With both the fiscal cliff debacle and irrational fears about the Mayan calendar behind us, we can confidently look forward to 2013 with only the most mundane of superstitions impeding our progress.
The first of these superstitions is a ritual most of us are guilty of indulging in despite our miserable track records. A new year brings new resolutions to those of us who don't know any better. Who among us can resist the urge to make new resolutions while staring at the vast expanse of days on our new calendars?
"Men should pledge themselves to nothing; for reflection makes a liar of their resolution," that grumpy old Greek philosopher Sophocles said. We chuckle at his maxim even as we wonder what it really means. For thousands of years, smart people have tried to warn us away from the folly of making resolutions we lack the character or internal fortitude to accomplish.
Thomas Hardy, arguably the most depressing novelist of the 19th century (sorry Fyodor Dostoevsky), summed up the consensus of the intelligentsia quite nicely with this uplifting ditty: "A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible."
By February, most of us are smart enough to realize the futility of our resolutions, especially after the moment that inspired our short-term, pain-free promise has passed. Still, the first week of January is the period in which magical thinking about our New Year's resolutions is at its height.
This week, the right-wing philosopher Glenn Beck made a resolution on his radio program to abstain from mentioning President Barack Obama by name or playing audio featuring his voice. Ever the totalitarian, Mr. Beck imposed this rule on his callers and on his co-host and loyal flunky Stu Burguiere, too.
"Anybody who brings him up, besides me, is fired," Mr. Beck said, adding that referring to Mr. Obama as "Mr. President" or even in passing as "the president said" would be flirting with dismissal. Mr. Beck made an exception for the show's news reader, but everyone else in his pocket universe must adhere to the new n-word: the "No Obama" rule.
"You can allude to him. You can play [audio tape of] Joe Biden. But I don't want to hear [Obama's] voice. I don't want to hear him. I don't want to know about him. You want that information? Go anyplace else," Mr. Beck said. "There's thousands of outlets. You can have all the information you want. I am not talking about that man."
Mr. Beck is furious with Mr. Obama for consistently outfoxing the entire delegation of conservative politicians and pundits who imagine that they're smarter than a "community organizer" who obviously conned his way into America, an Ivy League education, an Illinois Senate seat and, finally, the White House.
Mr. Beck is mystified that such an obvious interloper has been able to bamboozle the American electorate into rewarding him two elections in a row. He has a superstitious awe of Mr. Obama's ability to outmaneuver the Tea Party, the only force in American politics that adheres to the strict constitutional values of the founders, as far as he's concerned.
As Mr. Beck looks at the leadership of the Republican Party to stop the nation's drift toward serfdom, he's in despair. He doesn't like the odds for his side of the political divide or its representatives' ability to appeal to the electorate outside the lines of their gerrymandered districts.
Meanwhile, he scoffs at the elected Republican leadership in the House and the Senate as they slouch toward inevitable showdowns with the Obama administration over immigration, the debt ceiling and an assault weapons ban. He imagines himself personally locked in a cosmic struggle with Mr. Obama that he believes he can win as long as he can block out the torrent of lies that has bewitched the rest of America.
Like Mr. Beck's colleagues, we should all be skeptical of the talk show host's ability to last even a few days trying to execute such a foolish resolution. If there's one player on the American political scene whose name is impossible to leave out of daily discussions, it is Barack Hussein Obama.
Most Americans can't name their congressional representatives, the members of the U.S. Supreme Court or even the U.S. vice president. That's why a legitimate news or talk show host can't treat the president as if he's Lord Voldemort, the Harry Potter nemesis also known as "he who must not be named."
By this time next week, Mr. Beck's resolve not to use the president's name will have already been replaced by his usual impotent stuttering.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.