Politics & Policy

The Best and the Worst of 2013

Friends and family of NRO share their year-end lists.

National Review Online friends and family wrap up 2013 with highlights and lowlights.


Hunter Baker

The worst for America: I cannot help but choose the implementation of Obamacare. Remember, he embraced the term in 2012 (“because I DO care”). The impact of the awful rollout has been to severely damage support for the administration and to undercut public confidence in large government endeavors. Neither of those consequences is bad. The fear, uncertainty, and loss experienced by Americans because of ill-conceived legislation and incompetent management, however, are unrelievedly negative. Reformers have the responsibility of improving on the status quo. That isn’t happening.

The worst for me: I spent two months in the jury duty pool in my Tennessee town during which I had to call nightly to find out whether I’d be reporting for service. It reminded me that government power is necessarily extraordinary and for the same reason should be invoked only when absolutely needed.

Bad for America and developing: The unquestionable triumph of the new sexual orthodoxy and its effect on freedom. Are we going to settle the gay-marriage question on grounds of liberty or equality? If the answer is liberty, then political life will remain more tolerable as the Nozickian options multiply. If the answer is equality, we may trade up in terms of repression. Cases involving bakers and florists are not encouraging in this regard.

Seemingly bad, but with promise: The increasingly evident failure of MOOCs (massive open online courses) to transform education. Even MOOCmeister Sebastian Thrun has admitted that the 200,000-student-class option is not working well. The positive side is that universities are getting serious about cutting costs and innovating.

Bad for me and not all that promising, at least in terms of attitudes: Peter Thiel and Andy Kessler agreeing on Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge that a cheap IQ test is a reasonable substitute for a university education. I have to wonder whether Thiel really has such a low opinion of his learning experience at Stanford.

Good, even for a free-market evangelical: the papacy of Francis. The old Francis was one of those otherworldly people who pushed for the Church to reject worldliness and to return enthusiastically to Jesus Christ through acts of exceptional love. This Francis has moved many of us with public evidences that he has similar priorities. Here’s looking forward to many more reminders.

The best line I read in an interview all year: Lauralee Martin, chief of Americas for Jones Lang Lasalle, talking with the Wall Street Journal. Martin was asked to comment on her success in a male-dominated business and replied directly, “I will have to say that I haven’t personally spent a lot of time thinking about gender, and maybe that is why I have done well.” That’s a lot better than Sarah Palin’s 2008 rhetoric about all the cracks Hillary Clinton put into the glass ceiling.

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is dean of instruction and associate professor of political science at Union University. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student’s Guide.

Elaine Donnelly

One of the best political developments of the year was growing public awareness of the dishonesty and destructive consequences of Obamacare. This is the start of what could be a mighty political force across current partisan lines.

The worst developments were the painful consequences of that law. Millions are losing their medical insurance, choice of doctors, and financial health.

In addition, a troubling moment occurred when the December 14 New York Times gleefully headlined a front-page report on House Speaker John Boehner’s intemperate “jabs” at conservative groups. On the jump page was an even longer article about well-heeled corporate donors to Obama-connected activist “think tanks” such as the Center for American Progress. When the economic- and social-left groups unite and mobilize to defeat Republican candidates and conservative goals in 2014, who will have Speaker Boehner’s back? If Republican “strategists” can’t figure this out, the most promising developments of 2013 will be squandered and the worst problems continued for a long time to come.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

Jennifer Lahl

In my world of bioethics, good news is rare, but in 2013, California governor Jerry Brown handed us a welcomed veto. Fighting against large-money interests that sought to make it legal in California to pay women for their eggs for research purposes, Brown said “no!” In fact, he said, “Not everything in life is for sale nor should it be.”

The worst moment (sadly, there is a list I had to choose from), was the movement by Belgian lawmakers that would allow children to request euthanasia. It’s a dark day when those most vulnerable, who should be protected, are allowed and encouraged to request death.

Jennifer Lahl is president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.

