 years ago and it is one he has handled adeptly.  Booker has moved his political career at a deliberate pace, choosing to stay as Mayor of Newark for over 7 years, when he almost surely could have moved to a larger office sooner than that.  With his election to the Senate by a solid (although less overwhelming than some imagined) 11 point margin, Booker immediately becomes at the top of the 2016 VP candidate list and near the top of the 2020/2024 Presidential prospects.

8. Democrats Win in VA, Republicans in NJ
The results of an actual election would typically top the year's stories, but this year's results were largely affirmations of things that we already knew.  First, in Virginia, when you run a wing nut in a swing state, as the GOP did, you generally lose, even when you are running against a horrible candidate, which Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe certainly was.  In New Jersey, Chris Christie proved again that center-right pragmatism CAN win in the northeast - maybe a model for a national election?

7. The Death of Nelson Mandela
First, a word of explanation.  Nelson Mandela deserves to be much higher than number 7 on virtually any list that you could conceive.  His story is amazing, from violent revolutionary to prisoner to quiet, forgiving, strong leader that ushered South Africa peacefully and successfully into the post-apartheid era, Mandela is one of the largest figures on the global stage in the past century.  Mandela's story largely happened in prior years, however, with his biggest moments coming after his release from Robbin's Island and his rise to lead the first post-apartheid government and share a Nobel peace prize with apartheid leader F.W. De Clerk.  Mandela was a great man, worth remembering.  His death is a loss to the world.

6. Pope Francis
The first Latin American (although ethnically Italian) pope has made his mark early, casting a strong contrast with his predecessor by urging the church to de-emphasize condemnation of abortion and homosexuality (although he has maintained the existing church doctrine) and focus instead on serving the poor and presenting a more modern, positive image of the church.  This is a huge and badly needed shift for the church and one that will have political impact both in Europe and the US.

5. The Boston Marathon Attacks
For a brief moment, we were all reminded in a most horrific fashion how free nations will always remain vulnerable to terrorists.  This story hit me personally as I was staying in Boston at the time of the attack.  Since September 11 through a combination of good intelligence, smart preventative measures, a weakened Al Qaeda and some good luck, we have had a precious few damaging attacks.  The Tsarnaev brothers unfortunately changed that for reasons which are still not entirely clear.

4. Syria - Airstrikes / No Airstrikes
In one of the most bungled pieces of foreign policy in recent memory, President Obama declared that the US would conduct limited air strikes in Syria and that he didn't need Congress' permission to do so.  He then sought that permission, didn't get it and didn't conduct the air strikes.  Syria then bailed him out by agreeing to dismantle it's nuclear program (we'll see.)  It's an odd world.

3. Gay Marriage Everywhere
My favorite story of the year.  First, Maine, Washington and Maryland brought in the new year by becoming the first three states to legalize gay marriage by public ballot.  Then, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois all legalized gay marriage via bills passed by state legislatures and signed by their respective governors.  Then, the SCOTUS struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act and essentially forced the federal government to recognize gay marriages performed by states where it is legal for federal benefits.  While the ruling stopped short of legalize gay marriage nationally, the reasoning of the fifth vote for the 5-4 decision from Anthony Kennedy made it pretty clear to most of us that SCOTUS inevitably will make such a ruling but was simply buying some time.  On the back of the SCOTUS decision, judges in New Jersey, New Mexico and Utah have forced those states to legalize same-sex marriage.

All told, in December of 2012, there were only 7 states that had legal gay marriage.  There are now 18.  Anyone want to bet whether we make it to 50 in the next 2-3 years?

2. The Shutdown
In the most visible show of disfunction in at least 20 years, the federal government partially shut down as a budget deal seemed elusive.  We learned a few things in the debacle - the Tea Party was willing to push for its agenda even in the face of certain defeat, John Boehner was unable to control his caucus against the Tea Party (he has since lashed out at far right interest groups - I think he has had enough), shutdowns actually cost more than the government running and Democrats ruled the day....that is until our #1 story took place.

1. The Obamacare Mess
Oh what a disaster in the execution.  Democrats and the President have given up untold capital and the Affordable Care Act has given up massive credibility as the federal government failed to be able to design a website with over 3 years warning.  While I don't think that the initial execution is indicative one way or another as to the prudence or long-term success of the law, it will surely cost the President any hope of driving the congressional agenda next year and will undoubtedly cost the Democrats seats next fall.  Any dreams of regaining the House that Democrats may have had after the shutdown are gone and whether they retain the Senate or not is a open question at this point.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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