Monday, December 30, 2013

I usually disagree with Ross...

...Douthat's column in the New York Times and yesterday was no exception -- even when he listed his mistakes for the year! In case you missed it, here are Douthat's "three biggest analytic errors of 2013":

1. In Boehner I trusted.
2. I underestimated Pope Francis — or misread the media.
3. I made too much of the Syria debate. 

As for the first, Douthat originally wrote that "the speaker who prevented dysfunction from producing disaster last time is around to try again." But the columnist feels he was wrong because Boehner got "roundly outmaneuvered by Ted Cruz and then accepted an awesomely self-destructive shutdown in the hopes that it would break his party’s fever." 

But the shutdown did break the party's fever, didn't it? Republicans were so horrified by the public's reaction that Paul Ryan -- one of the darlings of the tea party -- negotiated a compromise budget with the Democrats that passed on a bipartisan vote. Isn't that progress? Maybe John Boehner should get a little more credit for showing the rest of the GOP just how destructive the tea party has been.

In the second one, Douthat writes "Given the subsequent media fascination with Francis, my attempt to minimize the papacy’s importance in American religious life may have been somewhat premature." But I disagree. Even though Douthat rightly recognizes the pope's "blend of charisma, asceticism and inclusivity," I don't think he was premature.

Like most people, I also applaud the pope's change in tone, but at the same time I want to see if there will be any substantive changes in the Catholic Church. And the answer is: I doubt it. 

Never mind the big stuff, how about a few baby steps? I'll suggest a few. How about welcoming divorced Catholics and gays to the church? And I don't mean just the old "hate the sin, but love the sinner." I mean acknowledging that they haven't done anything wrong and should be included in the church like everyone else? How about dropping that silly idea that homosexuals are welcome so long as they aren't in a relationship? (Kind of like saying that it's okay to be left-handed so long as you write with your right hand.) And, while I'm at it, why not join the twentieth century and lift the ban on birth control? Almost every Catholic couple practices birth control anyway; planning your family is a good thing. 

Those are just a few easy suggestions. But I don't expect the pope will take any of them. So while you can count me as a fan of the new pope's, I'll still bet that at the end of Francis's reign the Catholic Church will be just as reactionary as it is today.

Finally, as for Douthat's third "mistake," I think he's being too hard on himself. He writes:

When it looked as if the White House might lose a vote authorizing a bombing campaign against Bashar al-Assad, I argued that a congressional defeat would “basically finish off” President Obama “as a credible actor on the world stage,” putting us on “a long, hard, dangerous road to January 2017.”

He says his "apocalyptic tone was unwarranted and overwrought." To which I would respond: Relax, you're in good company; every conservative pundit has been predicting the end of Obama since he first emerged on the national stage back in 2007. And they've all been wrong, time and again. (Here's a prediction: I'll say President Obama goes down in history as one of the best chief executives ever. More on that another time.)

But then Douthat can't help himself. He ends the piece by saying (my emphasis):

One of the bad habits of pundits is to perpetually look for Grand Turning Points, moments after which Nothing Is the Same, to impose an artificial order on the messiness of political reality. Such moments sometimes do exist: the botched Obamacare rollout, for instance, still feels like a potentially crucial inflection point for the president’s domestic credibility. 

Ouch! Will these guys never learn? 

Oh, well. Happy New Year Ross.

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