Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Not Ready for Prime Time

In the last week of 2009, an Islamic terrorist riding in a plane toward Detroit, Michigan, attempted to obtain access to 72 virgins by setting his genitals on fire. That fortunate failure provided a fitting conclusion to a year in which no one quite seemed to know what they were doing.

That is not to say that everything that occurred this year was negative. Most notable for the history books: the January inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States. A couple of months later, David Souter resigned his position on the Supreme Court, and President Obama nominated the first Latina (a wise one, according to her own observation) to the court. After a minimal amount of Republican grousing, she was easily confirmed.

Some of the President's other appointments didn't fare so well. His Secretary of the Treasury was only confirmed after confessing non-payment of taxes. Another nominee -- for HHS -- withdrew after acknowledging that he had fudged on his taxes, too. Some other nominees had problems due to seemingly radical views, and some withdrew, though since the New York Times never noted them, it must not have happened. Vice President Joe Biden helped stifle any unreasonable panic over the swine flu by going on television and advising people not to fly. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton screamed at an African student who accidentally said President Clinton when he meant President Obama, and she was rarely heard from again.

While the Secretary of State largely disappeared, foreign engagement did not, as President Obama responded to the priority of domestic concerns and the economy by travelling overseas more than any President in American history in his first year. When he went to the Netherlands to try to win the 2016 summer Olympics for Chicago, the American media swooned, wondering how the selection committee could give the appearance of impartiality while choosing the windy city. They managed. They chose Rio de Janeiro instead. He also made a trip to Norway to accept a Nobel Prize awarded for no discernible reason. A visit to Copenhagen for an international conference on climate change resulted in a nonbinding treaty of questionable value.

Of course, the big issues this year were the economy, as a recession continued into the middle of this year, and health care, the reform of which became the priority of the President and congressional Democrats. Even before his inauguration, the President called for passage of an economic stimulus bill and then trusted congressional leadership to come up with it. They rushed through a bill with $800 billion worth of favors for Democratic constituencies and assured the nation that the "shovel ready projects" would keep unemployment below 8%. At year end, unemployment is above 10%, and most economists don't expect much improvement over the next year. The stock market dropped dramatically and then improved dramatically, but the economy remains in precarious condition, with economists divided over whether 2010 will see a double dip recession or modest gains. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke insisted before Congress that he will be able both to keep inflation under control and not hinder the recovery. Some believe him. Meanwhile, the President's budget office projects $9 trillion in deficit spending over the next 10 years. The current year's budget projects deficit spending in an amount nearly equal to the entire budget the last year of the Clinton administration. In protest against the spending, "tea parties" broke out across the nation. The dominant media, showing an unusually low level of class, at first ignored them and then referred to them, on air, with a slang vulgarity.

President Obama announced a rush to pass health care legislation in January, then set a deadline before summer recess, another deadline before Thanksgiving, and another one for Christmas. In August town halls, opponents of health care reform voiced their disagreement loudly and sometimes coherently. Republicans praised the disruptions. Nancy Pelosi, channelling Richard Nixon, called them "unamerican." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid compared principled opponents of his bill to opponents of abolition.

Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away after a battle with cancer. While outsiders thought of Sen. Kennedy primarily as a doctrinaire liberal, those who actually work in Washington knew him as a tireless negotiator in pursuit of his primary objectives. The health care debate was worse for his loss. On Christmas Eve, the Senate passed a 2,000 page bill with no cost controls and a fictitious faith in $400 billion in Medicare savings. Negotiators are now set to reconcile differences in House and Senate bills, a process that will probably extend into late winter or early spring.

The courts again decided an election, ruling that Minnesota had elected Al Franken to the Senate. Another court ruled that Rep. John Murtha had a constitutional right to defame soldiers in the conduct of his office.

Not all inanity occurred in Washington. It was a bad year for zippers. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford found his soulmate in Argentina, and Tiger Woods found a new use for a scorecard. Neither of their wives were amused. Back in Washington, Sen. John Ensign had a similar problem. Both Sanford and Ensign had famously been a part of a Christian "accountability group" that seems not to have been terribly effective.

While most state legislatures focused on budget problems, some found time for other pursuits. In New York, an attempted coup of the new Democratic senate leadership rendered the body nearly impotent for a couple of months. The Republican controlled Tennessee legislature responded to double digit unemployment in the state by focusing on laws permitting guns in restaurants and parks. In Texas, scores of uncontroversial bills failed to pass when Democrats effectively shut down the House of Representatives to prevent passage of a voter ID bill.

The news business grew a year older and was worse for the wear. Walter Cronkite passed away, as did Robert Novak. Their replacements are the likes of Katie Couric and Sean Hannity. Anyone who wishes to deny a belief in the inevitability of progress need look no further.

When an army psychiatrist -- a Muslim who turned out to have radical sympathies -- shouted, "Allah ahkbar," and went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, the media raced to press with stories about the need to help stressed out psychiatrists.

In sports, baseball was marred by a revelation that many already suspected: A-Rod had used steroids. The New York Yankees finally won the, uh, November classic. In football, the NFL finally acknowledged the reality that concussions pose a serious health threat to players. Not hearing about the direction the winds were blowing, a college coach, Mike Leach of Texas Tech, punished and humiliated a player for refusing to return to action shortly after a concussion. The university ultimately fired him, and rightly so.

While 2009 was a difficult year for the nation, it was a good one for your humble correspondent, who managed to talk a wonderful lady into marrying him, among other good events and circumstances. Here's to hoping we all have a good 2010.


Blogger Maroussia said...

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