The most popular US Studies Centre blog posts from 2012

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

4 January 2013

This was fun last year, so I figured I'd fire up the stats machine and once again compile our most popular posts from the past twelve months. Here are our greatest hits for 2012:

  1. David Brooks apparently thinks "society" means "white people": New York Times columnist forgets key aspects of American history.
  2. The rhetoric of taking offence: What Barack Obama can learn from Australian PM Julia Gillard's misogyny speech.
  3. Introducing: The Poochie Delusion: Why US foreign policy is like a one-off, unloveable Simpsons character.
  4. Obamacare explained: What exactly does the Affordable Care Act do?
  5. A broken, bad American dream: What a hit AMC drama has to say about US society in the 21st century.
  6. New York has a new tallest building! (Sort of.):One World Trade Center becomes the tallest skyscraper in New York City.
  7. Why America won't embrace gun control after Aurora: The tangled politics surrounding US gun culture
  8. When the levy breaks: What America could learn from Australia in the wake of Hurricane Sandy
  9. The college football factor: Could local sports affect election results?
  10. Are red states addicted to government spending?: Conservatives aren't as hypocritical about taxes and transfers as you might think.
A good mix, I feel. As always, thanks guys, for staying with us throughout the year.

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Top 12 US sporting moments in 2012

By Luke Freedman in Sydney, Australia

3 January 2013

New York Giants win the Super Bowl

History repeats itself. Just like the 2008 Super Bowl, the Giants come from behind to defeat the Patriots on a spectacular fourth quarter catch.


Jeremy Lin was a little used backup for the New York Knicks when injuries forced him into a more prominent role in early February. And the second year player out of Harvard responded; Lin averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists per game as Linsanity took over New York. 


Baylor wins NCCA women's basketball championship

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The Baylor Lady Bears become the first college basketball team to win forty games as junior Brittany Griner carried her squad to a perfect 40-0 season.

The Miami Heat are NBA champions

Lebron James silenced the doubters as his Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, and brought the NBA championship trophy to South Beach.

Los Angeles Kings win first Stanley Cup

They nearly squandered a 3-0 series lead, but the Kings kept their composure in Game 6 to win their first NHL championship in the team's 45 year existence.

Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game

A careful reader might wonder why I'm singling out Hernandez's performance when there were several other perfectos thrown this year; including one against my beloved Seattle Mariners. Well, it's my list and I'll choose what I want to, and I'm going to pay homage to the Mariner's ace and his incredible achievement. 

Michael Phelps: G.O.A.T.

Michael Phelps won four gold and two silver medals at the 2012 London Olympics, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time with more than twice as many gold medals as his next nearest competitor. And he might not be done yet. There’s been recent speculation that he might come out of retirement to race in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.


Running on a broken leg

Normally an Olympic track heat heat wouldn't qualify for the top ten sporting moments of the year. But normally athletes don't run the event on a broken leg. Despite shattering his fibula 200 metres into the opening leg of the 4x100 relay,  American Manteo Mitchell managed to complete his lap in a remarkable 46.1 seconds. The US easily advanced to the next round and would go on to win gold in the finals."I pretty much figured it was broken, because every step I took, it got more painful," Manteo explained."But I was out there already. I just wanted to finish and do what I was called in to do."

US Women win Gold in Olympic Soccer

The US team lost in heartbreaking fashion to Japan in the 20011 World Cup and were looking for revenge when the two sides faced off again in the Olympic finals. This time the Americans wouldn't be denied, as Carli Lloyd scored twice to lead the US to a 2-1 victory at Wembley Stadium. 

Replacement refs

With the NFL referees on strike the league had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find replacements. Some of these substitute officials had apparently been let go by the Lingerie Football League, so it wasn't surprising that the first couple of weeks featured a number of questionable calls. The controversy reached a boiling point in a week three Monday Night Football game, with the Seahawks winning on a last second touchdown that should have been ruled an interception. Not surprisingly, the regular refs were back at work the next week.

