Brief Notes on 2011

It’s traditional at this time of year to write thoughtful reviews of the events of the last twelve months, particularly among those of us who don’t have the week off and don’t have a lot of news to write about. But you know what? Having lived through this tense and exhausting year, I just don’t feel up to any BigThink about its place in the grand sweep of American or world history. Maybe that will change when 2011 is finally receding in the rear-view window and I can muster some optimism about 2012.

Personally, I’ve spent most of this last year obsessively writing about the Republican presidential nominating contest. In part that’s because this was my “beat” for The New Republic and the Progressive Policy Institute, but also because I have long been convinced that the craziness of today’s GOP provides the only hope for Barack Obama’s re-election, and thus the tale of the primary battle may well be the tale of the entire cycle. The “invisible primary” that will end next Tuesday has taught us nearly as much about the pathologies of the contemporary Right as the behavior of congressional Republicans. The GOP–not just the Tea Party movement, but pretty much the entire party–is caught in the grip of multiples delusions, including a neo-Hooverism that is hard to take seriously as economic policy, and political theories that defy everything we know about the views of the American people.

It is fashionable, and occasionally useful, to focus on the political strategies of the Obama White House and blame them for the catastrophe that could occur next November. But the sad truth is we won’t really know how smart or stupid the president’s team has been until much later in the cycle; they are playing a long, long game, and it’s unclear where it will eventually lead.

Did anything really new and positive happen this year? We don’t know yet what’s going to happen next to the economy–or at least I have little idea. The state-level battles in Wisconsin and Ohio were quite promising, if only because they showed the labor movement still has some serious fight in it even when other progressives despair. And though I’m ambivalent about the staying power of the Occupy movement, there is zero question it has forced Americans–and not just Americans–think about the concentrations of wealth that have been the overriding economic trend throughout the last decade, long before the recent financial collapse.

All in all, it was a transitional year, but we don’t really know what we are transitioning towards. So raise a glass on New Year’s Eve to your hopes for better times–and give your fears a holiday.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.