What did we get wrong in 2013?
JOEL MATHIS: The biggest mistake I made as a pundit in 2013? I didn’t give Barack Obama enough credit.
Yes, I’m liberal. But I’m never automatically in the president’s corner. Which is why I made two mistakes in appraising his actions in recent months.
First, I said in September there were “no good options in Syria” for the president to choose from. Turns out my own imagination was far too limited: All I could see then was a choice to commit to war against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons — thus drawing the U.S. into another Middle East quagmire — or to stand down and let the use of such weapons go unpunished.
Turns out there was a third way, which Secretary of State John Kerry stumbled into with an inadvertent press conference suggestion: That Syria turn over its chemical weapons to a third party, but that otherwise the regime would be left unmolested. The solution drove conservatives crazy; they felt Obama squandered U.S. credibility by not attacking. Me? I think he achieved U.S. goals without squandering lives. It was an act of imagination inconceivable under our previous GOP president. I was wrong; the president did well.
Second, I think I conceded too early that Obamacare might be failing, and suggested the president might’ve been wiser to pursue “small ball” solutions for liberal priorities.
Yes, the initial launch of the Obamacare website was a disaster. No getting around that. But that disaster has largely been fixed. Lots of people are signing up for health insurance. And yes, some folks have had their policies canceled; in the long term, they’ll be a tiny minority, and this moment of painful transition most likely forgotten.
Turns out that Americans — like the rest of the developed world — want universal health care, too. Obamacare is still an awkward, unwieldy way to accomplish that goal. But it appears to be getting accomplished nonetheless.
My mistakes? Born of pessimism. Maybe Barack Obama is a better president than I thought.
BEN BOYCHUK: Among the worst sins a columnist can commit — apart from deliberate dissembling and outright fabrication, of course — is backpedaling. You stake out an opinion, by golly, you’d better stick to it.
Unless you really stepped in it — then own up and move on.
Prognostication is a sucker’s game, best avoided whenever possible. But sometimes the temptation is too great. When we wrote about President Obama’s folly in Syria, for example, I boldly predicted: “God help us when — not if — China and Russia decide to take advantage of our leaders’ incompetence.”
In the intervening months, China has extended its air defense zone over the East China Sea — a move the United States rightly denounced — and Russia has fortified its sphere of influence by keeping Ukraine out of the European Union. Not a calamity, by any means, but let’s see what 2014 has in store.
Last week, I argued that the disastrous rollout of Obamacare was the most significant political story of the year. This week came word that 1 million Americans have successfully enrolled in a qualifying health insurance plan ahead of the New Year switchover.
A mistake on my part? Only if you missed the related item that some 3.5 million people lost their old insurance under the new law and have been unable to find replacement coverage. Maybe 2014 will bring better news.
My greatest regret had less to do with faulty predictions and more to do with a confounding lack of clarity. In November, we wrote about how best to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Practically nobody in the United States wants to go to war with Iran, I wrote.
Seemed clear enough to me. Yet I received a fair amount of reader mail suggesting my point wasn’t clear at all. I soon realized that my statement could be read either as a matter of fact, or as a lament. Readers seemed to think I was upset that practically nobody wants to go to war with Iran.
So let’s clear that one up: going to war with Iran would be a really bad idea. Let’s not do it, and start the new year right.
Reach Ben Boychuk at firstname.lastname@example.org, Joel Mathis at email@example.com.