5) Benghazi attacks
On September 11, a US consulate in Libya was attacked resulting in the death of an American diplomat and 3 other Americans. Initial explanations by the White House cited an anti-Muslim video as spurring the attack, but later investigations revealed it was not the spontaneous act of an angry mob, but rather the planned act of a terrorist group.
An independent review board recently released a report on the incident concluding that security deficiencies contributed to the deaths – 4 officials have been relieved of their duties with the state department as a result.
Republicans tried to make the White House response to the attack an electoral controversy by accusing Obama of lying about the cause to protect his political campaign. The administration has offered clarity on their initial remarks and admitted that too much credit was falsely afforded to the video for the attacks.
4) Fiscal cliff
The so-called fiscal cliff occurs on December 31 when a combination of spending cuts and tax increases are scheduled to go into effect if congress does not act. Most political analysts contend that Obama and democrats have a negotiating advantage because the tax cuts will expire even if congress does nothing. Most polls indicate that a majority of voters will blame republicans if tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans are allowed to expire.
President Obama wants $1.6 trillion in tax increases on the wealthy, at least $1 trillion of which comes from allowing the top marginal tax rate to revert back to its Clinton-era level of 39.6 percent. He includes just $400 billion in spending cuts, as well as $200 billion in additional stimulus. The White House estimates its plan would reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion.
Speaker Boehner’s counterproposal includes just $800 billion in new revenue without any rate increases, but deep cuts to spending: $900 billion from mandatory programs, $300 billion from discretionary spending, and $200 billion by slowing the growth of Social Security benefits – a measure that would disproportionately affect those who need the program most. It would reduce the deficit by an estimated $4.6 trillion.
A mutiny in the republican caucus by Tea Party members prevented Boehner from gaining the votes he needed to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, and members of congress left for Christmas without a deal. Efforts are being made to hash out a compromise, but optimism for a resolution is dwindling as the year draws to a close.
3) Mass public shootings
This topic was on my preliminary list of topics prior to the Newtown elementary school shooting on December 14, but this most recent mass shooting elevated its overall position in the list.
Ezra Klein with The Washington Post outlines 14 such shootings this year that included as targets schools, temples, malls, and movie theaters. James Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 in a Colorado movie theater during a Batman movie, and Adam Lanza, for what still remain unknown reasons, killed 20 children at an elementary school and 7 more adults including his own mother before turning the gun on himself.
The most recent shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT. has renewed the debate over gun control. If the carnage of 26 people in a matter of 10 minutes – where 50-100 rounds were fired and child victims received up to 11 gun shot wounds each – isn’t enough to gain public support for tighter gun control measures, then it’s unlikely that anything will. Next year will reveal whether any meaningful legislation will result from the tragedy.
2) SCOTUS upholds Obamacare
Over the summer, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision on whether the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito all rejected the individual mandate, which would make the possibility that it would be struck down seem inevitable with John Roberts firmly on the conservative side of the court.
However, Roberts upheld the individual mandate – not as a right of the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce – but under the authority of congress to tax and spend. The court also prohibits the federal government from withholding Medicaid funds to states that opt out of the new health care exchanges created by the law. Although it may be politically popular as a republican governor to beat up on Obamacare, most aren’t stupid enough to reject the federal dollars that will come along with expanding Medicaid. For all intents and purposes, Obamacare is here to stay.
1) The Election
The biggest political story of the year was the election and all of the excitement and annoyances that PAC money can buy.
This year was the first presidential election encompassing the widespread use of social media to share political messages, and whether right, or mind-numbingly wrong, the Internets were full of them. Within minutes of Romney uttering “Binders full of women,” a Twitter handle and facebook page had been created to crowd-source all of the best meme portrayals.
It’s like a presidential candidate has to scrutinize every word before he/she says it these days where cell phone video cameras and meme generators abound. From his attack on PBS funding during the debate, to his attack on 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, Romney provided the Internet with plenty of meme-making fodder.
Mitt Romney’s tax returns
Only after pressure from his own party did Mitt Romney release his 2010 tax return and estimates for 2011. When he was chosen as the republican nominee, criticism mounted as he refused to release any additional years even though the Obamas had released 12 years. His 2010 tax return revealed evidence of offshore tax shelters that indicated there were far worse things hidden in prior years, but the public never got to see.
Nominated to be Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan was considered a risky selection as far as white, middle-aged men go. He was the author of a budget that would disproportionately hurt the poor and elderly, who wanted to make Medicare a voucher program that would largely shift health care costs to seniors. Republicans thought the young Ryan might energize the Romney campaign. As it turns out, Ryan’s nomination doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on the outcome of the election.
Several states attempted to pass voter ID laws intended to make it more difficult to cast a ballot – these generally affect the elderly, minorities, and other groups that tend to vote democrat disproportionately. Most were defeated in the courts in the run-up to the election.
This year was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, which allowed unlimited corporate contributions on behalf of political candidates. This decision allowed billionaires to bankroll certain republican candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum effectively stretching the primaries for many months. Obama didn’t need to invent new attacks on Mitt Romney in the general election because republicans had already laid the groundwork for attacking him as a vulture capitalist.
Overall, close to $1 trillion was spent on this election with republicans out-raising democrats, but not by enough to have an appreciable difference apparently. They lost most of their major targeted campaigns.
Colorado and Washington legalize marijuana
By popular vote, both states legalized the recreational use of up to one ounce of marijuana. The law conflicts with federal prohibitions on marijuana, but it is unclear how the Obama administration will enforce federal statutes.
Washington and Maine are the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Tea Party relevance wanes
The Tea Party was a short-lived populist movement that allowed individuals who formerly called themselves republicans to shed responsibility for the votes they cast allowing George W. Bush to run up deficits pursuing two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy.
They won a lot of seats in an off-year election when the only people who turned out to the polls were older, pissed-off white people, and then confused it with a mandate to hold the country’s credit rating hostage and to threaten a government shutdown. Their agenda was decidedly revoked in 2012, but it’s not clear yet that they’ve gotten the memo.
Obama out-campaigns his opponent again to win re-election.
Well, there you have it. Did you hang in there for all 10?! Did I forget anything that you would have included? Let me know in the comments.