 Major League Baseball playoffs

The World Series was a bit of a bore but the rest of the playoffs sure weren't. All four of the Division Series match ups went to the maximum five games, and the Giants’ rallied from a  3-1 series deficit in the NLCS before going on to beat the Tigers in the World Series. And there was this crazy Cardinals comeback against the Cardinals:

Lance Armstrong stripped of Tour de France titles

I have fond memories of setting my alarm for six in the morning to get up and watch Lance Armstrong race in the Tour de France. And so while the longstanding rumours of his alleged drug use helped let me down easy, it was still disappointing to hear him announce that he would no longer be fighting doping charges and would hence be stripped of his seven Tour titles. Of course, as Deadspin points out, now we can all laugh hysterically at this Nike commercial:



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The 2012 movies of the year (pt. II)

By Max Halden in Sydney, Australia

3 January 2013

US Studies Centre movie guru Max Halden continues his wrap-up of American film in 2012



I’ve learned plenty this year. Two wheels are better than four in the inner city. I actually quite like martinis. Cheese. But the thing which will stick with me from 2012 is this: The less you know about a movie before you go in, the better.

And it is partly for this reason that Argo was one of my favourite films of 2012. There were plenty of expectations that could have ruined this movie for me. Knowing the outcome of the plot for one (googling "Iranian Hostage Crisis" would have been a quick ticket to disappointment), or the actors (I have very mixed feelings about Ben Affleck), or some particularly good reviews. Instead, I sat along for the ride and enjoyed it immensely.

The mixture of news footage and the Super-8 filter gives a real sense of the period, and although some of the hostages are a bit 1D (and I’m not talking tight red pants and windswept hairstyles on teenagers) and the handheld camera was giving me motion sickness for the first 15 minutes, you actually really care what happens here.

The tension is masterfully managed right up till the end (although the movie jumped the shark a bit for me when even the clutch in the getaway car stuck. SERIOUSLY, JUST LET THEM GET OUT ALREADY JESUS!) Also, the John Goodman/Alan Arkin double act adds some great comic relief especially in the opening half. And any movie that makes you reconsider your opinion of Ben Affleck as both an actor and director is saying something. Even if (or especially because) he didn’t set it in Boston. Easily in the top 3.

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Magic Mike

Magic Mike

Steven Soderbergh’s films often come in for criticism as being all style no substance. But I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing, considering just how good his style is. Especially when it’s a movie about male strippers.

This movie is undeniably fun and is worth more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are smoking hot though, which definitely helps. Alex Pettyfer (possibly my biggest Hollywood crush) plays the quiet kid who trips and falls and ends up as a stripper, Channing Tatum is the popping and locking roof tiler/entrepreneur who strips for extra coin and Matthew McConaughey (whose acting normally reminds me of a male Sarah Jessica Parker, but more country and with even less range) has a lot of fun as the strip club owner who also strips. As does pretty much everyone in this movie (both strips and has fun); there are more scantily clad buff dudes here than at Stereosonic.

But stripping aside, it’s a solid film. What starts off as a kind of bizarre sports movie (rookie kid enters new team and finds success through practice, discipline, montages) descends into a darkness that makes you question why you were valorising these guys in the first place (hint: it’s because they’re hot).

It pushes the whole American Dream subtext thing in a way that is way too obvious and it didn’t quite work as a study of post-GFC America in the way I think it intended to be. But it looks pretty, it pushes the right buttons, the ending is great and it’s six-pack central. Best watched with friends while hollering and hooting (stuffing dollar bills in the DVD player optional).



The third film from writer/director Rian Johnson, Looper marks the breakthrough for a director whose previous films (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), I liked just as much but which combined grossed about 10 times less.

This story of time travelling gangsters has a lot to recommend it. One, by making the cool concept central, but not essential (Bruce Willis wisely tells the younger version of himself at one point “I don't want to talk about time-travel shit”), it avoids falling into the ‘great concept, shit execution’ trap that In Time did last year. This is a movie that has time-travel in it, but isn’t just about it.

Two, the future is perfectly rendered. Not dystopic, not euphoric, but utterly recognizable. We haven’t fixed climate change, we just cover our old gas guzzlers in solar panels. Digital money is out and gold/silver bars are back in. The more things change…

Three, it’s well shot and, even if I still can’t get my head around Joseph Gordon Levitt being a hard-arse and not a heartbroken puppy in love with Zooey Deschanel, very well acted.

