Election years are always crazy years for American politics. They're not always Clint-Eastwood-talking-to-an-empty-chair crazy, though. Nor are they, as a rule, "legitimate rape"- or "binders full of women"- or "fiscal cliff"- or "austerity"- crazy, that is, so crazy that one requires a Crazy-to-English translator to watch the evening news. And although American politics is never particularly kind to women, the poor and minorities, 2012 sure made a bad situation worse for many of them/us. In a word: Malarkey!
This year, I've restricted my look-back at 2012 to American politics only, despite the fact that some pretty amazing things were happening elsewhere. (See Mohamed Morsi's election in Egypt, the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmad Jabar by Israeli state forces, the escalation of violence in Syria, the rise of China's new President Xi Jinping, the devastation of typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, the "Idle No More" protest movement among our neighbors to the North, and deep conflict over austerity measures in Greece and Spain.) There are always too many things to cover, so I grouped my retrospective picks into four categories: the War on Women, Guns, SCOTUS and the Presidential Election. If you want to hear about the so-called fiscal cliff, you'll just have to wait until next year's list.
Here it is, the 2012 Year in Politics:
War on Women, Part I: Sandra Fluke
Back in February, as Congress debated the merits and demerits of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives, a Georgetown University law student named Sandra Fluke gave a speech to House Democrats in support of the measure. Fluke's (entirely reasonable) position was that access to safe and affordable contraceptives is not only a fundamental necessity for women's health but also a pretty hefty benefit for the rest of society, too. Shortly thereafter, conservative radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," claiming that her appeal for contraceptive coverage was the same as as asking "to be paid for sex." A nation of women rolled their eyes. I mean, this was Rush Limbaugh after all. How much harm could a buffoon like that do? How representative, really, are his views? Fluke weathered the storm with grace and aplomb-- she was later nominated by Time magazine for Person of the Year-- but the Fluke Affair definitely put women on their heels to start off 2012. Oh, if only we had known then what the rest of the year was to bring...
War on Women, Part II: Legitimate Rape
The deeply twisted logic of Limbaugh's filleting of Fluke began to make a bit more "sense" later in the year when Republicans across the nation began saying what can only be described as BAT SH*T CRAZY things about rape, pregnancy, abortion, and all manner of other issues related to women's bodies and reproductive systems. One of the most egregious of these was the claim by U.S. representative Todd Akin of Missouri that pregnancy from rape rarely occurs in the case of what he called "legitimate rape." (Full quote: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Watch Akin's interview here.) Instead of proceeding quickly and calmly in the opposite direction of Akin, which would have been the not crazy thing to do, other socially conservative Republicans flocked to him. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, in what I can only assume was an attempt to redeem Akin's utterly non-scientific reflections on the relationship between sex and pregnancy, acknowledged that well, yes, rape does sometimes result in pregnancy... but when it does, that pregnancy is "something God intended." A nation of women rolled their eyes again, but this time they were a bit more aggravated. C'mon, guys, this is twice in the same year!
War on Women, Part III: Unhappy Females
At first it seemed like an unfortunate coincidence, then a kind of amusing debate-coach blindspot, then a little more like a regrettable faux pas, and finally like an outright conspiracy... but whatever it was, there was something definitively thematic about the way the Presidential candidates talked about the women they met "on the campaign trail." Namely, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE WOMEN WAS UNHAPPY. (Videos of the debates are here, here and here.) It didn't seem to make any difference what point the candidates were trying to illustrate, they had met a woman on the campaign trail whose unhappiness was illustrative. After the umpteenth repetition of the unhappy female trope, even I had to chuckle at it. Did either of them ever meet a happy female? And, if they hadn't, maybe the most illustrative point they should have be relaying was that WOMEN IN THIS COUNTRY ARE UNHAPPY. I'd like to say women across the nation rolled their eyes, which I'm sure they did, but that would just reinforce the rhetorical nonsense of the candidates. Sigh.
War on Women, Part IV: Binders Full of Women
In the second Presidential debate between incumbent President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Romney was asked a question (from the "town hall" crowd of undecided voters) about persistent gender inequality in the workplace and specifically the fact that women continue to make 72% of what their male counterparts earn. Romney, attempting to demonstrate his record of concern for gender-gap issues, recounted a story from his businessman days when he made a concerted effort to ensure that women job candidates got equal consideration. When his minions told Romney that all the qualified candidates were men, he replied (his actual words): "Well, gosh, can't we-- can't we find some-- some women that are also qualified?" The minions were stymied, so Romney went to a number of "women's groups" with the same request and, voilà!, they brought him "whole binders full of women"! The unhappy females rolled their eyes again, but then they took to the Interwebz in full force to create one of the best memes of the year.
