The high-profile winners in politics don’t let you forget they won. But organizations and individuals do some of the most important work out of the limelight to defend, sustain and enrich our political system and society as a whole. There were a number of these that made a difference in 2013.
• The American Enterprise Institute: Under president Arthur Brooks AEI has hit its stride, becoming the premiere right-leaning think tank. Unlike Heritage, it has stayed out of politics and stuck to the realm of political philosophy and policy. It has been a major mover on the right to create a more people-centric, positive vision of conservatism. And to top it off, Brooks is doing some fascinating work on happiness — who is happy, what makes us happy. AEI has and continues to provide intellectual sustenance and encouragement to conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
• Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee: He started 2013 with a controversial report that began a year of rebuilding and positive debate about the party’s future. He recognized immigration as an issue that had to be addressed. And most important, he began work on a new primary system that will be shorter and less self-destructive. The extent of his work won’t be fully known until 2016, but he is making critical strides in modernizing the party.
• The bipartisan, pro-defense Senate coalition: If there is one area where true bipartisanship reigns, it is in national security. Large bipartisan majorities focused on the damage the sequester was doing to national security and helped pass both a Defense Department authorization and a budget. On Israel there is an exceptionally broad coalition of senators determined to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In the fight over military discipline for sexual assault, they came up with a bipartisan reform that nevertheless respects the chain of command. In 2014, that bipartisan support for a strong United States will be severely tested on issues like Iran and National Security Agency reforms, but based on 2013 there is reason to be optimistic.
• Investors, employers and entrepreneurs: The year ends on strong economic news (GDP up, unemployment down), reaffirming that left to its own devices the private sector is alive and well. They weathered each incarnation of Obamacare, fought back against an over-zealous EPA and pushed ahead with domestic energy production. In that regard political gridlock has its benefits. If the government can do no harm for a while, the economy will continue its recovery.
• Charities and volunteers: The most authoritative annual report on charitable giving released in 2013 (for calendar year 2012) shows that despite economic woes Americans gave generously. “Giving by American individuals, estates, corporations, and foundations grew by 3.5% in 2012. The total donated to charitable causes in 2012 was estimated to be … $316.23 billion. The single largest contributor to increases in total charitable giving in 2012 was an increase of $8.67 billion in giving by individuals. This is the third consecutive year of increases in giving, a period of growth that began in 2010.” In many cases this was more than writing a check. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that “more than 64.5 million adults volunteered through an organization in 2012, for a national volunteer rate of 26.5 percent, essentially unchanged from the prior year. Volunteers gave nearly 7.9 billion hours of service, worth an estimated $175 billion.” The best news is that young people have formed the volunteering habit (“America’s teens continue to increase their level of volunteering, rising by nearly 3 percent during the last six years.”) The good fellow Americans do of their own volition for others is awe inspiring.