Week In Politics: 2013's Surpises And Predictions For 2014

Robert Siegel speaks with political commentators, Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for The National Review and columnist for Bloomberg View. They'll talk about what surprised them in 2013, and make predictions for 2014.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The year that is ending, like every year, has brought surprises. For example, not too long ago, same-sex marriage was seen as the kind of hot button social issue that even shrewd liberals hedged their bets on. This year, it was celebrated outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

EDITH WINDSOR: If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it and she would be so pleased. Thank you all.

SIEGEL: That was Edith Windsor who took the fight for same-sex marriage to the court and won. That was surprising. So is this: an administration that was returned to office after running a tech-savvy digital age campaign, resumed governing and promptly stumbled badly in the IT department.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them.

SIEGEL: The White House heard them complaining about the rollout of healthcare.gov. As this is the last Friday political conversation of the year, we're going to consider the surprises of 2013 and first, not so surprising, both David Brooks and E.J. Dionne are vacationing from politics this week. Joining me from New York is Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And here in Washington, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of The National Review. Hiya.

RAMESH PONNURU: Hi.

SIEGEL: Let's start with Katrina first. What were a couple of big surprises for you this year, welcome or otherwise?

HEUVEL: Welcome, the election of Bill de Blasio as New York City's mayor, Robert, is a sign of a populist, humane populist resurgence in this country and it's far more than a local story. Bill de Blasio ran the most ambitious populist campaign in modern memory, calling on government to tackle metastasizing inequality, promote opportunity for all and his signature program of a small tax on the wealthiest to invest in pre-K early education will have national resonance and implications.

And along with Bill de Blasio, the rise of Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren, and a cohort in Congress and around the country, pushing to expand the civilizing, humane social programs of this country, like Social Security, insuring banks are not as big and serve the real economy. The second, I would say, is the critical renewal of diplomacy. A resurgence of diplomacy in August, the U.S., averting military strikes against Syria, instead working with the United Nations to dismantle and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

And as part of that, Iran breaking a 34-year freeze, beginning to talk to Iran to avert military action, it is in our national security, I think those were important and positive welcome surprises.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to Ramesh Ponnuru. What was some positive developments in 2013 that were surprising by your lights?

PONNURU: Well, I don't know if it was so positive for President Obama, but I had been surprised by the lack of pull he has repeatedly shown with Senate Democrats. In three major tests, he was unable to get them to back him. They didn't support him on the assault weapons ban, which, of course, the Clinton-era Democrats did. They didn't support him on Syria where he was headed for a big defeat before the Russians came in and sort of...

SIEGEL: You mean when he was planning air strikes.

PONNURU: When he was planning his air strikes, that's right. And it was basically a Democratic revolt in the Senate that forced him to pull his top pick for the Federal Reserve, Larry Summers, which is something that is usually sort of a pro forma thing, if an administration picks somebody for that position, they can count on their party to support them.

SIEGEL: Katrina, what about that? Is the weakened president the flip side of the same thing you've noticed in the rise of people like Elizabeth Warren in Washington?

HEUVEL: I think the rise of people like Elizabeth Warren have more to do with what's going on outside the beltway. We're in a second term Obama administration. I do think that the rollout of Obamacare was troubling, but I think one needs to step back, certainly, as we enter a new year and understand that it's taken - since President Truman, it's taken decades to provide what should be a right, not a privilege, healthcare and security for millions of people like any social program in our history, Robert, Social Security or Medicare.

The trajectory of this program will be one of zigs and zags, but I'd like to see more media coverage of what's working in the new year, not to mitigate what isn't, but in the states where it's working and let's look toward reform, not repeal. That's what I think is important.

SIEGEL: Ramesh, where do you see us standing on the Affordable Care Act? Do you think we're going to see - or were you surprised by the contentiousness of it all over the past year?

PONNURU: Well, when you pass a major piece of legislation over the kind of opposition that this piece of legislation had from all Republicans and some Democrats, it's bound to continue to be contentious. The question now is whether they've really turned a corner, as a lot of Democrats are hoping. I suspect they haven't. If you look back at the end of September, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said that success looks like at least 7 million people signing up for the exchanges by the end of March.

I do not believe that is going to happen. I don't believe anything close to that is going to happen. And by Secretary Sebelius' own standards, this is going to be a failure.

SIEGEL: I'd like you to ask you to - on this show, we usually follow the rule that it's hard enough to get right things that have happened so far, but - so we try to stay away from the future. But I'm just curious. Since it is almost the end of the year, Katrina, when you think ahead to what might be a truly surprising development or to you a refreshing development on the level with, say, the rise of democratic populism or the rise of diplomacy as you've described it, what do you think might unfold that might toss conventional wisdom on its ear next year.

HEUVEL: You know what I'd love to see, Robert? I'd love to see a politics that isn't about left or right but is about right and wrong. And in that context, January 8 is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty speech. What we can do as one of the richest nations in the world for the children who live in poverty, to create jobs, to create opportunities for millions of people, to use government for the common good, I'd like to see that.

Maybe I'm being idealistic, but in the context of what we've been living through, we need to see a way forward, and I think there are millions of people in this country, and I see it in even in best days in Washington, or in cities and states around this country where there are transpartisan alliances made on issues that will improve the conditions of people's lives, and to me that's what politics in the end is all about.

SIEGEL: Ramesh, do you think politics will be like that next year or something more familiar?

PONNURU: I suspect it's not going to be like that in 2014, and I think if anything, we're probably going to see things heat up because we've got the midterm elections coming up in November. I do think, though, that we could see some surprises. And one thing following up on the success of same-sex marriage across this country, I wouldn't be surprised, but I think a lot of other people will be, if we start to see more of a campaign for the legal recognition of polygamous unions.

We've already seen one court case out of Utah on that, and I suspect there will be others.

SIEGEL: Do you think this will be largely efforts by the Mormons or by Muslim immigrants to the U.S.? Where do you expect the push to come from for polygamy?

PONNURU: I expect that those groups and also less religious polyamorous communities are all going to be in favor of this, and there are going to be other people saying, what harm does it cause?

SIEGEL: Well, I promise I won't hold either of you to your forecasts for 2014, and thanks to both of you for finding time to talk with us on this last Friday political talk of ours this year.

HEUVEL: Thank you, Robert.

PONNURU: Thanks.

SIEGEL: That's Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation in New York, and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for The National Review in Washington.

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