Here we go again, hearing those of us with inflated egos predict what will happen in the next 12 months. The year 2013 confirmed this column’s thesis that today’s politicians will sacrifice their countries for electoral advantage. Bad things predicted, happened. No good things were predicted and none happened.
America’s fortunes in 2014 will depend on the restoration of credibility to the Republican Party. The GOP has slowly come to the realization that it’s ‘big tent” cannot contain its three wildly opposed factions, even if all can be called “reactionary” – not used as a derogative. Look it up.
A political dictionary defines “reactionaries” as those who want want to restore a previous time; “conservatives” advocate maintaining the status quo and “progressives” want to overturn the status quo and strike out in new directions. The first two definitions fit Republicans and Democrats perfectly; I cannot find any real “progressives.”
The “Establishment” leadership of the GOP mounted two reactionary “tigers” to ride to power because they brought an enthusiasm and motivation the Establishment could not generate on its own. (Protecting corporate boardroom compensation and deregulating banks lacks mass appeal.)
The first tiger, the “values group” for shorthand, inspires its partisans with a vision of return to the happy days of an all-white America, with blacks, sex, and drugs kept out of sight. Abortion, gay marriage, guns, and the banning of Christmas symbols on public property motivate them. They mostly abandoned the Democratic Party and moved into the GOP over civil rights.
The other tiger, the libertarians, believe that nirvana can be accomplished only in a society devoid of government-imposed order, without taxes or public welfare programs.
The Establishment pines for a return to the 1920s with high profits for owners and shareholders enabled by low workers’ wages, low taxes, and minimum regulation.
The two “tigers” joined forces in the Tea Party, a loose alliance of very inspired, highly motivated and determined voters. The will to power also inspired the tigers to paper over the fact that libertarians oppose government supervision of bedrooms while the values voters oppose only government programs that benefit nonwhites.
At the end of 2013, the Establishment realized it was about to suffer the fate of everyone who has ever ridden the tiger: becoming lunch.
By the end of 2013 it became blindingly obvious that Tea Party dominance might not only bankrupt the United States and the businesses which depend on it, but would also doom the GOP to long-term insignificance in the face of changing demographics and growing income inequality.
House Majority Leader John Boehner and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the face of the Establishment, struck back at the end of 2013 with a threat to take back the GOP.
The future of American politics now depends on how this internal confrontation plays out. If the Establishment vanquishes the Tea Party, it will restore the Grand Old Party as a credible political brand. If the Tea Party wins, the GOP and the United States will continue its long-term stagnation.
Without a credible opposition, the Democratic Party has no incentive to evolve or innovate. Today’s Democrats devotes their efforts to mindlessly preserving the status quo. Obamacare could have been crafted as a radical innovation in the way we provide healthcare to our citizens.
Instead, Democratic conservatism and Republican negativity guaranteed that, despite making a significant improvement in coverage, the need to protect the many interests groups invested in “market-based solutions,” would make Obamacare so complex and unwieldy that the insurance companies and trial lawyers would be the biggest winners.
(Those who believe in “market-based” solutions to healthcare should ask themselves just how much role the market plays in deciding towards which hospital the ambulance carrying you from a life-threatening accident should drive).
As the GOP withers, the Democratic Party will grow because it has mastered the art of preserving something for everyone while the Republicans continue to exclude anyone who doesn’t look like them.
Foreign affairs represent one of the few bright hopes for 2014. Secretary of State John Kerry has reached the pinnacle of his career and, concerned primarily with his legacy, has demonstrated he will act on behalf of his country without worrying about the next elections. In the last nine months, he has accomplished the unachievable.
He initiated a process with the Russians that provides the only hope of stopping the Syrian civil war before it destabilizes the entire Middle East. The interim nuclear agreement with Iran has opened the possibility of returning that key country to its normal place in history.
Restarting the Israel-Palestinian peace talks was important; keeping them alive despite desperate efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his partisans in Congress is mind-boggling. With luck, we have a 50-50 chance of real progress in those three areas by the end of 2014. No one could have predicted that a year ago.
Finally, alas poor Greece. An 18th Century French diplomat speaking of the Bourbons could be describing 2013 Greece. “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”
Rolling over a debt Greece cannot repay while a small coterie of corrupt businessmen and corrupt union leaders control a political system dependent on them for its survival will prevent any chance of recovery. If elections were to be held in 2014, SYRIZA and Golden Dawn could well win two of the three top spots.
Hopefully, the fear of such an outcome may change enough minds in Greece (and Europe) to bring about the radical changes needed to rescue the Old Country.
Hang on, this will be a roller coaster year.