Every year feels like a marathon, and by the end I just want to collapse into a heap and try to forget the whole thing ever happened. It seemed like a particularly merciless and joyless slog, but before I consign 2012 to memory it’s worth taking a last, long look back. What did we learn, after all that’s happened both good and bad?
We learned that no matter how many pundits analyze the same election, most of them will end up being wrong about it. We also learned how an entire national campaign can be reduced to simple mathematical inevitability.
We learned that elections can be more about what we’re afraid of than policy, hope, or what we want our country to be like. However, we did find out a lot about what we fear most, and which fears drum up the biggest votes.
We learned that the news cocoon the Republicans constructed over the past decade — to both shield themselves from “liberal” ideas and to serve as an echo chamber — actually comes with a price. At least now we know why the GOP ran so hard to the right this year; they thought it was working. The other price of doubling down on conservatism could be felt in places like Connecticut, where likable moderate Andrew Roraback found himself dragged down by his party’s horrible reputation.
We learned that campaigns are willing to blatantly lie, and that the news media will hesitate to call them on it. We also found, mercifully, that there’s a limit. Both campaigns put out lies and distortions, but it was Romney who finally found the line and stepped over it. His ad claiming Jeep was moving production to China was so absurdly false that not even the news media, fearful of appearing biased, could ignore it.
We learned during the year-end fiscal cliff debacle that House Republicans didn’t really learn much from the election. Oh well. We also learned that Senate Democrats are still not up to doing much of anything. Maybe next year.
We found out that austerity doesn’t fix everything. We also found out in Connecticut that a combination of tax hikes and state employee concessions doesn’t quite fix a yawning budget hole, either. We still aren’t ready to admit that a real fix is going to be very painful for everybody, especially incumbent politicians. Maybe we’ll learn that in 2013.
We learned that we’re not ready for what Mother Nature has in store for us. Superstorm Sandy shocked the nation with the widespread damage it inflicted across the densely populated northeast, hitting especially hard in New Jersey, New York City, and the Connecticut shoreline. Thanks to Sandy we learned that there’s a huge price to pay for not worrying about climate change and dismissing an increase in severe weather as nothing. Temperatures are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting away, and the world is changing. We’re going to have to deal with it, because the challenges are actually staring us in the face. We really should have learned this in 2011, and we may not have learned it well enough in 2012, but I’m sure 2013 has another lesson at the ready.
We learned some ugly truths about racism and sexism in this country this year. Of course, for many of us, those facts are a daily reality. But anyone who watched the campaigns this year and who took a hard look at the makeup of the Republican electorate can only come away with one conclusion: that we have a long, long way to go.
But, in Washington and Maine, we learned that love sometimes conquers all. Same-sex couples were finally granted the right to marry, not by a court decree but by popular vote. There’s still a lot of work to do for LGBT equality, but we’re getting there at last.
Finally, we learned that our nation’s failure to enact meaningful gun control, and our failure to stop the powerful and well-funded gun lobby from scaring politicians into silence, comes with an awful price. It’s my hope that this is the year we learned that our culture has to change, and that we can’t simply accept massacres like Aurora and Newtown without taking decisive action at last.
We’ll ring in the new year soon. I hope it’s a better one for all of us, and that the lessons we learn won’t be so hard this time around. See you in 2013!
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.