Hugh Hewitt

The best thing about 2013 is the clarity it brought, about Obamacare, the president’s intentions regarding Iran, and the need to oppose with principled arguments both of the centerpiece policies of President Obama’s agenda.

The worst thing is the deepening investment of the Left in an obviously failed Obamacare fiasco, frozen by their internal politics into a terribly destructive doubling down on the fiasco. The silver lining is the setup the fiasco provides for the 2014 elections, but the cost in chaos in the lives of millions of ordinary Americans is staggeringly high.

The second-best thing about 2013 is Charles Krauthammer’s wonderful Things That Matter. Give copies to everyone you know. Organize clubs to read and discuss it, chapter by chapter.

The runner-up in the worst category is the refusal of MSM to analyze anything it is ideologically precommitted to: Hillary’s vast ineptitude at State — a reign of error that has left Libya, Syria, and Egypt in chaos and Israel imperiled — or the accelerating collapse of California’s Obamacare exchange CoveredCA.com. What the MSM doesn’t want to see it refuses to see and at the same time works to blind everyone to it as well.

Finally, the thing that cannot be analyzed but which is huge beyond saying is Pope Francis. His (and the Holy Spirit’s) direction for the Roman Catholic Church will be more fully revealed by the men he selects at the February 22 Consistory, and the right slate of choices could re-energize and reunify a frayed leadership that the world needs to see acting as one for all.

Hugh Hewitt is host of The Hugh Hewitt Show and author of the new book The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success.



The worst was the media neglect of the Kermit Gosnell trial in Philadelphia, contrasted with utter love for a Texas legislator and her pink sneakers standing against some restrictions on late-term abortions. For as long as we look away, we will have a grave deal to answer for.

The best was Pope Benedict’s news. Who steps away from power simply because it’s what he discerned in prayer was God’s will for him and His Church? A modern-day model of humility. And Bergoglio wasn’t exactly campaigning for the job when he was subsequently elected pope. Listen to that one. His message isn’t all what the media has been latching onto. It’s the radical stuff of the Gospel — renewing and saving souls and civilizations.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and director of Catholic Voices USA.


John McLaughlin

Worst political moment: Carlos Danger and his wife, Huma’s, press conference during the 2013 mayor’s race well after it was revealed that he had still been carrying on tweet-fairs with strange women well after he had been forced to resign from Congress for that very same reason. 

Runner-up: Secretary Clinton deflecting criticism over the murder of four Americans by al-Qaeda terrorists by asking what difference does it make. 

Best moment: Every time a poll comes out with a new record level of disapproval for President Obama. Because every vote for conservatives in 2014 and possibly in 2016 lies among those who disapprove of the job the president is doing on Obamacare, the economy, and national-security issues. Obama’s disapproval can’t go high enough, and the election can’t come quick enough. 

John McLaughlin is president of McLaughlin & Associates.


John J. Miller

Worst: The utter disaster of Obamacare and the way it is hurting millions of Americans.

Best: The sudden awareness among millions of Americans that Obamacare is a choice and that we have the power to undo it.

John J. Miller is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College in Michigan.


Russell D. Moore

I’m too Augustinian to see much of anything in the present age in neat “best” and “worst” categories. God is sovereign in bending history to glory even in the most horrific circumstances, and sin is all bound up even in our most hopeful achievements. As the Grateful Dead would put it, “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey.” So here are my best/worst moments of 2013, all mixed together, with varying degrees of good and bad in each.

Religious-liberty issues united a broad coalition. The bad news is that 2013 brought unprecedented challenges to our first freedom to exercise freely our religious convictions. The most egregious of these was, of course, the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate, which led to cases such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, both of which are headed to the Supreme Court. The HHS mandate was the most prominent of several cases where, either culturally or legally, the demands of the sexual revolution came into conflict with the freedom of conscience.

The good news is that an unprecedented, and in many cases unlikely, band of allies joined together to stand for religious liberty, ranging from Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics to Scientologists and agnostics. The debate has forced religious communities to reemphasize what many of us have always taught: that religious freedom isn’t a grant from Uncle Caesar; it’s a natural right given by God, and it applies to everyone.

