Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 - The best, and the worst

This morning, I was reading and happened to notice the date: 1/1/09/. Just seeing those numbers, I felt a mild sense of relief. 2008 is gone, it's history, it's all in the past. Whew. What a year.

To steal from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sometimes the best and the worst were embodied by the same person. John McCain represented the best of straight white American male traditions - the honorable war hero who speaks his mind. But then he was also the worst of straight white American male traditions - the man willing to do almost anything to advance his own career, the freewheeling ne'er-do-well who lives by his own rules, ignoring the concerns of others, a man at once burdened by a great personal heritage, and yet who feels entitled by virtue of that same heritage. The man committed for years to a noble cause, but one who makes the most important decision of his career - his choice of vice-president - on the careless and reckless basis of gut instinct.

Sarah Palin contained multitudes of contradictions. The first woman VP candidate for the GOP, a working mom, a fresh face from outside the political establishment, she broke new ground in lots of ways. But she was also one who - you betcha - had many of the same disastrous qualities of those within that establishment. A petty, vindictive, mean-spiritied liar, with an ego inflated way out of proportion to her accomplishments. It takes extraordinary hubris to decide to run for national office, but Palin's sense of her personal potential was way out of whack even by the ridiculous standards of American politics. A woman who invented her own terminology for being down-to-earth - the "hockey mom" - broke new ground for being a diva.

Tina Fey started out the year doing well - star and producer of her own TV sitcom, accomplished writer, star of a movie with her good friend Amy Poehler, Baby Mama. And then, with only a few minutes of TV time over a couple of months, she went from rising star to cultural icon. No good roles for women? Hold on, sister; women created great new roles for other women.

One of those women who created new roles for women was, of course, Hillary Clinton. She went on a roller coaster few other people - men or women - have ever experienced. On Jan. 1, 2008, she was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Two days later, on January 3, came the Iowa caucuses, won by Barack Obama. Hillary placed third, behind John Edwards. Then she won New Hampshire, but never really gained momentum. She endured her share of vitriol and abuse - some of it, I admit, from me - but then gave the speech of her life when she conceded to Obama. For a few months they were opponents, but never enemies. Now they are allies. All in one year.

Remember all the Republican nominees? Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, the Thompsons, Tommy and Fred? Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee? Some of them had parts that were attractive to large swaths of the American population, but none had the complete package. If a mad scientist had been able somehow to combine Huckabee's folksy charm and common sense, Mitt Romney's money and basic competence, and John McCain's war hero status (and his late, lamented independence from the right wing), they might have had a chance to win this year. Except, of course, the one thing no Republican could have changed was the legacy of George W. Bush.

I'm not going to explore the contradictions of Bush. That would require a book, not part of a blog post.

On the grand scale, we elected our first African-American president, decades before almost anyone thot it would be possible. It turns out that old white guys aren't the dominant, all powerful demographic in this country anymore. And about those white guys: they inflicted incredible damage on themselves, as the contradictions of conservative ideology came crashing down around them. It turns out that "smaller government" and "less regulation" also means "freedom without accountability," which can also turn into "greed without restraint." Which is a recipe for corruption.

I am very much looking forward to 2009.

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