Commentary on current events, politics, government, and popular culture from John Sheirer, author of the book, Make Common Sense Common Again.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

An Optimistic Look at 2013

I recently told a friend that I planned to write about the good news of 2013, and he asked, "Was there any?" Actually … yes.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a liberal. But sometimes I have to help define "liberal" in the wake of decades-long right-wing attacks on the term. Liberalism is optimistic at its core, which is at odds with current political pessimism. But liberals see the good in people and the potential for good government as "we the people." Yes, we see the reality that not everything in the world is wonderful, but we don't ignore the positive.

And 2013 saw far more positives than the typical news reports would lead us to believe.

Topping the year's list of good news is Obamacare. Yes, that's correct. Obamacare is good news! The over-criticized website is vastly improved after only two months. Consumer Reports calls it "terrific." The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the law has already saved hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally predicted. And, best of all, the insurance exchanges are helping Americans all over the nation get affordable coverage.

In blue states that cooperated with the new law by setting up state exchanges and accepting the federally funded Medicaid expansion, Obamcare has thrived. Even in red state Kentucky, where the governor is a Democrat, the law is a big success. Hundreds of thousands of uninsured people nationwide have already signed up for insurance, and millions more will follow.

Now that people are actually getting insurance through Obamacare, Republicans in Congress might finally abandon their nonsensical fake-repeal efforts. It's one thing to vote nearly four dozen times for symbolic repeal, but it's completely different to try to take actual health insurance away from people who vote.

Can you imagine the positive impact if Republicans had helped instead of obstructed, and if the media had done its job? Initial reports about the people being hurt by Obamacare were a combination of sloppy journalism and right-wing propaganda. The thousands of Obamacare "good news" stories hardly get covered because they don't fit the narrative that "If it bleeds, it leads." Attacks generate ratings far better than reporting that a government program is actually helping people.

The good news is that the attacks were debunked within days. The people wailing about losing their coverage got better policies for less money through Obamacare. In the reality where human being actually live outside the 24-hour news cycle, the vast majority of Americans will pay less or be unaffected under Obamacare. Only 1-3% of Americans might have to pay more--while getting far better coverage than the junk policies they had before. Unfortunately, the media counts on people remembering the attacks and ignoring the corrections.

The law has actually been providing good news for several years now, curbing insurance company abuses with common-sense regulations, such as 80% of premiums go toward actual heath care, not being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and women not being discriminated against or forced to pay more for insurance. Basic regulations might not be as gripping a headline as made-up death panels, but they're fantastic victories for everyday citizens trying to navigate the David and Goliath world of health care.

Despite the negative media narrative, the public is actually optimistic about Obamacare. A recent CNN/ORC poll showed that 54% of Americans favored the law or wanted it to do more, while only 40% opposed it. More good news about the start-up of Obamacare is that people are again discussing single-payer reform, something that has a far better chance to become a reality in the foreseeable future because of Obamacare's 2013 advances.

There's other good news on the foreign policy front, as the nation overcame extremely difficult circumstances in Syria and Iran. The media would have us believe that President Obama lucked into the Syria deal or that the Iran deal was just an attempt to distract from initial problems with Obamacare. That's just unrealistic pessimism.

In reality, both the Syria and Iran deals resulted from long-term diplomatic efforts conducted outside media scrutiny. The president, Secretary of State John Kerry, and countless diplomats worked against deep resistance to broker groundbreaking deals and avoid the military actions so many right-wing voices have cheered.

The early benefits are heartening: Syria's chemical weapons facilities have already been destroyed, and Iran recently invited independent nuclear inspectors into their nation, outcomes even the most optimistic observers wouldn't have predicted. These are victories far more meaningful than a million bombs dropped on foreign soil.

In judicial matters, the Supreme Court made a landmark marriage-equality ruling, taking some of the sting out of the terrible Voting Rights Act decision. Several new states have followed our New England lead by legalizing same-sex marriage. The court's ruling was especially important because it should pave the way for legalization in more states. Also, federal benefits are now legally guaranteed to same-sex couples no matter where they live. Even Texas now recognizes same-sex couple military benefits, something that would have seemed impossible just a year ago.

At the voting booth, the 2013 off-off-year elections saw much good news at the state and local levels. Democrats swept statewide elections in the swing state of Virginia, defeating a slate of far-right candidates. New York elected a liberal mayor, as did Charlotte, Dayton, and Houston. New Jersey residents were confused enough to reelect Republican Chris Christie, but they resoundingly overturned Christie's earlier veto of a minimum wage increase.

In economic news, the unemployment rate just dropped to 7%, the lowest since the economic crash five year ago. The nation has had 45 straight months of private sector job growth, a start contrast to the millions of jobs lost as the economy fell like lead through pudding at the end of the Bush presidency. And the stock market seems to hit a new record high every other day.

The economy should and could have been far better this year, as it should have been in previous years. The 2013 improvements would have been far greater if Republicans had not obstructed every job-creating measure simply because they view economic improvements as a political victory for the president instead of something everyone wants and needs.

The year 2013 has been a bit like the classic question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. Republicans believe the glass once contained shining water on a hill but is now contaminated by socialist fluoridation. The tea party variety of Republican believes lazy, brown-skinned poor people, aided by their Kenyan president, are drinking all their hard-earned water. Liberals see 2013 as a glass half full. Yes, we see a layer of scum on top of the water, but that's what the 2014 elections should be all about: skimming the scum.

One aspect of being an optimist is that you must be a realist first. Yes, the reality of 2013 had many shortcomings. I won't name them here because they dominated the media's fascination with negativity. When optimists see the reality of 2013's problems, we acknowledge that bad things happened, but we go a step further and ask how we can solve those problems. Being a liberal optimist isn't about making up good things--it's about accomplishing good things.

Nelson Mandela once said, "I am fundamentally an optimist." After 27 years of unjust imprisonment, he had every reason to turn to pessimism. Being optimistic about 2013 is hard work, no doubt, considering everything that needs improvement. But liberals are optimists who never shy away from the hard work of making the world a better place.

And here's one last bit of good news: Right here in my hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the most liberal places in the country but with its own stubborn pockets of old New England conservatism, our most progressive candidates swept every city council election for the first time in years. If that's not reason to celebrate, I don't know what is.


John Sheirer is the author of the book Tales of a Real AmericanLiberal and an administrator of the popular Facebook page by the same name. His new book is Libby Speaks: The Wit and Wisdom of the World's Wisest Dog. He can be found at

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