Finding the Good in an Uninspiring Year


Home, night, fireplace crackling. A long, good day followed by quiet, peace and a chance to reflect. The past year was not the most satisfying politically, not the most exalted or inspiring. Republicans suffered an unforced error with the shutdown. The Democrats suffered for insisting ObamaCare be implemented on schedule, as planned, which immediately revealed . . . it hadn’t been planned, was in fact fatally flawed, a bad law. This in turn damaged progressivism itself, at least as it is currently practiced.On the upside for both parties: Republicans proved to be right on the health-care law and have room now to be right on other things. Democrats could, if they choose, see their position this way: They’re taking a drubbing on ObamaCare but the very catastrophe of that program has highlighted the fact that they kind of won the argument on the need to do something big on health care. People aren’t saying, “Get rid of ObamaCare and then do nothing,” they’re saying, “Repeal it and replace it with . . . something!”Democrats are so concussed they’ve barely noticed that people do want health-care help, and it will probably have to be national in scope. Looking at it this way, Democrats have won a 30-year argument. They should wake up, get out from under the albatross of ObamaCare, and start trying to create something that will work. With Republicans, who now have new credibility on the issue.Progress is always possible. The world is full of surprise.

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Beyond politics, every year has something to recommend it. I asked some smart, accomplished people: What was the best thing that happened this year, some breakthrough, some joy, some encouraging sign. It was interesting that with a lot of them, their first thoughts went to the personal.

Chris Christie, elected in 2013 to a second term as governor of New Jersey: “I am grateful that my oldest daughter Sarah got her Christmas wish—admission to the University of Notre Dame Class of 2018. I am a father full of pride and joy this year.”

Happy New Year!Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and Saturday-night TV-show star: “Two and a half years ago I had no grandchildren and started telling my kids that my biological clock was ticking—to heck with theirs. Now I have four grandchildren, two of whom were born this year: Caroline Grace, born on my August 24 birthday (very considerate of her!); and William Huckabee ‘Huck’ Sanders, born in October.”

For Lesley Stahl of CBS News, her primary joy was the same: the birth of her second grandchild, Chloe Major, born in September.

Matt Drudge spoke of the personal too. The best thing about 2013? “It’s the year I discovered prayer. It changed my life. And I didn’t think my life needed changing.”

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Others spoke not of a personal event but of something outside.

Dana Perino, former White House press secretary for George W. Bush and now of Fox News, says the big event of 2013 is a man in Rome. ” Pope Francis. He has become the beacon of hope all around the world, and he comes to prominence just as the world needed him (and for the church’s sake, too—the church is such an important institution in the world).” Donna Brazile of CNN and ABC News, and veteran strategist of Democratic presidential campaigns, saw it the same way: “Finally a pope who believes in sharing the gospel and not throwing the book at sinners.”

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life, a Roman Catholic order based in New York, is overjoyed at the number of young women joining her order. “Who would believe in this age that talented, educated, gifted young women are willing to make a lifelong commitment as religious sisters? This year 12 women entered the Sisters of Life alone, and so many more in other religious communities throughout the nation. Who could measure the value of such graces?”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, columnist and editorial board member of this paper, found herself thinking of something wondrous that maybe didn’t get quite enough attention. “A spacecraft called Voyager I went beyond the solar system this year, marking a mind-boggling milestone in human progress.”

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Back to politics, for just a moment.

Paul Ryan found satisfaction in the federal budget agreement that he authored and argued for: “We prevented two possible shutdowns for 2014 and made our deeply divided government work at a basic functioning level. In Washington, that ranks as an accomplishment these days.”

Andrew Tobias, the writer and treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said he’s so grateful he doesn’t know where to start, and presented his answers in questions. “Progress degrading Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear capability without having to go to war? Or a record-high Dow? Or our spectacular first family?” Great friends and good health are important, “But the rest of it can’t hurt.”

New York attorney Lloyd Green, a former member of the George H.W. Bush administration, said it’s good that 2013 is over—2012 was an election year and so “combative,” but 2013 was “acrid” and full of pointless argument. He’s looking forward to some political resolution in 2014. “Finally elections are in sight.” He’s thankful that this year “our country is doing better than it feels. The economy is haltingly expanding. We are ahead of much of Europe . . . this is a reason to raise a glass.”

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Richard Haass, the diplomat and author who this year marked 10 years as president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the world has some things to say for itself. “I am grateful that Pakistan didn’t fail, China and Japan didn’t go to war, the euro didn’t unravel, Jordan didn’t collapse under the weight of refugees, and the U.S. didn’t default.”

Those were good didn’ts. Here’s a good did.

Jeremy Shane, who runs an education foundation in Washington, found himself thinking this year of his native South Africa. When Nelson Mandela died, Mr. Shane remembered how all but fools thought apartheid wouldn’t end without “a bloodbath.” “And yet Mandela imagined, and with [ Frederik Willem ] de Klerk navigated,” a peaceful transition to majority rule. “What Mandela fashioned stands alone in the annals of national reconciliation in improbability and result.”

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The writer and public-policy thinker Yuval Levin also thought that 2013 was a “rather dismal year” but was happy to go “looking for the good.” He found it in teaching political philosophy to college-age and slightly older students. He was “deeply struck by the earnestness and intensity of their desire to understand the sources of the circumstances we are in,” and struck too by their search for “causes for confidence and hope.” The generation “now reaching maturity in America seems unlike its predecessors in the postwar era,” he wrote. They are “weighted down with heavier worries, surely, yet also relatively free of the childish fantasies imposed by the baby boomers on all who have followed in their wake.” This year he perceived a common “attitude” among those in their early 20s. “We’re dealing them a seriously deficient hand of cards, yet they seem (maybe as a result) more serious sand sober than I would have imagined.”

ABC News President Ben Sherwood also found a lot of good in 2013. “Boston gave us strength, the pope gave us humility, Mandela gave us wisdom, the Bat Kid gave us joy, Robin Roberts gave us resilience, and our troops gave us pride.”

And 2014? “The New Year gives us hope.”