A Not-So-Fond Farewell to 2013

Another year now comes to a close, and we bid good riddance to it.
We are not alone in this glum assessment of 2013, judging by the results of a year-end poll conducted by The Economist and something called YouGov. A full 54 percent of the respondents called the year “bad,” another 15 percent described it as “very bad,” and we presume the rest must have fallen madly in love or won the lottery or just weren’t paying attention. Except for the soon-to-pop stock market bubble, it’s hard to think of any positive developments that have occurred over the past 12 months.
Looking over another poll from The Christian Science Monitor regarding the ten biggest stories of the year, we find floods in Colorado, tornados in Oklahoma, terrorism in Massachusetts, Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread snooping on the American public by the National Security Agency, the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the disastrous debut of the billion-dollar Obamacare web site. The only feel-good stories to make the cut were the escape of those young women in Ohio who had been held captive in a basement for years by a sex fiend, George Zimmerman’s escape from a politically correct lynch mob, the defeat of gun control legislation in Congress, and the brief partial-shutdown of the United States’ government, which somehow topped the list, but we suppose that only the first of these made liberals feel good, and conservatives can only console themselves with knowledge of the disasters that didn’t happen.
Perhaps conservatives can also take some consolation in knowing that the public at long last seems fed up with it all, and seem to be wising up about who’s to blame. The more strident sorts of liberals will persist in blaming the floods and tornados on George W. Bush and his diabolical climate change machine, and the minority of Americans who want to jettison the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense can rightly resent the right for thwarting their schemes, but it will prove hard for the press to pin the rest of it on Republicans. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by that notorious homophobe Bill Clinton, the NSA was greatly empowered by the Bush-era Patriot Act but didn’t start poring over your phone records until the next administration, the House Republicans accepted the partial shutdown of the government but didn’t attempt to make it as painful as possible for national park visitors or nostalgic World War II veterans, and only an intellectual could believe the increasingly obvious catastrophe that is Obamacare was caused by a Republican party which didn’t cast one single congressional vote for the damned thing.
This was also the year that a majority of Americans expressed disapproval of President Barack Obama, despite the continuing efforts by the news and entertainment media to bolster his popularity, and the year that a Louisiana duck-call entrepreneur got away with expressing unsanctioned opinions regarding sexuality, despite the outrage of all the right people, and the year that the gun-grabbers lost another round, despite the perfect emotional atmosphere after another horrific school shooting, and the year that some climate change advocates got stuck in the Antarctic ice, which is simply too perfect, so it could have been worse. The economy sputtered along well enough for the more enthusiastic media to proclaim good times, but record numbers of Americans are still out work and most of those who have seen gains know that fracking and free-market resilience deserve more credit than government “investments” and hyper-regulation. If the Republicans regard it as a bad year because they weren’t able to thwart more Democratic initiatives, they can at least take comfort it was a worse year for the Democrats because the failures of those schemes became apparent.
The Republicans could easily blow it, of course, but 2013 hast at least set up the possibility of a successful 2014. One can safely assume the year’s top stories will include floods and tornados, as have happened every year even before George W. Bush’s diabolical climate change machine, and there will be inspiring human interest stories and homosexual stories and stories about the government snatching ever more power, but unless the terrorists get extremely lucky while the NSA is looking into some Tea Party group’s phone records it also seems likely that more Obamacare outrages and the travails of an over-taxed and over-regulated economy will be big stories, as will the results of a feckless foreign policy, while its hard to see how the Republicans can be faulted for offering futile resistance.
Here’s hoping we make the best of it, because a few more years like 2013 will be hard to bear.

