Jay Fleitman: Good riddance to 2013

Monday, January 06, 2014
My first gut reaction to the New Year was one of “good riddance” to 2013. As I thought about it just a little bit more, I realized that 2013 was in fact a very good year for me personally. My family is healthy, my wife and I have jobs we love and have done some nice traveling this last year, and both of my children are working and building their own careers. Then why did I end up with a sour taste about 2013?

In a broad sense, the answer is politics. I have arrived at a point where I care enough about what happens in Massachusetts and to our nation to have it cast a shadow on what should be a sense of satisfaction in my life and work. This can’t be good.

I would rather not know how much time I have blown listening to the army of “talking heads” on the news and analysis broadcasts I watch on television.

And then there is the collection of news and political websites I look at almost every day. I cannot leave out the newspapers, their editorials and the letters to the editor, to which I expose my poor beleaguered brain. I cheer inside when I find those ideas and opinions with which I agree, and by nature I dismiss and repudiate the other side. It all takes a lot of energy. This political junkie thing just isn’t normal. Maybe I need to walk away and just stick to “American Idol,” “Survivor” and “Breaking Bad,” all of which are fun.

The year 2014 will be a big one for politics. There will be elections for the governor of Massachusetts, the state Legislature, and perhaps more importantly, the contests for all of the federal House seats and the control of the Senate. These campaigns are already well underway.

And yet, in the past I’ve been through enough of these elections to know that the candidates on both sides will say pretty much the same things they always have, with minor variations on the same basic themes. The normal voters will pay attention to the candidates when the elections draw much nearer rather than now. The electorate will continue to elect candidates in ways that I think will mostly defy logic, and that I will sometimes find inexplicable and nearly random. I know this all in advance, and yet it still affects me.

I honestly recognize that this has some of some of the elements of being a sports fan. I have the team that I root for, and then there are the cross-town rivals. But politics are far more important than being for the Red or the Blue. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer describes his transition from being a clinical psychiatrist to a political activist, he recognized that if a society did not get its politics right, little else that follows is right.

Political decision-making has a major impact on the economy, jobs, health care, social choice, international relations and on and on. The choices our politicians make now will resonate into the future, affecting the society and opportunities our children will inherit.

Back to 2013. For politics, it was not a particularly good year. Granted, there was no economic free fall, but the economy is struggling. We have a federal government whose broad incompetence was documented by the Obamacare rollout, our being outmaneuvered by the Russians with the mismanagement of the Syrian uprising and the mishandling of longtime allies who are now running for the hills. This administration shows a relentless willingness to distort and corrupt basic governmental processes to advance its own political ends, including the IRS targeting of political opponents, the Justice Department investigation of news reporters and the elimination of the Senate filibuster. Even with recognizing the need for security, the expansion of the NSA spying under this administration has been unsettling.

There are the lies told by this government. There were the clearly revealed deceptions used to sell Obamacare, and this administration continues to stonewall the untruths it told about the Benghazi attack.

We are in for an earthquake in health care. Obamacare will likely cause a much more extensive loss of previous coverage than we have yet seen. We don’t know the repercussions of the expulsion of hospitals and physicians from the exchange panels, the expansion of Medicaid rolls or the loss of funding from Medicare.

Health care financing in Massachusetts will start completely restructuring in 2014 using untested models.

Some good news: Though Republicans may have bungled much, at least they have managed to slow the growth of federal spending.

Goodbye to 2013. Best wishes for a good 2014. For the political junkies out there, there’s much to do in the New Year, so roll up your sleeves.