Saturday night found us driving along the Massachusetts Turnpike in a snowstorm — an experience that put me in mind of the current political climate, as traffic slowed to a crawl, snow covering the road markers, the horizon shrinking to a haze made up of a maddening bombardment of endless particles, which cumulatively were turning a pleasant trip into a humdinger of suspense and anxiety. We kept passing cars that had spun off the road, if not over a fiscal cliff then at least into ditches and guardrails — these accidents surrounded by flashing lights of authorities who had arrived to help, but were themselves creating fresh hazards, as the drivers who were sliding by turned to gawk. If there were snowplows in the vicinity, they were scarce where actually needed.
Writ large and often violent, so it’s gone with the 2012 leg of the grand political odyssey upon which, willy-nilly, we are all embarked. This was the year in which the Arab uprisings spawned a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, and led in Libya to the burning of a U.S.diplomatic post and the murder — the first in 30 years — of an American ambassador. In Syria, where the U.S. has largely stood aside, leaving the conflict to be shaped by contingents of Sunni Islamists on one side, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the other, the carnage is now heading toward the two-year mark, with tens of thousands dead. The year ends with such portents as Russian potentate Vladimir Putin avenging himself on human rights crusaders by banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Iran, swaddled in sanctions, continues to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran’s partner in proliferation, North Korea, having just conducted its most successful ballistic missile test yet, is now reported as ready to conduct its third nuclear test. Meanwhile, in Washington, the erstwhile colossal crisis of the hour is the so-called fiscal cliff — a scene that is dwarfed by the real perils of an American government expanding and spending at rates that invite not a fiscal cliff (if such it is), but an economic tsunami, with knock-on effects in foreign policy, because an America that cannot afford a strong defense is an America inviting attack.
So, where is this all going? Sometimes there are ways to make it safely through the storm, whether by being prepared to deal with bad roads, or in some cases changing course entirely. Usually, it helps to have a plan. Some possibilities for the year ahead:
1) Could 2013 be the year that Americans finally begin to recall the virtues of capitalism? This was a theme too much missing from a 2012 presidential race, in which there was plenty of wrangling over who might “create” how many jobs, and too little focus on how free markets give people the opportunity to create their own jobs, and in the process build a society of wealth and freedom. Will there come a point at which the growing burdens of regulations and taxes inspire enough Americans to rethink where this country is going, and decide they would rather be Free to Choose?
2) The collapse of the regimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea… possibly even China? Yes, I know, year after year such possibilities are raised. And then it doesn’t happen — though Syria’s Assad does seem to be increasingly pushed to the edge. But, as with the Soviet Union’s collapse 21 years ago, there can come a season when these things happen, and when they do, they tend to go fast. The big question here is: Is America ready to respond? What is the end game? Should these governments fall, implode, be driven aside by their own people, will Washington just stand aside and bear “witness”? Will America again defer to the feckless United Nations? Or will there be a serious re-awakening of American leadership, and a determination that the 21st century will be a time not of growing shadows and weakness, but of freedom and enlightenment?
On both these fronts, domestic and foreign (inseparable these days, really), it too often seems right now that by the little guy, nothing much can be done. Perhaps the most important bottom line in girding for 2013 is, if you care about capitalism and freedom, about a strong America and a safer, freer world, do not give up. There is a struggle of ideas going on here; and even when much seems lost — spun off the road, over the cliff — plenty may yet depend on even a few who keep the faith, and at the right moment, are ready with a plan.