— Bud Norman

On Sports, Water Heaters, and the Nation’s Fate

The news has slowed to a trickle at year’s end, as all the newsmakers have safely ensconced themselves in swell warm-weather vacation digs where they can do little harm, but the rest of the world seems to continue turning in its usual ways. Results of the National Football League’s last regular season contests provided plenty of fodder for the headline writers, and around here the big story was our aged water heater announcing its final demise by spewing water into the basement.
These occasional breaks in the news cycle are welcome, even for such politically-attuned sorts as ourselves. They not only provide a needed respite from worries about the country’s wayward direction, but also offer perspective on the political problems that will soon enough confront us.
One tries to imagine the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama confronting a gushing water heater at 3 a.m., muttering the appropriate curses as they desperately search for the valve that will halt the deluge, but the image does not come readily to mind. All water heaters will eventually betray you, as many of our home-owning friends have sympathetically assured us, but in the case of Pelosi or Obama or almost any other politician the more likely scenario has them delegating the duty of dealing with it to a servant, probably one of those oppressed minorities they always claim to care so much about, and it can be safely assumed that the price of a shiny new replacement will not seem so dear to them as it does it to the likes of us. This is a fundamental flaw in our democratic system as it is currently constituted, we believe, as we think that the more direct experience of dealing a spewing water heater would make the average politician less inclined to think the could manage the country’s health care system and more empathetic about the costs they impose in the effort.
Even the National Football League scores seemed somehow significant on an otherwise news-free weekend. So far as we can tell everyone in the league is a testosterone-raged and overly-tattooed thug or a pretty boy quarterback, but we have our arbitrary preferences about which cities get to brag on their boys. The Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the Dallas Cowboys to win their division and a spot in the playoffs, and our pop lives in Philly and has become a supporter of the team, and the Cowboys don’t have the same cultural significance they did back in the hippie days when a guy named “Tex” owned the team and clean-cut Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach was the quarterback and straight-arrow Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines, so we were pleased with the result. We have a brother who loves living in the Colorado Rockies and has become an avid aficionado of the Denver Broncos, who earned the top seed in the American Football Conference with a win over the hapless Oakland Raiders and will thus be favored to win it all, so we’re also pleased by that outcome. Our own Kansas City Chiefs lost a meaningless game to the San Diego Charters, giving the divisional rivals a spot in the playoffs that will surely please a beloved cousin who’s working for Qualcomm in that temperate city, and after the Chiefs’ past several years of futility we’re happy just for the remote chance of a playoff win.
Sports rooting being a purely personal pastime, we were more energized by the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team running its record to a perfect 13-and-0 by beating a Davidson University squad that is far better than its record would indicate. We trudged through single-digit wind chill temperatures to witness the victory with a cherished old boyhood friend who is mad for “the ‘Shocks,” and who was later treated to a win by his beloved Green Bay Packers that clinched a playoff despite the team’s mere eight wins, and the victory was not only worth the cold but almost worth a new water heater. Throw in a win by the Kansas State University Wildcats’ football team over the once-mighty University of Michigan’s Wolverines, a team favored by an old girlfriend of ours, and it made for an encouraging final weekend of the year.
Sports metaphors are of limited utility, as are sad tales of such quotidian disasters as broken water heaters, but they’re all we’ve got as head into the penultimate day of 2013. Weightier matters await us in 2014, but we will gird ourselves with the lessons learned from the trivial. If the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around a 2=14 season into a playoff spot, if a gritty blue-collar college basketball team from such a gritty blue-collar city as Wichita can be ranked above the traditional elites of the sport, and if such klutzes as ourselves can cope with a basement-flooding water heater catastrophe, then surely there is hope for such a great country as America.

— Bud Norman

Unlucky Number

One year always leads to another, and we shudder to think where a year such as 2012 might lead.
Journalistic tradition dictates that an end-of-the year column either look back at the past 12 months or prognosticate about the upcoming dozen, and at this particular point in history neither task is appealing. The past year saw the United States go yet another trillion dollars and more into debt, with slow economic growth and fewer gainfully employed workers to show for it, the citizenry’s increased dependence on a government that is increasingly bossy about every aspect of life, various scandals from the cover-up of a botched gun-running operation to the “sloppy” foreign policy that resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other brave Americans in Libya and a body blow to free speech rights here, the ascendance of a belligerent and supremacist Islamism in key countries of the Middle East with American support, and an ever stupider popular culture. By far the biggest story of the year was an electoral majority of the country’s decision to vote for more of the same — lest those evil Republicans kill off Big Bird, continue their dastardly if entirely fictional war on women’s private parts, and generally harsh everyone’s buzz — so it’s hard to envision a reversal of this bad fortune.
All indications are that America will begin the new year by barreling over the “fiscal cliff,” that dire-sounding name given the across-the-board tax hikes and arbitrary spending cuts that almost everyone agrees will lead to a recession. Some sort of patchwork agreement remains a possibility, but although it will surely be hailed as further proof of Obama’s transcendent genius it will still involve job-killing taxes that won’t raise sufficient revenue to make a dent in the deficits. Indeed, the deficits are likely to swell when more workers sign up for the never-ending unemployment benefits and a slew of new entitlement programs are deemed necessary to deal with economic downturn. This might even be the year that America’s looming debt crisis finally arrives, and even if the country’s economy continues to crawl along the prospects for the rest of the world remain unpromising. The prospect of a Secretary of State John Kerry and a Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel certainly do not bode well.
None of this is any reason, of course, not to celebrate heartily tonight as the clock turns over to a brand new year. Nor is it any reason not to make the most of the next 365 days, whatever they might bring, and perhaps even prosper and be happy. Keep clinging bitterly to God and your guns, at least for so long as both are still legal, and give this whole 2013 idea a good shot.

— Bud Norman