A Look Back At A Rather Rotten Year In U.S. Politics

2013 was a terrible year for politics and politicians of all stripes. Matt Miller of The Washington Post and the public radio program Left, Right, & Center joins NPR's Arun Rath for a wrap-up.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

What a rotten year for American politics and politicians. I would both bore and depress you if I listed all the problems President Obama and Congress have faced or created in 2013.

Here to look back at this rather grim year and maybe find some bright spots hiding in there is Matt Miller. He's a columnist for The Washington Post and the host of the public radio show "Left, Right & Center." Matt, welcome.

MATT MILLER: Great to be with you.

RATH: We used to think of politics as a zero-sum game. If there were losers, there would have to be winners. But after 2013, maybe not so much?

MILLER: What we've learned is everyone can lose. It's kind of grim. I mean, you've got President Obama a year ago - remember, he came off this big election where arguably, he should've lost, when he had enormous opportunities, the economy was bad. So it was a big victory. And you look a year later and his approval ratings are in the low 40s by most accounts. He's lost a lot of standing. The Republicans have gone through the same thing with this kind of crazy nihilistic government shutdown that did no good for their own party and also hurt America's standing in the world. So I think 2013 is really one of those classic annus horribilis, or whatever the queen's phrase was in England, a few years ago. And it's a shame.

RATH: So it feels like the mood in the country is really just that Americans are kind of hating both sides on this. And with that amount of discontent and cynicism, how do we move forward?

MILLER: It's very tough. And I think that the reason both parties are held in such low esteem is because there's serious economic anxiety in the country and neither party seems to have a set of real answers. The Democrats talk about doing things. But even on jobs, for example, you've got President Obama at the height of his popularity was offering programs that would have created one to two million jobs through bigger infrastructure spending at a time when 20 million Americans who want full-time work can't find it. So why is Democratic ambition so timid?

And the Republicans are basically saying government can't do anything, cutting off a million people on unemployment insurance, you know, as a Christmas present when those folks are out looking for work, when you've got three or four people looking for jobs, you know, for every job that is available. And economists tell us that taking out that 25 billion in unemployment insurance that's been helping those people get by is going to take a big bite out of the economy and jobs in 2014. So people are right to be frustrated with what they're getting from both parties.

RATH: Is there a potential with people seeming like Americans are hitting the left and hitting the right, is this a time for the centrist to pull forward? It seems like Chris Christie has some of the shine still attached to him.

MILLER: Yeah. You know, I mean, I've been vulnerable to third-party temptation myself in the past. I actually don't think the prospects of that between now and 2016 are that strong. There is clearly an unrepresented center in American politics. I think that because the Republicans have shifted so far to the right and are in the grip of a much more limited view of government's role doing any kind of public problem solving is going to be for the Democrats to try and occupy that political center. And I think the prospects for actual real third-party action getting traction any time soon are dim.

RATH: Matt, can you give us something positive to take away from 2013 aside from the fact that it's going to be over in a few days?

MILLER: Well, if you look at a figure like Edward Snowden, he clearly accomplished what he wanted to and had an enormous impact on a public debate that was certainly overdue. By being able to share all this classified information about programs that had been dimly understood but, you know, never the subject at the center of national attention, he achieved his objectives. He forced, you know, an overdue debate on the balance between privacy and security in an age of big data. And he basically set the global media agenda not just in the U.S. but in major capitals all over the world.

RATH: Washington Post columnist Matt Miller, also host of the public radio show "Left, Right & Center." Matt, thank you.

MILLER: Happy New Year.

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