The Supreme Court’s July decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, among other things, were bad news for social conservatives and probably worse news than some social conservatives want to admit. The opinions read, at least to me, like a Griswold-type foundation for a later attempt to find a right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution.

The good news is that this jolted some American Christians into seeing that basic Christian teachings are increasingly strange in American culture. That’s not unusual, since the Gospel rocketed out of a Roman imperial culture that found it kind of freakish to believe that a previously dead executed convict is alive and the rightful ruler of the cosmos. The shifting culture prompted churches to explain a deep and theologically rooted vision of marriage, grounded in the Christ/Church union, and a steeled resolve both to advocate natural marriage lovingly in the public square and to showcase a marriage culture within local congregations where we’ve too often surrendered to the cultural forces of cohabitation, divorce, and so on.

The pope transcended the culture-war divides by delighting and enraging, in turn, both the Left and the Right, sometimes confusing everybody in the process. I was concerned about an interview that seemed to toss aside the need for an atheist to believe in Christ, though Catholic friends tell me the translation was bogus. Beyond that, the pope seemed to shake off some of the more ostentatious trappings of pontifical life and embraced the poor and the sick and the guilt-ridden, even making personal phone calls to some in desperate situations. They tell me the pope is as steadfast as ever on the sanctity of human life and the centrality of the family, but he is a joyful warrior, emphasizing the good news of the Good News. As a Protestant, I don’t have a vote in all this, but, despite our differences, we can all learn to speak with convictional kindness. As Martin Luther, via Jay-Z, might say: I’ve got 95 problems with the papacy, but that ain’t one.

The plight of the persecuted church showed up in too many dark moments to recount, and sadly too few noticed. Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned unjustly in Iran. The ancient Christian Church faces extinction in Syria, reminiscent of what happened to the Christians in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. That’s all in addition to the ongoing persecution of Christians in overt forms in repressive regimes such as China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, and in covert forms in Russia and even in Western Europe.

The good news is that the Church seems to be awakening to the suffering of Christians around the world, a push for Internet freedom offers the possibility of connecting believers to one another and bypassing the various thugocracies, and persecutors just never seem to learn that it takes more firepower than they’ve got to tear down the house that Jesus is building. Plus, the persecuted Church is teaching Western Christianity what the cross-bearing genuine-article Gospel is, as opposed to the grinning Baalism of the prosperity-gospel hucksters.

The death of Nelson Mandela reminded us of the fall of apartheid and how, as in the collapse of the Soviet empire, sometimes we get to see justice win out over injustice, though we still, of course, have a long way to go in tearing down divisions among ourselves.

Congress ended the year without fixing our broken immigration system, but a consensus seems to be building in this country that we ought to secure the border, hold employers accountable, and find some way for law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants to make things right. We disagree on how exactly to get there, but very few people are calling for a blanket, unaccountable “amnesty” on the one hand, or mass deportation on the other.

Some things happened of which not even I can find the good side. The Office went off the air. George Jones, the dean of honky-tonk music, died, and who’s going to fill his shoes? iOS7. Mayor Rob Ford. Anthony Weiner, whether mayor or not. My 87-year-old grandmother asked me to explain to her what “twerking” is.

And, in a year of transition to this new position, I promised my weepy children that I would buy them a dog, to make the move to a new city easier. I haven’t yet, hoping that, if I wait it out long enough, they’ll forget. But, hey, at least they can always keep their health-care plans, if they like them.

— Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.


Michael J. New

Best: The election of Pope Francis. Through his humility, his piety, and his example, the new pope is inspiring not only Roman Catholics but people of all faith traditions to greater faith and holiness.

Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Pirates experienced a Major League Baseball–record 20 straight losing seasons between 1993 and 2012. Their success this year should give sports fans everywhere reason for hope.