Some bits of the revenge plot were a bit hackneyed I guess, the direction it takes near the end is a bit OTT and bad guys really need to learn to aim, but it stays true to that great central theme of gangster movies throughout history — the dark side of the American Dream — and tells a complex tale about the difference, or lack thereof, one person can make to the society of which they are a part.

The Chronicle


Found footage is, like, so hot right now. Brought to the mainstream by The Blair Witch Project and seen more recently in awesome movies like Cloverfield, Catfish and Justin Bieber’s "Beauty and a Beat" videoclip, the hand-held camera aesthetic gets a social media revamp in The Chronicle, a movie about three school students who get super powers after they go down a hole and, of course, record the whole thing for your viewing pleasure (and for all their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, whatever the kids use these days).

I love this genre so I loved this movie. It combines some of the best bits of monster movies with a decently nuanced high school drama about your classic outsider trying to fit in. At 84 minutes, it’s short but sweet and although sometimes it dips into cliché, the bells and whistles of the camera work and editing make it interesting enough to keep you engaged. At its best, it reflects the changes that social media and mobile phones have wrought on the already complex dynamics of high schools (something that classics like Easy A and Mean Girls get right) and maybe even has a message about bullying that could connect with the students of today (beware the nerd scorned/spawned). Oh, and cool explosions! Cool.

The Avengers

The Avengers

We all disagree about movies. It’s only human and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But every now and then a certain movie comes along that leaves you so out of step with mainstream opinion that it makes you question if you are, in the words of Mugatu, “taking crazy pills here.” The Avengers was one of those films.

I hated The Avengers and in my righteous anger I’m blaming you. Before you indignantly howl at your computer screen, I only say this because my expectations were so astronomically high following the “OMG TOTES AMAZEBALLS” social media gushing that preceded this movie that the fairly paint-by-numbers plot just couldn’t live up to the hype.

People loved the affable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, reacted viscerally to his death and found his post-mortem revenge deeply satisfying. I found the plot device trite and the character about as interesting as wallpaper. People loved the teamwork of five superheroes working together, whereas I just questioned why the demi-god and the almost invincible giant green thing didn’t just do all the work while the spandex-wearing WW2 hangover, the spandex-wearing archer and the spandex-wearing sexy spy didn’t just chill out back at base (with the spandex wearing spaceship people). I found no dramatic tension in dropping a demigod out of a plane (if I was him, I would have jumped…) and Black Widow had about as much depth of character as Malibu Stacey.

Yes, I loved Tony Stark/Iron Man, but I would have preferred an Iron Man 3 rather than the contrived, “will they, won’t they (of course they will),” superhero mash-up movie I got. Yes, I love Joss Wheedon but the studio strictures got in the way here.

I will admit the last action scene was amazing though and the movie was almost worth the price of entry based entirely on the Hulk and Iron Man’s banter, and this:

Hulk smash

I just didn’t like it as much as everyone else and now have to be “that guy” at parties, which just makes me angrier. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…


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The 2012 movies of the year (pt. I)

By Max Halden in Sydney, Australia

2 January 2013

For our America in 2012 year-end wrap up, we asked US Studies Centre movie guru Max Halden about the year in American film...

First off, apologies to the movies I didn’t get around to seeing this year. My ideal list of 10 American movies might have also included Killing Me Softly, Dredd (not kidding, it sounded really good!), Arbitage, Ruby Sparks and Cosmopolis. But the chips fell this way…

Next up, the tricky issue of what constitutes a 2012 film. I’ve left some movies off this list despite how much I enjoyed them. The Artist, for example, a unique and wonderful film, won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Picture and so was hard to justify it making a 2012 list, even though it was released in Australia this year. Same sort of goes for The Muppets movie, a highly enjoyable romp that crossed the Trans-Pacific release date line.

