Ask anyone. I pride myself on being seldom surprised, shocked almost never.
2011, however, called my cool into question. I was nothing but shockingly surprised all year.
Take Barack Obama, particularly since the 2010 Congressional election or, as I like to call it, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I thought he’d be better.
Not that I didn’t have certain reservations about him from the beginning — his inexperience, for one thing. He’d never really run anything, let alone a government. But I thought he was smart as a whip and could figure it out.
I was also given pause by the sheer number of Harvard and Yale graduates in his administration. Harvard and Yale alums tend to have an answer for everything. Sometimes it’s even the right answer.
Still, I expected great things from him. He was obviously bright and eloquent and able to inspire people, all qualities that his immediate predecessor was innocent of. Yet his presidency has revealed too few of those qualities, instead erring on the side of caution. He has invested a great deal of energy in trying to make common cause with his sworn enemy, a Republican Party whose leader in the Senate has said his No. 1 goal is to make Obama a one-term president.
Thus Obama has engaged in talk after talk, negotiation after negotiation with Republican leaders in an effort to find a bipartisan solution to the nation’s problems, only to be stonewalled. This has left him vulnerable to the criticism that his presidency is a failure, that he hasn’t done what he said he’d do.
He can say, with some justice, "I tried to do those things, but the Republicans wouldn’t let me."
But what kind of answer is that for a president? Are those the words of a leader? Can you imagine Harry Truman saying that? Or Franklin D. Roosevelt? Surrounded by avowed political enemies, they welcomed the hatred they inspired and wore it as a badge of honor.
I was kind of hoping for more of that from him. You know, "malefactors of great wealth," that sort of thing. Instead we get "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
He seems to have confused the "bully pulpit" with a "bully suggestion box." He's been channeling his inner Teddy Roosevelt lately, but he has a ways to go. Let's hope he gets there before we wake up with Newt Gingrich as president.
Talk about surprises. Gingrich’s rise from the dead during this election was nothing short of astonishing.
I thought he was washed up 20 years ago when his colleagues in Congress turned on him. Even when he turned up this year running for the GOP nomination, I didn’t take him seriously. Nor did he, apparently. The first thing he did as a candidate was run off to the Greek Isles with his wife. Then he surprised everybody by coming back with the same wife.
But lo and behold, suddenly when Herman Cain's improbably strong candidacy imploded, there he was, right at the top. At least for a while.
Not since the heyday of Richard Nixon had we seen such a comeback, unless you count Dracula.
And I suppose if I were listing political surprises of the year I’d have to include Cain. Never in my most baroque dreams did I imagine that the first Republican pizza executive to run for president would be African American.
Cain "suspended" his campaign a couple of weeks ago because women kept showing up on a more or less daily basis, accusing him of loving not wisely but too often.
Historically, that has been a deal-breaker with the American public. You have to be Bill Clinton to get away with it. And I have no idea how he did it.
Apparently Newt does, though. In December, he "solemnly" vowed to "uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others." The fact that he was not immediately struck by lightning leads one to the conclusion that God, if not actually dead, is certainly sleeping.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was a long-time columnist for The Des Moines Register.