Worst: Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster of the 20-week abortion ban. It is hard to say what is worse, a Texas state senator mounting an extensive filibuster to defend a practice that approaches infanticide or the fawning coverage that she received from the mainstream media. Even though pro-lifers are winning the hearts and minds of the American people, this episode clearly demonstrated how one-sided the mainstream media is on this issue.

The Kermit Gosnell trial. This whole episode showed how legal abortion greatly corrupts public health. The polarizing nature of the issue allowed Gosnell’s deplorable clinic to go virtually unregulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Similarly, the National Abortion Federation, which was aware of the unsanitary conditions and public-health risks, remained virtually silent. This inaction gravely harmed a number of vulnerable women and children.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at University of Michigan–Dearborn and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.



Worst moment: On 9/11, in an article ghost-written by an American public-relations firm, Vladimir Putin scolded President Obama for alluding to American exceptionalism: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” It was galling to see a former KGB thug lecture Americans about our ideals, and disturbing to ponder why he thought he could taunt us this way.

Best moment: The finale to Breaking Bad, an emotionally satisfying conclusion that resolved multiple plotlines. More important, the series made a point about the consequences of choosing evil. After Walter White decided to cook meth, things spiraled out of control, and many people died. The first line of the closing song, playing over Walt’s death, said it all: “Guess I got what I deserve#…”

— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.



The best of 2013: In terms of politics, we’ve had one big win: Americans’ distrust in big government is at an all-time high. And thankfully, a forward-thinking, creative, solution-oriented conservatism is gaining steam. (It’s our only way out of the “establishment vs. tea partiers” divide, and it deserves our support.)

The American people successfully defended our Second Amendment from liberal assault, despite a full-court press from the administration and its allies on Capitol Hill and in the media.

I’m also happy that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is enjoying apparent good health: Let’s hope she stays hard at work another three years!

And for fans of Homeland: The last few episodes of the seasons were thrilling; and for those of us who can’t stand Dana, it looks like she might finally be out of the picture (unless a plotline with her half-sibling pulls her back in).

The worst of 2013: The bad news is that our government has given us a lot of reasons for our distrust. The IRS scandal proved that nearly everything we feared about it is true. People who believed the president’s emphatic assurances that they could keep their health insurance got a rude awakening.

And there were a lot of shameful moments, too, such as when the administration chose to lock WWII veterans out of their own memorial, or when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid commented, “Why would we want to” help one kid with cancer?

Long-term unemployment remains a huge problem, and the president isn’t offering any solutions. The country deserves better next year.

April Ponnuru is the policy director of YG Network.


Hans von Spakovsky

The saddest moment was the passing of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, on April 8. She and her friend Ronald Reagan were two of the greatest statesmen in recent history. They led the fight for liberty and economic freedom not only in their own countries, but in the rest of the world. There are tens of millions of people who were once imprisoned in the Eastern bloc who owe their freedom today to the leadership of Lady Thatcher and President Reagan and their willingness to confront the forces of evil head on.

The most tragic and infuriating moment was the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon on April 15 that killed three Americans and wounded 264 others. Tragic because of the needless pain and suffering inflicted on the innocent and infuriating because of 1) the negligence of our own government, which ignored warnings from the Russians about one of the bombers, and 2) the betrayal by ungrateful immigrants who had been welcomed to this country.

Contrary to the political-consultancy naysayers in Washington, I think one of the best political moments was the Republicans’ standing up for their principles and risking popular discontent by taking on the president and his party in trying to defund one of the worst, most unpopular laws ever passed by Congress: Obamacare.

Finally, on the international front, it was a good moment when the military deposed Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in July and stopped the implementation of a terrorist, Muslim Brotherhood caliphate. This helped reverse the ineptness of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and its tolerance of dangerous, theocratic tyrannies.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the co-author of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books 2012).



The worst moment of 2013 was Obama’s interim nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The nuclear deal profoundly jeopardizes core security interests of the U.S. and opens nuclear-brinkmanship doors in the volatile Middle East.

The best moment of 2013 was Pastor Eddie Romero’s protest in front of Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. He sought the release of four Christians incarcerated for practicing their faith and a human-rights advocate.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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