Last but not least, movies which could technically be called American but aren’t really. Most obvious here is Skyfall, a co-production, but one which is about as American as warm beer and Manchester United. Sherlock Holmes similarly has American lineage but its inclusion would probably have our old friend Arthur Conan Doyle spinning in his proverbial grave (in the unlikely event that his somehow sentient corpse cared about this humble reviewers opinion).

And so with those caveats and others, in no particular order, good, bad and ugly, I present to you The 2012 Movies of the Year!

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Now I don’t normally go in for this kind of thing — this thing being the highly-popular-young-adult-book-franchise-made-into-a-movie thing — but when there are game shows involved, I will make an exception. And although it doesn’t quite live up to my favourite game show named after a movie, I have to admit, the Hunger Games was awesome.

I’ve never read the books, so coming at it from a fresh perspective, I loved the set-up and the execution (excuse the pun). The Battle Royale comparisons are obvious, albeit entirely misplaced, as this is a movie much more about your traditional ‘finding your place in the world’ teen tale rather than a bloody satire on population control and high school interaction. But those little bits of satire like Stanley Tucci’s faaaaaaabulous game show host and the ‘made-for-TV’ narratives he embodies work well in the context of a genuinely suspenseful movie.

It never quite rivals The Condemned in action sequences or The Goblet of Fire (book not movie) in terms of kids-trapped-in-a-game-show excitement, and the whole “my superpower is being able to lift heavy bags of flour” thing is pretty stoopid. But it does what it says on the box, and from what I’ve heard has something for fans and noobs alike. Oh and Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson are in it. So it is a deserving box office smash, unlike…

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Ah Ridley. You’ve given us so much greatness over the years, whether it be your '80s breakouts in Alien and Blade Runner, your romper stompers like Gladiator and Black Hawk Down or your quiet hits like Thelma and Louise or Matchstick Men. Which sadly brings me to…

Prometheus. So much shit thrown at the wall here that, really, it only works as a spectacle. The set-pieces are great and filled with that mixture of suspense, horror and grim determination that made Alien a classic (the scene where Noomi Rapace extracts the alien from herself is one of the top three scenes of the year). David is a great character (and Michael Fassbender’s performance a hauntingly good one) but even Idris Elba can’t save his one-dimensional ship captain from being smashed on the rocks of cliché.

“Why?” is the watchword of Prometheus. Where do we come from, what’s it all about, what drives us? But rather than offering possible answers, the movie just leaves you asking “why did he bother?” Why, why, why indeed. Six out of ten at best.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan, what the hell?! As ‘kind of a big deal’ of a director, I thought you would know the first rule of trilogies: the first one is the best, the second one is average and the third one looks amazing by comparison! But no, you had to go and make one, if not the, best action thriller of all time with The Dark Knight. And then he had to rise.

Don’t get me wrong I did quite enjoy Nolan’s third Batman movie. The first action sequence, even if you don’t know what the flip is going on, was certainly exhilarating, and the whole underground terrorism thing, despite the sometimes troubled Occupy parallels, was very cool. As was the exploding stadium scene — if you hadn’t seen the trailer a million times.

But it just wasn’t as good as the second one, and that was a fatal flaw. After the personality of The Joker and Harvey Two Face, Bane just couldn’t hold the stage, especially with his silly mask and voice. Marion Cotillard is a welcome addition to any movie, this being no Inexception, but her transformation to villain at the end was all too sudden to really engender any interest.

Catwoman, aka Anne Hathaway, steals the show, and some of the banter between her and the bat man himself strikes the perfect corny/edgy balance that makes good action films great. Nolan still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and the whole thing rolls pretty well. The length felt weird but it certainly packed plenty in.

But yet again, high expectations got in the way for me here (as you’ll see is my story of 2012). It’s a solid 8, but I wanted more from Nolan, who has made some of my favourite films of all time. Although I’m sad to lose Bale’s Batman, I also kinda wished he’d never risen. Bah humbug.

