So here we are again, staring into the abyss of a New Year. From the perspective of Dec. 31, the only worthwhile question is — to paraphrase a dead Woody Allen channeling Leo Tolstoy in the classic comedy “Love and Death” — have we learned anything?
Quite a lot, actually.
We have learned, or more appropriately re-learned, that H. L. Menken and P. T. Barnum were both right: the credulity of some Americans is difficult to overestimate. It may be a politician’s promise that, without any real change or inconvenience to the insured, tens of millions of additional Americans can receive more and better health care at a lower cost to everyone, a clear violation of the laws of economics and common sense. It may be an argument that, to discourage future lawlessness, present scofflaws must be forgiven, lionized and courted for political advantage. It may be the thought that a 1 percent reduction in federal spending will create economic catastrophe and human tragedy unseen since the Fall of Rome; or that we must destroy the world’s most productive economy to save the planet for our competitors. It may be as simple as the president denying that he said what he was recorded saying many times. Rest assured a substantial number of Americans will nod stupidly in agreement, no matter how brazen the lie.
We’ve also learned that so-called public employees don’t have much respect for their employers. From public school teachers of Douglas County to state employees in Wisconsin; from legislators under Denver’s Golden Dome to senators and congressmen in Washington; they are all possessed of a remarkable sense of entitlement and disdain for the common folk. A sense of noblesse oblige permeates their work on behalf of the rest of us, poor creatures who are less intelligent, less well-informed and less beautiful than they. Our job is to say “thank you” in an awed tone, tug our forelocks, shut up and pay up. We’ve been made aware once more that everything imaginable, from the size of a soda to a child’s lemonade stand to a first-grader’s fingers or an innocent crush, is fair game in these bureaucrats’ lust for control. All for our own good, naturally.
We’ve learned that there is nothing on Earth; not banking, not food, not automobiles, family life, mass murder, baking or pet ownership, that cannot be made worse by the diligent application of lawyers.
We’ve been reminded that it is part of the human condition to care for one another and that all the material goods in the world will not fill an empty heart. But as economic basket cases from Greece to Cuba to North Korea also show, government is a poor provider at best and punishing the productive to make members of fashionable groups comfortable is a recipe for the impoverishment of all.
2013 gave us yet more evidence of human beings’ capacity to inflict suffering on each other. It told us again that evil is a reality and that left to itself, barbarous cruelty will metastasize and triumph, whether in Syria or Sudan, Cincinnati or Centennial.
We’ve been given ample evidence that “change,” no matter how fervently we believe in it, is not necessarily for the better.
Like Pandora’s box, 2013 wasn’t all bad. In the aftermath of September’s destructive floods, we saw an outpouring of support from Coloradoans motivated by the simple desire to help one’s neighbors. 2013 also saw a modest resurgence of common sense in politics via a sound rejection of the argument that all educational problems can be solved with an avalanche of cash.
Reason, too, seems to be making a comeback in politics. Ever so slowly an understanding seems to be dawning that government may not be able to solve all problems, no matter how good its intentions, and that negative consequences attend every policy, no matter how big-hearted. There are also whispers in Washington to the effect that Democrats might have a little something to do with the gridlock in Congress; the “all Tea Party, all the time” narrative seems less and less to comport with the facts. One might even hope that eventually, a reporter will find the courage to ask the president why he acts as though his policies and his appointees have had nothing to do with the country’s dismal economic performance and parlous international reputation, five years into his presidency.
I know it’s implausible, but what’s a New Year for if not the dreaming of extraordinary dreams?
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.