Let me just go on the record as saying that the War on Women will be even harder to win than the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. If 2012 taught us anything at all, it's that we may as well lay down arms in that one. Unfortunately, this year also gave us several reminders of our national need to lay down arms.
Guns, Part I: Aurora Movie Theater
On Friday, July 20, at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, James Eagan Homes opened fire on the trapped crowd, injuring 58 people and killing 12. Homes is awaiting trial on multiple murder charges. The names and stories of the victims are here.
Guns, Part II: Sikh Temple
On August 5, at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page (a white supremacist) killed six people and wounded four others. After being shot and wounded by a police officer, Wade fatally shot himself in the head. The names and stories of the victims are here.
Guns, Part III: Sandy Hook
On December 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza killed 2o children and 7 adults, including himself, in one of the deadliest mass killings in United States history. The names and stories of the victims are here.
Because the tragedy at Sandy Hook involved so many small children, it reignited discussions about gun rights, regulation and controls in this country. Unfortunately, very little in those conversations seem to have bridged the deep divide that continues to rend our nation.
SCOTUS, Part I: Obamacare
President Obama's most ambitious (and likely most historic) healthcare-reform initiative, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. The most politically charged element of PPACA is what came to be known as the "individual mandate," which requires Americans to purchase health coverage. Opponents of PPACA have tried to repeal it in whole and in part, but when SCOTUS confirmed the constitutionality of PPACA in the Sibelius decision, a nation of uninsured breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, the challenges didn't end with Sibelius, but it was a major victory for healthcare reform and Obama.
SCOTUS, Part II: Show Your Papers
Also in June, the Supreme Court handed down a split-decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law SB1070. The court unanimously agreed to uphold the most controversial part of the law-- more commonly known as the "show your papers" provision-- which requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect that the individual might be an illegal immigrant. But SCOTUS blocked many of 1070's other provisions on the grounds that they interfered with the federal government's ability to set immigration policy. The immigration question certainly isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and states like Arizona are fueling the passions on both sides. For many of us, President Obama has been underimpressive on this issue, though he did announce in June that his administration would stop deporting young immigrants if they met certain requirements. If demographic predictions are correct, this country is getting less and less white, so there's not much time left to ride the fence on this very important matter.
SCOTUS, Part III: Fair Sentencing
Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, at the behest of President Obama, reducing the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and the amount of powder cocaine needed to trigger certain sentencing penalties, largely because it had been shown that the disparity had a disproportionately negative impact on racial minorities. This summer, in Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States, SCOTUS determined that the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act applied to people who were convicted before the act was passed but sentenced afterwards. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, hailed the ruling as "another step toward racial fairness." When the Fair Sentencing Act was passed, black Americans made up roughly 13% of the population and 14% of monthly illegal drug users, but made up 80% of people convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense. Even under the new guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing laws are still racially discriminatory, so there are many more steps toward racial fairness to go.
It was definitely a big year for SCOTUS, and 2013 looks to be even bigger. Justices Ginsberg, Kennedy, Thomas and Scalia are all old and likely won't all make it through Obama's next term. This may be the first time in a long time to shift the leaning of the High Court more to the left. We'll have to wait and see.
Of course, the BIGGEST political story of 2012 was the Presidential election. And so, finally, here are the highlights:
Presidential Election, Part I: The Conventions
The two biggest events of the RNC and DNC conventions this year did not directly involve the candidates. For the RNC convention, it was Clint Eastwood's bizarre "dialogue" with Invisible Obama. Too hard to describe, so just watch:
At the DNC convention, former President Bill Clinton was the big star. His "arithmetic" speech reinvigorated a party embattled, embittered and loooking to recapture the hope of 2008. Here's Clinton:
Presidential Election, Part II: The Debates
The Presidential debates this election year were especially interesting-- less so for the substantive content of the conversations and much more so for the goldmine of hashtags and memes unleashed as a consequence of those conversations. If you want to relive all of the fun, you can watch the three debates in their entirety below:
Presidential Election, Part III: The Winner
The real winner of the 2012 Presidential election was Nate Silver, but the person who won the Presidency was Barack Obama. President Obama has disappointed many over the last four years, and his performance in the months leading up to his reelection was far from stellar, but the hope-and-change candidate reappeared on election night to deliver his acceptance speech. Here's our President:
All in all, 2012 was what about one expects from an election year. Divisive, inspiring, maddening and sometimes flat-out jaw-droppingly crazy. For the next year, I hope we'll see that we learned some lessons from 2012. Let's end the War on Women. Let's regulate guns and gun-owners better. Let's replace the departing Supreme Court Justices with more judicious and compassionate men/women. We've got Obama for another four years, so let's hold him to a higher standard. Let's hold all the rest of our statesmen and -women to a higher standard as well.
And let's do the same for ourselves.