Margin Call

Margin Call

So although this movie premiered at Sundance nearly two years ago, its late theatrical release here has seen it squeeze on to the 2012 list (it was only widely released in the US in October 2011 so whatevs). Also, in an election era/fiscal cliff climate it feels important to put in what can only be described as the Wall Street of the 21st century. (If they hadn’t already remade Wall Street in the 21st century, of course…)

Margin Call is a very play-like piece with the action centring on one company’s actions, from bottom (or middleish) to top, on the day the global financial crisis wiped a gazillion dollars off the market. Everything hinges on conversations, with long takes in boardroom meetings, small asides on the streets, and chance meetings between characters all playing into a complex web of people trapped in some pretty heavy economic rationalism. As such, the big presence of stage and screen actors like Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and to a lesser extent Paul Bettany, gives the whole thing a gravitas essential to keep you engaged.

It didn’t make me angry about it all like Inside Job in 2010 did, but it does make you think and it’s a good conversation starter. That said, seeing it on the big screen added little and you couldn’t help but thinking it lacked something in the visuals, maybe owing to the fact that it was director J.C. Chandor’s first shot at the big time. Good first effort though and more than worth a watch considering the imminent fiscal cliff and the knock-ons it could have.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

I love Wes Anderson. And you either love Wes Anderson or you don’t, right? I disagree. And I think Moonrise Kingdom proves it.

My top film of 2012, this is a wonderfully told, beautifully shot tale of young love on the run. It is one of his most accessible films, something his latest trajectory of Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr Fox and now Moonrise Kingdom shows may be a larger trend for the director. I saw this with an Anderson skeptic and she loved it. I would show you the trailer to show you what I mean but instead I’ll show you some meta material from the movie that captures the offbeat aesthetic pretty well.

So as you can see the cast is amazing — featuring Bill “Fucking” Murray, who I love, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and a whole bunch of child actors who bring a real freshness to the whole thing, including a mini Lana Del Rey in '60s dresses (which are stunning by the way) and a baby Jason Schwartzmann (as opposed to the normal version, who is also in it).

It's set up perfectly as a kids’ daydream, something the casting feeds in to. Of course Swinton is the evil social services employee. Bruce Willis as the cop, duh! But there is so much more going on with the characters, not to mention the intricate set design, sharp cinematography and great costumes that you feel like you want to rewind to the start and watch it all over again as soon as it finished.

There was so little I didn’t like in this movie and I’m sure others found bits either indulgent or boring but I just didn’t. Like Willis and Swinton’s characters, it’s meant to be. Just like a scoop of your favourite ice cream, it’s sweet, familiar and just complex enough to leave you wanting more. Go back for seconds, I say.

Read part two of The 2012 Movies of the Year here.



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12 stories that mattered in 2012

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

31 December 2012

With 2012 drawing to a close, here are 12 stories that defined American politics in 2012. 

January 3: Rick Santorum wins the Iowa Republican Caucus

That Rick Santorum played such a prominent role in this year's presidential contest says more about the current state of the Republican Party than any chance the former Pennsylvania senator had at the presidency. Santorum had the credentials — even though he tried to present himself as a sweater vest–clad rube, he possessed plenty of Washington pedigree — but he never had the support of the public outside of an increasingly irrelevent slice of religious conservatives. Although Santorum had moments of success — first with a narrow victory in Iowa and later with races in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri — he only ever offered his party the illusion that it might not have to settle for the ideological imperfection that was frontrunner Mitt Romney. In the end, Rick Santorum's great foe — reality — won out, and a Romney machine with much greater money, momentum, and support from the mass public finally saw off its last challenger.

February 16: House Republicans exclude Sandra Fluke from a committee hearing on contraception

When House Republicans arranged a hearing to discuss the Obama administration's new contraception regulations for workplace health plans, the panel they convened contained a curious omission: women. In fact, they excluded the one woman Democrats wanted as a witness, a law student at Georgetown University named Sandra Fluke. Fluke eventually presented her evidence at a later Democratic committee meeting and, in the process, attracted the ire of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who derided Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute". Fearful of angering the broadcaster's loyal listeners, Republican candidates were hesitant in their criticism; "It's not the language I would have used" was Romney's meek disavowal. From then on, Republicans struggled to convince women voters that the party could understand their interests. It didn't help that, during the general election campaign, GOP candidates for Senate Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock touted their anti-abortion credentials by making dismissive (and biologically and theologically bizarre) remarks about rape. Romney ended up losing female voters by eleven points

