The year 2012 saw the triumph of cold reality over pie-in-the-sky dreams.
Barack Obama in 2008 won an election on an upbeat message of change in the hope that the first black president would provide a redemptive moment in American history. Four years later, the fantasies are gone. In continuing dismal economic times, President Obama ran for re-election neither on his first-term achievements -- Obamacare, bailouts, financial stimuli and Keynesian mega-deficits -- nor on more utopian promises.
Instead, Mr. Obama's campaign systematically reduced his rival, Wall Street financier Mitt Romney, to a conniving, felonious financial pirate who did dastardly things, from letting the uninsured die to putting his dog Seamus in a cage on top of the family car.
Mr. Obama once mused that he wished to be the mirror image of Ronald Reagan -- successfully coaxing America to the left as the folksy Reagan had to the right. Instead, 2012 taught us that a calculating Mr. Obama is more a canny Richard Nixon, who likewise used any means necessary to be re-elected on the premise that his rival would be even worse. We know what eventually happened to the triumphant, pre-Watergate Nixon after November 1972. What will be the second-term wages of Mr. Obama's winning ugly?
The so-called "fiscal cliff" offers more examples of 2012 dreams giving way to reality. Mr. Obama appears to be getting his long-promised taxes on the rich. So what? There are not enough caricatured "millionaires and billionaires" even to make a dent in his administration's fifth consecutive $1 trillion-plus deficit.
Instead, all that is left for Mr. Obama is to go over the cliff or wait for Republicans to counterpropose the necessary cuts in entitlements so he can reluctantly accept those budget-saving measures and demonize those who so threaten "the most vulnerable." What will stop the massive borrowing is not the myth of bipartisan cooperation but the reality of returning high interest rates that will make the current splurging simply unsustainable.
What did we learn from the killings of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya? So far, the fantasy of jailing a single Coptic filmmaker for posting an anti-Islamic video has trumped the reality of holding the administration accountable for allowing lax security and offering only feeble responses to a massacre prompted by a preplanned, al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic post.
As the year ended, a deranged 20-year-old in Newtown, Conn., fatally shot 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The nation decried the killer's access to his murdered mother's semi-automatic arsenal to achieve his gruesome toll.
Banning the sale of "assault weapons" probably will not stop another Newtown massacre any more than an earlier ban prevented the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado -- unless the federal government is prepared to enter American homes and confiscate millions of previously purchased semi-automatic weapons. Steps toward a far more realistic solution -- jawbone Hollywood to quit romanticizing gratuitous cruelty and violence; censor sick, macabre video games; restrict some freedoms of the mentally ill; and put armed security guards into the schools -- are as much an anathema to civil libertarians as the banning of some guns is a panacea. So we pontificate while waiting for the next massacre.
In February, the European Union grandly announced a second -- and last -- 130-billion-euro bailout of Greece and an apparent solution to the Southern European debt crisis. The year ended with Greece never poorer and never more indebted. The proper solution was never Band-Aiding Greece with some German euros, but rather asking why under the European Union system Greece -- and other Mediterranean EU members -- had been allowed to become so indebted for so long in the first place.
On June 30, supposed reformist Mohammed Morsi was sworn in as president of a new democratic Egypt amid grand talk of the Arab Spring. In November, Mr. Morsi, as a good Islamist, hounded out of office his secular rivals in the judiciary and suspended the rule of law. Days ago, by popular vote, Mr. Morsi oversaw the implementation of the Muslim Brotherhood's version of Shariah law as the basis of the new Egyptian constitution. Given the chaos in Libya and Syria and the murder of Americans in Benghazi, the cruel winter of 2012 has ended the dreamy Arab Spring of 2011.
As the year drew to a close, there were ominous signs of impending financial implosion at home. Abroad, we see a soon-to-be nuclear Iran, an even more unhinged nuclear North Korea, a new Islamic coalition against Israel, a bleeding European Union, and a more nationalist Germany and Japan determined to achieve security apart from the old but increasingly suspect U.S. guarantees.
The year 2012 should have taught us that dreaming is no answer to reality; 2013 will determine how well we have learned that lesson.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
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