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What mattered most in 2013

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For many political watchers, 2013 will be remembered as the year of the disastrous government shutdown and the even more disastrous Obamacare rollout. But the shutdown came and went, arguably leaving the GOP’s more mature leaders in firmer control of their troops and disgracing the shutdown squad. Obamacare was hobbled and in turn hobbled the Democrats, but the final reckoning comes this year as Democrats decide whether to jettison the individual mandate and voters decide whether to jettison the Democrats who brought us Obamacare.

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However, two developments were more lasting and significant than either of these, and — unlike the ills of the shutdown and Obamacare — will be virtually impossible to reverse.

On the domestic front, gay marriage reached a tipping point. The Supreme Court in two somewhat muddled decisions struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and revived gay marriage in California. While the reasoning was a mishmash between states rights and the 14th Amendment, the momentum against limits on marriage is irreversible. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage. Popular opinion has shifted decisively in favor of gay marriage. Whatever one’s views, this is a dramatic shift in public morals and in an institution that was considered inviolate for centuries, and the trend will not reverse itself.

Ironically, the gay marriage revolution is the bright spot in the marriage picture, with heterosexual marriage in decline and single-parent households surging.

And then there is Iran. With advanced centrifuges and international acquiescence, Iran is on the cusp of obtaining a nuclear arms capability. It pursues terrorism even while keeping up the pretense of negotiations with the West — striving for acceptance by the West while behaving in ways antithetical to an ordinary nation-state. Sanctions have not dislodged the regime nor caused it to rethink its nuclear arms ambitions. The Iranian defiance and U.S. diplomatic panic have gone a long way toward cementing Iran’s ability to retain some enrichment capacity. With the weakening of sanctions, our ability to force Iran to give up its illicit weapons program is greatly reduced.

Several options remain. Congress can pass sanctions over White House objections and thereby force Iran to capitulate. Alternatively, Israel or the United States may strike Iran (though the latter is almost impossible to conceive of given the president’s behavior). And then there is the unimaginable (until recently): Iran gains nuclear weapons capability. If Congress finds a nuclear-armed Iran horrifying and wants to avoid a Middle East war, it will need to pass a final sanctions bill, the last chance to peacefully disarm the mullahs.

Marriage and the Middle East were irrevocably changed in 2013. Every other domestic and international event pales by comparison.

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