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April 10: Rick Santorum suspends campaign

Rick Santorum's presidential campaign never really got off the ground, and it was long gone by the time he officially pulled the plug on it after losses in crucial Midwestern states cast doubt about his ability to compete outside the South. The real significance of the end of the Santorum campaign was that it allowed Mitt Romney to finally claim the mantle of Republican standard bearer. After five years of effectively non-stop campaigning for the party's nomination, Romney had seen off the last of his serious challengers — Ron Paul didn't suspend his campaign for another month — and could turn his attention to unseating President Barack Obama. Romney's candidacy was historic — he was the first Mormon on a major party presidential ticket — and potentially competitive — he was a successful businessman and had governed a blue state — but Romney spent the summer stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. He had trouble consolidating the support of his base, who suspected him of being an undercover moderate, and he had to continue attending to idologues and big donors long after most candidates would have begun courting the centre.

May 9: Barack Obama announces his support for same-sex marriage

Joe Biden let it slip early when he told Meet the Press that he was "absolutely comfortable" with gays and lesbians having the same marriage rights as straights — the problem was that the president's position was one far from absolute comfort. Three days later, Obama finished evolving on the issue and affirmed that he supported same-sex marriage rights. His new position didn't lead to any substantive change in US policy — though the Justice Department will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court — but Obama's shifting stance signalled a vast shift in American opinion on gay rights. In 2004, Republicans believed their opposition to gay marriage helped secure President George W. Bush a second term. Eight years later, it seemed certain that Obama would be the last Democratic president who would ever be opposed to gay marriage — and the first to support it.

June 5: Scott Walker survives recall election

Wisconsin Democrats were thrilled when they collected enough signatures to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who in 2011 had passed legislation restricting collective bargaining rights for Badger State public employees. The battle following the passage of those laws — which featured union members occupying the state house in Madison and legislators fleeing to neighbouring Illinois to prevent the state senate from forming a quorum — was the first hint since the 2008 election of Barack Obama that Democrats could match the Tea Party in terms of organisational energy. Citizens of Wisconsin, however, were not as enthused as Democrats, and responded to having to return to the polls less than two years after their last gubernatorial election by voting Walker back in. Republicans read the results as a show of support for their agenda and hoped they might be able to turn the state red in the November presidential election. It wasn't to be though: Wisconsin remained blue, as it had for the six presidential contests previous. 

June 28: Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, legal observers considered suggestions the law might be unconstitutional to be the most absurd kind of fringe thinking — conspiracy-minded comfort for Republicans who hadn't been able to hold up the bill through legislative action. It's testament to the hard work of conservative and libertarian scholars that, two years later, there was very real doubt as to whether the Supreme Court would permit the law to stand at all. At issue was whether Congress's power to legislate interstate commerce allowed it to require Americans to buy health insurance — the "individual mandate". The Court's decision, with five justices in favour, was that the Commerce Clause permitted Congress to do no such thing — but that the law was valid anyway, because the Constitution allowed Congress to levy taxes. The majority opinion, concocted by Chief Justice John Roberts was as unexpected as it was unusual — so much so that a confused CNN jumped the gun and reported incorrectly that the law had been struck down. Although the Court also decided that the Medicare funding expansion included in the act was illegitimate, President Obama's signature legislative achievement remained the law of the land and is set to apply nationwide from 2014.

July 20: Mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado

An early morning screening of the newly released Batman movie turned nightmarish in a Denver area cinema, when a man dressed in combat armour and throwing tear gas grenades shot 12 people to death and injured 59 more. The assault revived America's seemingly unending debate over how to balance gun rights and public safety, particularly when the weeks and months following the Aurora attack saw similar shooting rampages in Wisconsin, Oregon, and, in December, an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The massacre in Connecticut, which claimed the lives of twenty children and six adults, precipitated demands from gun control advocates for politicians to act to prevent such tragedies, and with a tin-eared response from the National Rifle Association and growing public outrage, 2013 seems the best chance in a long time the US has of passing new gun control legislation. Nonetheless, gun rights retain a strong place in American culture and large, highly organised political constituencies remain determined to protect what they consider their intrinsic right to self defence. There is no guarantee the United States can pass new gun control legislation, or even if it does, that it will prevent these horrific mass killings from happening again.

