There are those columnists who keep meticulous lists of events during the year so that in the final days of December they can churn out detailed reflections on the proceeding 12 months. I’m not one of them. But, nevertheless, I do have my own list of standouts — some unexpected delights — that deserve recognition.
I’ll start with the courageous Senate Democrats. Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) on Medicare reform, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) on the Magnitsky bill to sanction Russian human rights abusers and Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.) on Iran sanctions all put principle and good policy above partisanship, defied the White House (which sneered at Wyden-Ryan, and tried to undermine the Magnitsky bill and water down Iran sanctions) and showed that the Democratic Party has not become entirely McGovernized on foreign policy.
Next up is Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). He started out the year as a follower of Sen. Jim DeMint’s brand of “no deal” politics. But in the supercommittee he showed that Republicans are capable of thinking creatively and dealing with the revenue side of the equation in debt-control measures. He demonstrated that compromise is not a dirty word.
Back on the Democratic side of the aisle there was a set of congressmen who doggedly stood up for Israel, decried anti-Semitism here and abroad and, when needed, rebuked the president. The list includes Rep. Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Rep. Steve Rothman (N.J.), Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.).
On the legal front, kudos go to Randy Barnett and the other libertarian and conservative lawyers and scholars who successfully guided the anti-Obamacare litigation to the Supreme Court. They ignored doubters (me included) who had essentially thrown in the towel on commerce clause jurisprudence. In doing so, they gave the country a lesson in the Constitution and the importance of limited government in protecting our freedoms.
Within the conservative movement, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were able to combine inspirational rhetoric, sober analysis and conservative principles and apply them to policy challenges. Ryan withstood an onslaught of irresponsible and blatantly false attacks from the left. Rubio turned back a shoddy effort to undermine his character and diminish his family’s immigrant experience.
And finally, in a year in which mainstream and conservative media gave us plenty to complain about, Ramesh Ponnuru (on the Republican race), Quin Hillyer (on the GOP race and the Justice Department), Jim Pethokoukis (on everything economic), the Des Moines Register (for its indispensable blow-by-blow coverage of the topsy-turvy caucuses) and Ben Smith (who managed to cover the media, domestic politics and foreign policy) all reminded us what thoughtful, informative journalism is all about.