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Unsolicited New Year's Resolutions

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There has long been a pall over the coming year, a sense among the pessimists that 2012 has been divinely, socially, or scientifically ordained to hasten the end of our days on Earth. The threats are many, and range from an ancient civilization's prophesies of doomsday to an only-slightly-less-ancient "definer of civilization['s]" persistent fear of an electromagnetic pulse attack. While it's true that there is a great deal about which we can, and probably should, worry -- the next ice age, interstellar collisions, Kreayshawn -- at this point it seems decidedly more likely than not that we'll avoid going out in the sort of blaze of eschatological fury that some have predicted for the year ahead.

As for the year we leave behind, it was, at least in the American political arena, another blue-ribbon winner for deceit and stupidity -- traits that, unfortunately for all of us, tend to metastasize wildly as elections approach. Spearheaded by the least popular Congress since the dawn of polling, 2011 brought us no closer to the fulfillment of our tremendous civic promise. Our media became more stunted, and our legislative dysfunction grew more pronounced; our knee-jerkiest opinions ossified, and, worst and most predictably of all, we came once again to expect even less of our leaders. As we continue to doggedly flail against the currents of reason -- as we persist in entrusting our economy to the ghosts of discredited ideas, in allowing our government to become further corrupted by corporate influence, and in degrading the natural world around us -- we can be sure of one thing: if the world doesn't end in 2012, it won't be because we didn't try hard enough.

Each new year brings with it new possibilities for self-improvement, however. With that in mind, and by the power vested in me by Arianna Huffington, I would like to prescribe to some of our leading political forces the following wholly unsolicited New Year's resolutions.

To the Republican Party: come back to the table of ideas. For nearly three years, fully half of our major party system has retreated from the front lines of rational debate in order to seek refuge in the cozy trench of delusion -- which, as it turns out, is an incredibly effective place from which to bombard your opponents. Whole volumes could be written about the cowardice of the Democratic Party, but at the very least they are bringing sensible ideas to the national discourse, particularly on the pressing issues of tax reform, economic stimulus, and long-term deficit reduction. What Republicans have discovered about this era of political media is that they can forestall any measure of progress, not by bringing a competing idea to the table, but simply by lighting the table on fire and counting on the likelihood that the Democrats' idea won't be shiny enough to locate amongst the ashes. This is a strategy that works, but it is nothing to be proud of.

These little arsons often take the form of senseless assertions posing as viable answers, sound bites of principle standing in for coherent policy. However politically advantageous that tactic may be, it nevertheless betrays the sacred notion that Americans deserve to hear (at least) two sides of an issue, rather than one meekly articulated side being consistently drowned out by the brass band of nonsense. In the new year, come at us with the same intellectual rigor that animated the conservative movement not so long ago. Bring serious ideas to compete with serious ideas, and let the American people make informed decisions between thoughtful alternatives. Playing Gandalf to every moderate or liberal proposal that comes along may have been fun for a while, but voters tend to take notice when elected officials play games with the stern problems facing our country.

To Occupy Wall Street: find the root. It was Henry David Thoreau who observed that "there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root," and no remark could more aptly describe the tens of thousands of demonstrators still camped outside the branches of banks across the nation. Now, I value immensely the dedication of all who have chosen to protest in their respective cities, and I would never underestimate the contribution of those who strive passionately to change the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens for the better. Protesting is merely a tactic, though; it is by its nature only the larval stage of a movement that either ripens into an enduring thread of our society, or dies.

The root that Occupy Wall Street should be striking at -- the vast uncharted middle between righteous frustration and positive change -- isn't on Wall Street at all. As Lawrence Lessig and others have been preaching, it is neither the banks nor the bankers, but rather the bank laws and the bank lobbyists, that serve as the wellspring of America's feral financial markets and titanic levels of income inequality. In 2012, let the occupation continue, but let it show up where it counts: occupy your representatives' inboxes, occupy the discourse surrounding financial regulation and campaign finance reform, and, most importantly, occupy the voting booth.

To Libertarians: give up your GOP addiction. I've long been uncertain what it is, apart from tradition, that has held my Libertarian friends so firmly to their alliance with a party that routinely and flagrantly acts against their core principles. Total fiscal abandon, repeated bailouts, costly foreign entanglements, and the growth of bureaucracy have all been hallmarks of recent Republican Party governance. Sure, there's the shared deregulatory impulse and the instinctive loathing of all things 'public,' but what good are common interests when one of you stops showing up to the book club?

You're in luck, Libertarians, because in 2012 you'll finally have the chance to cast your vote for the genuine article, former New Mexico governor and noted bone fracture enthusiast Gary Johnson. Would Democrats benefit from a robust Johnson candidacy? In the near term, yes. But if Libertarians ever want their values to be taken seriously by a nation singularly obsessed with electoral outcomes, they should seize on this opportunity to break free from the shackles of the GOP. After all, what kind of liberty comes from repeatedly tying your fate to a very large group of folks with whom you often fundamentally disagree?

To Barack Obama: bring on the halftime adjustments. As a Democrat, I have little doubt that the President will run a successful reelection campaign -- in addition to having what is easily the best-organized, best-funded team in the history of electoral politics, Mr. Obama is also an effective and engaging candidate, while his opponent, who will be Mitt Romney, is sort of famously not. But if we are to truly look forward to a second term, it would be helpful to hear about what adaptations could be made to ensure that act two runs a bit more smoothly than act one, vis-à-vis the many influential people hell-bent on the President's destruction.

Loosed from the binds of ever having to run for office again, what sort of president would Obama 2.0 become, especially if faced with the same forces of blind hostility that so hampered his best efforts the first time around? Where is the strategy to elude, once and for all, the unending brinksmanship, the destructive bargains, the grim genuflections to what we now uneasily refer to as compromise? My hope for 2012 is that the President engages this concern on the campaign trail in a meaningful way -- for his supporters, for undecided voters, and for a country more anxious than ever about the capacity of its government to function moving forward.

In the new year, let us be good citizens together.