Even liberals can agree that President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had their annus horribilis. There were, however, many, shall we say, underachievers who spectacularly fell short and grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. Here are 10:
1. The anti-gay marriage forces. They lost at the Supreme Court and in the court of public opinion. Even among conservatives, the attack on gay marriage has failed.
2. The Virginia Republican Party. Virginia Republicans lost the governorship and two other statewide races. They don’t have a viable opponent for Sen. Mark Warner. The party insiders may continue their political suicide if they hold a closed convention rather than a primary to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf. Virginia has gone from red to purple, but if the state party keeps this up, the Commonwealth will be solidly blue.
3. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The leader of Turkey went from Obama’s BFF and cagey diplomat playing off NATO and the Arab World to leader of what Michael Rubin (no relation) aptly calls a “banana republic.” He is a casualty in the Syrian civil war as refugees pour over the border. And his attacks on domestic dissenters has backfired, as Rubin explains: “Erdoğan may once have seen himself as invincible, a cross between Ottoman Sultan Selim and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but as events unfold, the notion that Erdoğan will himself end his career in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia a few years down the road becomes a welcome possibility.”
4. The Obama foreign policy team. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a group of such hapless foreign policy officials in office simultaneously. Chuck Hagel, after embarrassing himself at his confirmation, is a non-entity at the Pentagon. Susan Rice, who is supposed to coordinate foreign policy as national security adviser, doesn’t seem to be in charge of much and was nominally presiding over the Syria mess, which undermined U.S. credibility and freaked out our allies. And then there is poor Secretary of State John Kerry. He’s still obsessing over the dead “peace process” and seems bent on frittering away leverage over Iran. He commands little respect on Capitol Hill, as seen from the bipartisan rejection of his appeals to hold off on Iran sanctions. Most disappointing, perhaps, is the ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who must cheerlead for our horrendous Syria policy and has been entirely ineffective in rebutting the torrent of anti-Israeli animus flowing from the lips of U.N. representatives of despotic regimes. Few critics of the administration had much hope for the others, but Power is, sadly, someone who could have made a difference, but didn’t.
5. The NSA. The work the National Security Agency does is essential, but the agency and the administration have done a poor job explaining and defending its metadata-gathering activities. It ends the year with a dangerous lower-court decision (albeit one likely to be reversed) and a special panel report that would impede its activities.
6. Anti-immigration forces. A comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate. The speaker of the House reiterates the House will pass its own bills. Public opinion remains favorably disposed toward “earned citizenship.” And the anti-immigration forces got tangled up in a methodologically weak Heritage report authored by a believer in Hispanics’ genetically based intellectual inferiority.
7. Senate Democrats. The list of vulnerable incumbents grows longer. They’ve been snared in the “lie of the year” and failed to figure out how to distance themselves from the president without offending the base.
8. The professional right-wing attack machine. The shutdown, the politicization of and controversies enveloping the Heritage Foundation, the plunge in poll ratings for GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), the decision by Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) to flee the obstructionists in favor of more productive policy pursuits, the passage of a budget, the defeat of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, the success in attacking Obamacare (the strategy preference of those who opposed the shutdown), the revival of House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), the willingness of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to strike out at them and the engagement of moderate Republicans determined to save the GOP from the clutches of the far right make for an impressive list of gaffes, defeats and fumbles. The far right may be in worse shape than the president; its polling is certainly worse.
9. MSNBC. Its executives let the cat out of the bag that it’s really not into breaking news. Martin Bashir resigned, its ratings are in steep decline and its most memorable presidential interview was the embarrassing fawn-a-thon by Chris Matthews. Then, to rub salt in the wounds, arch-rival Fox News had a banner year.
10. Proponents of big government. In the first year of the second term of their dreamboat president, fear of and skepticism toward big government reached all-time highs. Limited-government advocates should be grateful for the seminar in government incompetence and the dangers of overreach put on by White House, Health and Human Services, the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service.