What I Got Wrong, and Right, in 2013Ramesh Ponnuru
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) -- This time last year, I made about two dozen predictions for 2013.
Some of them came true: Both Republican Chris Christie and Democrat Terry McAuliffe won their elections for governor, in New Jersey and Virginia respectively. The U.S. Supreme Court managed to decide two cases about same-sex marriage without either affirming or denying that the Constitution requires governments to recognize it. Obamacare’s health-insurance exchanges weren’t open for business on Oct. 1.
Others didn’t pan out. The Assad regime did not fall in Syria. Kate Middleton did not have twins, sparing the World Wide Web from a crash. I thought Paul Ryan would find that staying in the House was incompatible with running for president, and assumed he would pick the latter. He seems to have made the opposite choice. Overall, I’d say you got your money’s worth for those predictions.
I waited until 14 weeks into President Barack Obama’s second term before announcing that it was starting to look like a failure. Obama’s fans among my e-mail correspondents did not commend me for my patience and restraint; nor did other journalists. At year’s end, though, the point I made has become the conventional wisdom. Obama’s fifth year may not have hit as low a point as Abraham Lincoln’s did, but it has gone badly enough. He has no major legislative success to tout. His poll numbers have dropped all year.
On the other hand, Republicans haven’t handed Obama major defeats either. It was Democrats, not Republicans, who killed the idea of restoring Bill Clinton’s assault-weapons ban. (That loss must have smarted for a president who seems to pride himself on having more liberal achievements than Clinton.)
A theme of this column during 2013 has been that Republicans should not obsess about beating Obama in climactic showdowns but rather do the more patient work of building a post-Obama conservatism. In July and again in August, I warned Republicans specifically that there was no way they could win a fight over a government shutdown, even in a cause as worthy as ending Obamacare. I didn’t persuade enough Republicans: The government shut down, Obamacare survived, and the Republicans sustained some political damage in return for nothing.
Another group of people I didn’t persuade this year were the justices of the Supreme Court. In June, I wrote that they should disappoint liberals and libertarians by letting the Defense of Marriage Act stand, and disappoint conservatives and libertarians by letting the Voting Rights Act stand. Instead they struck down provisions of each law, moved less by the Constitution than their sense that the laws were outdated. At least the libertarians were pleased.
The flaws of Obamacare, and better alternatives to it, were another theme of 2013. Republicans, I argued in August, did not need to “sabotage” the law by discouraging people from signing up; the law would do a fine job of sabotaging itself. That turned out to be even truer than I realized. I also underestimated how much of the law Obama was willing to suspend, delay or wiggle out of.
The column didn’t traffic only in criticism. In September, I applauded the Republican Study Committee -- a large group of conservatives in the U.S. House -- for advancing conservative legislation to replace Obamacare, while also offering some suggestions for improvement. I made the case that our tax system is structured in a way that unfairly burdens parents. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah agreed, proposing a remedy to the problem a few weeks later.
The Obama administration’s perverse crusade against school choice crested this summer, when it went to court against Louisiana’s program. I’m happy to be able to update my column on the subject by noting that the administration has backed off, although not as far as it should.
Every week, readers offered their reactions via e-mail. Some of their comments were thoughtful and informative. Others asked good questions. Still others were unprintable. My one piece of advice for readers who don’t like my columns: Using swear words about me in the first paragraph of a long missive is a pretty good strategy for making sure that the rest of it goes unread. I hope people at least feel better after sending those messages. (OK, that’s a lie.)
I’m keeping my predictions for next year to a minimum. At the end of September, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that success for Obamacare would mean “at least 7 million people” had signed up by March 2014. By her standard, Obamacare will be a failure. Other supporters of the law will define success downward. At least two Southern Democratic senators will lose their seats, thanks in large part to the health law. Wendy Davis will lose the race to be the next governor of Texas. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effect on inequality in New York City will be undetectable. And by this time next year, we will all be thoroughly sick of meaningless polls about the 2016 presidential race.
In the meantime: Thanks for reading me in 2013, and may 2014 fill your life with blessings.
(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at National Review.)
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