August 27: Republican National Convention begins in Tampa

Democrats spent the summer attacking Mitt Romney, and the presumptive GOP nominee gave them a helping hand with a series of widely discussed gaffes, but the campaign proper didn't start until the end of August with the Republican National Convention. The summer silliness didn't end though; Republicans seemed to have organised their shindig around an off-hand Obama comment that seemed to imply business owners should credit the government for their success. "You didn't build that" outraged only the right wing base, but the base got plenty of mileage out of its outrage. Other things the base enjoyed: veep pick Paul Ryan's scathing attack on the Obama administration, even if it was widely derided as untruthful. But the 2012 Republican convention will be best remembered for Clint Eastwood's bizarre and rambling denunciation of an invisible President Obama, symbolised by an empty chair. By contrast, the following week's Democratic convention was far more professional, and, even with excellent speeches from Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama, far less memorable.

September 11: Terrorists attack US diplomatic mission in Benghazi

Four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were killed when a group of heavily armed militants attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. What at first seemed to be an anti-US protest that got out of control turned out to be a well co-ordinated terrorist attack, and Republicans smelled an opportunity. Congressional investigations into an administration cover-up proved fruitless, but   the GOP did claim one scalp: UN ambassador Susan Rice was forced to withdraw herself from contention for Secretary of State when Republicans began to suspect her televised comments on the attack downplayed the terrorist connection. (Rice had been speaking from CIA-prepared talking points.) Much less explored by the investigation was whether any failures in diplomatic security contributed to the attack.

October 3: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debate in Denver

A little more than a month out from the election, the Romney presidential campaign seemed like it might be over before it had begun. President Obama rode high on strong polling after a successful Democratic National Convention, and recriminations were already being thrown around by Republicans readying themselves for defeat. That all changed after the two candidates met on equal footing for the first time at a debate in Denver, Colorado. An ill-prepared Obama looked sleepy and uninterested, and Mitt Romney was the precise opposite: he appeared authoritative, moderate, likeable, and competent. Obama supporters despaired (Andrew Sullivan fretted "Did Obama Just Throw the Election Away?") and Republicans rallied, as did the Romney polling numbers. A consensus emerged: this debate was a game-changer. Left little noticed was the inconvenient fact that Obama's poll lead had already begun to drop away before the debate began; RealClearPolitics had the Romney resurgence as beginning September 30.

November 6: Barack Obama wins a second term

In the end, the 2012 election played out exactly as expected. First term presidents usually win a second; Obama did. Challengers usually struggle to unseat a leader presiding over a growing economy; even though growth was sluggish, Romney couldn't. The polls showed Obama would triumph; he did. If there was any surprise from the contest, it was that it wasn't closer. Obama ended up with a winning margin of nearly four points — less than his seven point margin in 2008, but more than George W. Bush's second term edge of 2.4 per cent. Perhaps the explanation lay in what is a growing source of Republican concern: America's changing demographics. Romney polled poorly among women, young, and non-white voters — and the US isn't set to grow older, whiter, or more male any time in the near future. The question now is whether a party that saw such fruitless results from tetchy, obstructionist conservatism can change for the future or will it grow even more purist and extreme in response?  

December 31: America readies itself to go over the fiscal cliff

Unless Congress and President Obama can cut a deal in the next 24 hours or so, the United States will start 2013 with a swathe of new taxes and spending cuts automatically going into effect. Such a large fiscal shock to the economy would push the country back into recession, and it would be entirely self-inflicted. The spending cuts are the result of sequestration — a series of unpleasant defence and entitlement cuts Congress agreed to last year in an attempt to force itself to find a better way of reducing the deficit — and tax increases, 98 per cent of which almost everyone in Congress wants to continue. Fortunately, the economic destruction will come on slowly, even after the new year, and can still be avoided. In fact, going over the cliff will likely make it easier for Congress to come to a deal. 2013 might not be as grim for America as the dying days of 2012 make it look. 


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