Monday, January 01, 2007

2006: New Detour or New Destination?

Only time will tell whether the events of 2006 portend a new national direction in U.S. politics or a temporary detour. Broadly speaking, there have been three distinct eras in presidential politics since the Civil War: the Republican Party dominated in the years 1860 – 1932; the Democrats held sway from 1932 through 1968; and Republicans have had most control in the years since.

While 2006 was not a presidential election year, the off year elections had significant implications for the next election in 2008. Voters, angry over the Iraq War and a political culture perceived as out of control, repudiated Republican leadership. Congressional Republicans, who returned those responsible for the current morass to congressional Republican leadership positions, seemed not to have noticed. Trent Lott complained that people concerned about earmarks are “troublemakers.” The alleged party of limited government made him Senate minority whip. Perhaps they like minority status? In the meantime, Democrats expressed glee to have won on the issue of the war – an issue on which they lack a coherent position.

Those who thought that Republicans and Democrats could agree on nothing were disappointed: Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi expressed bipartisan shock that members of Congress were subject to normal law enforcement after the FBI searched the office of a Democratic member with thousands of dollars of cold, hard cash stuffed into his freezer.

In fact, political corruption was much in the news. It should be difficult for a person to seek to dress as an orthodox Jew and be confused as looking like a Mafioso, but Jack Abramoff pulled it off. House Majority Leader Tom Delay resigned his position and seat in Congress in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. Ohio Congressman Robert Ney pleaded guilty to related charges and resigned. In Tennessee, the General Assembly responded to the arrest of several legislators by passing complicated laws targeting lobbyists. Republicans ignored information that the congressman responsible for leading the House internship program was sending inappropriate e-mails to interns. Democratic staffers stole the identity of Maryland Republican senate candidate Michael Steele. Nancy Pelosi attempted to put a man previously impeached for accepting a bribe in charge of the House Intelligence Committee. Meanwhile, both parties looked for ways to “use” the ethics issue.

Major League Baseball courageously announced a steroids investigation that would only cover the period of time since 2002. The home run era of Bonds, McGuire, and Sosa would be ignored. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series because Detroit pitchers could not throw the baseball properly after fielding it. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Fans argued the appropriate draft order of quarterbacks named Cutler, Leinart, and Young. One expects that this argument may continue for much of the next decade. Super pitchman Payton Manning suggested that fans might want alternatives to watching the Colts blow out the Titans. The Titans proceeded in December to beat the Colts.

In legal news, Sam Alito was confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. The 9th U.S. Circuit, with a reputation for being overturned unanimously, did nothing to undermine that reputation. A California attorney sued the dating website E-harmony.com for refusing to allow him to post an ad. He is married.

Congress argued about immigration, but accomplished nothing. Social security moved one year closer to insolvency. When gas prices flew past $3.00 per gallon, the public demanded that the government do something. The government did nothing and gas prices fell back to previous levels.

In science, Pluto ceased to be a planet. Al Gore inconveniently made a movie arguing that hurricane Katrina proved that concerns about global warming are serious – in a year that saw no major hurricanes hit the United States. Undeterred, Gore’s allies explained that the lack of hurricanes had to do with global warming.

The Pope criticized Islam for spreading violence in propagating its religion. Muslims rioted in several cities, killing a Catholic nurse and vandalizing numerous churches. The New York Times called on the Pope to apologize. Senator Harry Reid did a good Spiro Agnew imitation in threatening the licensure of television stations showing a docudrama on the lead up to 9/11. Representative Lincoln Davis, either seriously or not, took to the House floor to urge the banning of divorce and adultery.

New York, having mastered all of its serious problems, banned trans fats in restaurants. The 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS in the U.S. passed. HIV continued to devastate sub-Sahara Africa, though most of the world seems not to have noticed.

In education, Hamilton College refused to accept a gift establishing a center for the study of the thought of Hamilton. A report on state world history standards gave D’s or F’s to 33 U.S. states.

Milton Friedman, to the last half century what Keynes was to economics for most of the 50 years before, passed away, as did Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the first woman to serve as the United States’ ambassador to the U.N. Gerald Ford ceased to be the country’s oldest ex-President.

Saddam Hussein, having murdered millions, met his maker. One suspects it did not go well.

A wide array of Republicans and Democrats visited Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008 we will begin to learn if 2006 was a new direction or a detour.

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