Scheduling Note: Of Politics and Men will be off through the new year. Have a great holiday season and a happy new year! See you in 2014. – Vox
Suddenly, 2014 is upon us. New year. Similar issues. Familiar players. But before we set our sights on the battles and controversies to come, let’s cast our gaze backwards on the year that was. 2013 promised to be a politically consequential year, and it lived up to its billing. The following is Of Politics and Men‘s take on the most significant political peaks and valleys from the past calendar year.
- Big Love. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, an iconic decision that signals the end of one era of equal protection jurisprudence and the start of another. The Court also dismissed a case regarding California’s Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in Hollingsworth v. Perry, making same-sex marriage legal again in California. Numerous states, either by ballot measure or through court decision, legalized same-sex marriage. The recent ruling by New Mexico’s Supreme Court made the state the 17th in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage, and a federal judges ruling on December 20 that Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage “conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law” may be a harbinger for bigger things to come.
Read: All Eyes on Kennedy.
- Voting Rights Setback. The same may be said of Shelby County v. Holder. In Shelby, Justice Roberts effectively declared racism over in jurisdictions where voting laws have long been marked by racial prejudice. The Court invoked the 10th Amendment to argue that the Voting Rights Act “sharply departs” from the principle of states’ rights, and concluded that times have changed: the formulas that govern singling out one state from another for different treatment, which once “made sense,” have lost their relevance, and “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” After the Shelby decision was handed down, Republican legislatures aggressively moved ahead with restrictive voting laws designed to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.
- National Security vs. Individual Liberty. Disloyal government contractor Edward Snowden “revealed” to the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) is incessantly snooping on your telephone calls and Internet activity. Earlier this month, executives from top American tech companies – including Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, AOL, and Microsoft – wrote an open letter to the Obama Administration demanding an end to the NSA’s program. “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Government have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it,” wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president. The leaks from Snowden didn’t stop, and on December 16, a federal judge ruled that the NSA program likely violates the U.S. Constitution.
- The Obamacare Rollout. The Obama Administration was severely criticized for the botched rollout of the federal health-care website, which began on October 1. Despite the continuing need for health-care reform in the United States, the website became a technical and PR disaster for the White House. For two months, the Obama Administration was inundated with bad story after bad story. But since then, the website has been “vastly improved” and there has been a surge in enrollment. Through November, almost 1.2 million people enrolled nationwide (roughly 365,000 in private insurance and 803,000 in Medicaid). Enrollment continued to surge in December ahead of the the first major enrollment deadline. States running their own insurance exchanges have reported a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in sign-ups in the past few weeks.
Read: The Continued Case for Health Care Reform.
Read: The Political Storm Over Health Care Reform.
Read: Two Minute Drill: Examining the Obamacare Enrollment Numbers.
Read: Two Minute Drill: Your Health Insurance Plan is Cancelled.
- Federal Government Shutdown. House Republicans shut down the federal government after vowing they wouldn’t support any legislation funding the government unless Democrats acquiesced to repealing or delaying President Obama’s health care law. Democrats and the White House didn’t flinch, leading to the closure of federal parks and national monuments, and the furlough of hundreds of thousands of government employees. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the 16-day shutdown cost taxpayers about $2 billion in lost productivity. Financial services company Standard & Poor was more pessimistic, estimating that the shutdown took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent. What did the Republican Party gain from this charade? Nothing. In fact, the GOP took it on the chin: a mid-October Gallup poll revealed the GOP’s favorability/unfavorability rating was at an all-time low.
- Congressional Inaction. The 113th Congress is on pace to be the least productive Congress in American history. Although Congress finally passed a bipartisan budget agreement, it failed to pass even the most routine legislation (e.g. a farm bill) and left unaddressed the most urgent areas of concern in this country (e.g. immigration reform and gun control).
- Syria’s Chemical Weapons. In August, the Assad regime was accused of violating a “red line” for the United States and launching a chemical-weapons attack on its own people, killing more than a thousand people. A retaliatory strike from the United States seemed imminent, until President Obama reversed course and asked Congress to approve a resolution authorizing force. Congress was on the verge of voting down the resolution, but the administration quickly caught a break when Russia expressed its support of Secretary of State John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remark to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons stockpile. By late October, the Syrian regime “completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants,” according the Joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the organization that one this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
- Diplomacy in Action. President Obama repeatedly pledged during the 2008 campaign to reach out to America’s enemies and speak out to any foreign leader without preconditions. Beneath the avalanche of domestic and global economic problems and the continuing war on terror, however, that promise floundered. But in September, the first tangible sign of a nuclear deal with Iran emerged after more than three decades of hostility. And in November, six world powers and Tehran reached an agreement that calls on Iran to limit its nuclear activities in return for lighter sanctions. The shift from an American foreign policy spearheaded by military might to one which embraces diplomacy was dramatic. We will find out how historic the breakthrough really is when the preliminary agreement hammered out in Geneva, Switzerland expires in a few short months. But one thing is abundantly clear: this deal likely would not have been reached had the presidential elections in the United States (2012) and Iran (2013) ended differently.
Long Reads for the Holidays
Don’t be without reading material during the break. Here are five of the best long-reads from around the web for your holiday enjoyment.
- “In my yard, the Shooter told his story about joining the Navy at nineteen, after a girl broke his heart. To escape, he almost by accident found himself in a Navy recruiter’s office. . . . ‘That’s the reason Al Qaeda has been decimated,’ he joked, ‘because she broke my fucking heart.'” Phil Bronstein: The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden.
- “With the canyon walls squeezing the sky to a ribbon of blue, we didn’t see the thunderhead until it was nearly on top of us.” Adam Fisher: Google’s Road Map to Global Domination.
- “He was a charming kid with a bright future. But no one saw the pain he was hiding or the monster he would become.” A portrait of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Janet Reitman: Jahar’s World.
- “Raised by two drug addicts with virtually unlimited wealth, Georgina and Patterson survived a gilded childhood that was also a horror story of Dickensian neglect and abuse. They were globe-trotting trust fund babies who snorkeled in Fiji, owned a pet lion cub and considered it normal to bring loose diamonds to elementary school for show and tell. And yet they spent their childhoods inhaling freebase fumes, locked in cellars and deadbolted into their bedrooms at night in the secluded Wyoming mountains and on their ancestral South Carolina plantation.” Sabrina Rubin Erdely: The Poorest Rich Kids in the World.
- “Among his peers, he is widely considered the best in the world at what he does, which is taking things from people’s jackets, pants, purses, wrists, fingers, and necks, then returning them in amusing and mind-boggling ways. Robbins works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side of the law.” Adam Green: A Pickpocket’s Tale.
Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
**Featured Image Credit: mel5545 on Flickr.’