Public policymakers and political pundits tend to focus on problems -- understandably, because if things are going right they aren't thought to need attention. Yet positive developments can teach us things as well, when, for reasons not necessarily clear, great masses of people start to behave more constructively.
It's not in the printed text, but the most revealing words in President Obama's seventh State of the Union address came near the end. After the scripted line, "I have no more campaigns to run," elicited Republican applause, Obama ad libbed, "I know, because I won both of them."
What caused the financial crisis? How can we prevent another one from happening again? The answers you most often hear to those questions are (1) greed and deregulation and (2) the Dodd-Frank law.
But they're patently inadequate. Greed -- or the desire for monetary gain -- has always been with us and always will be. And no one has convincingly linked financial deregulation to the crisis. Dodd-Frank, enacted to increase regulation, confers too-big-to-fail status on very large financial institutions, which incentivizes unduly risky behavior and penalizes smaller competitors.
How far should a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? It's a difficult issue, one without any entirely satisfactory answer. And it's a current issue in the days after 40 world leaders and the U.S. ambassador to France marched together in Paris against the jihadist Muslim murderers who targeted the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
There are likely to be many surprises in a race for the Republican presidential nomination that has something like 20 plausible potential candidates. The first of those surprises came in the last hours before New Year's when Jeb Bush announced he was setting up an exploratory committee to consider running for president.
Lou Cannon has a nice remembrance in RealClearPolitics of Martin Anderson, the economist and adviser to Ronald Reagan who died last week at 78. He touches on all of Anderson's accomplishments, from his successful advocacy in the Nixon White House to abolish the military draft to his unearthing, with his wife Annelise Anderson and Kiron Skinner, the handwritten drafts of Ronald Reagan's radio speeches, which show the impressive breadth of Reagan's reading and depth of his thinking.
How big a problem is family fragmentation? "Immense," says Mitch Pearlstein, head of the Minnesota think tank Center of the American Experiment. "The biggest domestic problem facing this country."
There is a widespread assumption that President Obama has expanded the electorate and inspired booming voter turnout. One could make a case for that based on the 2008 election. But since then, not so much.
Looking back over the past 15 years, the biggest surge in voter turnout came during George W. Bush's presidency. In the Obama years, turnout actually declined in both the 2012 presidential and the 2014 congressional elections.
Before Christmas, Arizona finished its 2nd Congressional District recount, showing Republican Martha McSally beating incumbent Democrat Ron Barber by 167 votes. This means there will be 247 Republicans in the House in the 114th Congress -- one more than was elected to the House in the 80th Congress in 1946. It's the most Republican House since the one elected in 1928, a year when very few of today's voters were alive.
Too much power being grabbed by Washington -- Obamacare, environmental regulations, education standards. That's a constant complaint of conservatives not only during Barack Obama's presidency but during George W. Bush's as well.
But power is also flowing out of Washington, largely unnoticed, and back to the states and localities. You can see that if you look at transportation policy, which is following the same path as the little remembered federal revenue sharing program enacted in the Nixon years and phased out during the Reagan presidency.