See you next year!

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Give Politicians Credit for Good Things in 2014

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I’ll be off until the new year, so I'm leaving you a gift: some end-of-year reasons for optimism about U.S. government and its institutions.

-- The national political press is far better than it has ever been, and it’s improving rapidly. The sites that started and grew in 2014 -- Vox and FiveThirtyEight especially -- are terrific. So is the Upshot at the New York Times, and various mini-sites and blogs at the Washington Post. (Hey, us too: Bloomberg Politics had a very promising debut, and we here at View get stronger and stronger.)

There is still a ton of junk out there. The cable news networks remain mostly a disaster. State and local coverage is already impoverished with little reason to hope things will get better. But compare national elections and governing coverage now with what it was 20 or 40 or 60 years ago, and it isn't even close. 

-- We have judges! The political system functioned well enough to bring the number of judicial vacancies to less than 40. Yes, this is a peak that won't be sustained, and the creation of new judicial seats lags behind population growth. But Barack Obama and Democratic senators helped by making a priority of filling the jobs. (Majority-imposed rule changes in the Senate majority -- the "nuclear option" -- made a difference, but probably only in a few cases.) 

-- The much-maligned U.S. political system seems to have, once again, produced some decent economic results. Growth and employment are up, and the stock market is strong. While it may be hard to defend overall U.S. economic results over the last decade, it isn't as if everyone else is doing better. Perhaps the doom and gloom about gridlock and about a supposedly antiquated political system overlooked some strengths of having a government of separated institutions sharing powers. 

-- The presidential nominating process the two major parties use is in good shape. Odds are the 2016 nominations will be decided in the next 12 months, and odds are that both parties will produce someone they won’t be too ashamed of. Sure, we may get some craziness along the way, but Republicans aren’t going to be nominating a presidential-level version of a Todd Akin or Christine O’Donnell. Republicans also appear to be learning how to avoid doing that at the statewide level too. 

-- I’m still pessimistic about the Republican Party's capacity for participation in governing. But I'll end with some optimism about them, too. Perhaps, given the Republican landslides in many states, we’ll get some governors and state legislators who choose governing over making symbolic gestures and playing to the conservative marketplace, and perhaps their successes will filter up to the national level. Plenty of Republican politicians would like to take governing seriously. In some states, the incentives may play out in their favor. That would be good news in 2015. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net