Column: An Eclectic List of New Year’s Wishes
With the dawn of 2013, I would like to share my own wishes for the New Year. Some are lighthearted, and some more serious, but all of them are heartfelt.
∎ For Democrats and Republicans in Washington: To understand that if you take off the table in advance everything the other side wants, you aren’t actually negotiating.
∎ For the brave men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa who risked so much to bring about the Arab Spring: The fortitude to resist being disheartened by the example of Egypt, and to be instead emboldened by the example of Tunisia.
∎ For the National Rifle Association: A realization that absolutism for its own sake is not a terribly persuasive public posture.
∎ For my beloved Washington Redskins: A march through the playoffs this year, and many more years of success behind quarterback Robert Griffin III; and serious consideration to selecting a new name.
∎ For the regulators and legislators of both parties, who too often seem to think they are not doing their job unless they do more: A careful rereading of Federalist 62, a document that is often quoted but rarely appreciated.
The essay’s author, James Madison, is presenting a justification for the existence of the Senate. One of his arguments is that the Senate, as a longer-tenured body than the House, will slow down the rate at which the laws change. Thus the crucial paragraph:
“The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
∎ For Internet trolls who rejoice in hijacking comment threads: An understanding that by using “gay” and “retard” as pejoratives in their unsigned posts, they are only making themselves look like bigoted cowards.
∎ For the supremely talented and too-often-overlooked Laura Linney: An Academy Award for her bravura performance in Hyde Park on Hudson.
∎ For today’s hyperpartisans, for whom no disagreement is too small to bring forth a flood of hate: A close and thoughtful reading of the title essay of Umberto Eco’s excellent new book, Inventing the Enemy.
∎ For my beloved Episcopal Church: A rapprochement between the progressive hierarchy and the traditionalist congregants who are leaving the church in droves. Although estimates vary, the church has shrunk by more than 50 percent over the past 40 years, and has lost as many as 200,000 members in the past five years alone. One increasingly has the sense that the hierarchy is uninterested in questions that trouble its flock, except when those questions match the preferences of the powerful few.
Thus the Episcopal Church vilifies and sues its traditionalists, ignoring their pleas. But when the General Convention in June adopted prayers for departed pets and other animals, Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri offered as justification the “steady, dare I say, unrelenting call for rites like these.” Paging George Orwell: It turns out that some calls, like some animals, are more equal than others.
∎ For members of Congress rewriting our tax laws: To come up with whatever bill ideological rigidity and partisan kowtowing will permit, and then stick with those rates for at least a decade.
∎ Also for those tax-lawmakers: Same, but skipping the ideological rigidity and partisan kowtowing.
∎ For the Department of Health and Human Services: The realization that the Constitution actually values religious freedom, and that one doesn’t pay tribute to that precious liberty by treating religious organizations as no different from anything else. (To compare the relative constitutional weights of the competing values, look up “contraception, right to” in the Constitution. Go ahead, give it a try.)
∎ For the writers and producers of Homeland : After a very successful but often silly second season, to return in season three to the basic dilemma that made the show so compelling in its early days — the tension of not knowing when Carrie’s illness would overwhelm her talents. You’ve created a true gem in the wasteland. Don’t destroy it for the sake of another car chase or explosion.
∎ For states struggling with the burden of unrealistic pension promises made to public employees: A recognition that the federal government is not the place to go to find the funding. There is no reason that a bad local decision made for the sake of partisan advantage should be redeemed by the people of other states. This isn’t a knock on public employees, but on politicians who want to escape liability for their predecessors’ promises by forcing our grandchildren to pay for them.
∎ For the cable talk shows: Honoring the First Amendment by switching to a format in which the discussion panels do not comprise people who all agree with one another, and also do not include political activists and others with a stake in the outcome of the argument. The news media could do the nation a remarkable service were it to reimagine its mission as asking nonpartisan experts to help set forth the facts underlying our policy debates rather than trying to run them.
∎ For the suffering parents and families of Newtown, Conn., and the other sad places on this planet where so much evil has been committed, where this holiday season must have been unimaginably painful: To reflect upon the words of the homilist Edmund Steimle, who wrote 30 years ago that the Christmas story, properly understood, is a story not for children but for adults. “People are dying this Christmas night as people die on every night,” he pointed out. We mustn’t, he argued, reduce Christmas to nostalgia and forgetting and “indulging ourselves in the sentimental orgy which Christmas has become for so many.” The peace of Christmas, he argued, is a peace not apart from but within the horror and pain of life.
Why, then, is the season one of rejoicing? Because Christmas represents “hope born of the conviction that the storm, the destruction, the violence, the hopelessness, does not have the last word.”
One of the ways we defeat the hopelessness is to commit ourselves to making each new year better than the old. Let’s make that our shared purpose in 2013.
Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale.