Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Party On

In December, a group of atheists in Fort Worth, Texas decided to emulate one of the most despised Christian vices, self-righteousness, by purchasing from the city's transit authority ads bragging that they "are good without God." Remarkably, a small group of local ministers protested this invasion of their turf, calling for a boycott and ultimately prompting the transit authority to ban any future ads with religious content. The atheists congratulated themselves on all of the publicity they garnered from the ads. This kerfuffle of muddled messages and ultimate victory proclaimed by the insurgents typifies much of what happened over the previous year.

2010 began with an election heard around the world: Republican Scott Brown was elected to the Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy. Democratic leaders emerged from a meeting in a White House echo chamber with a determination to carry on with business as usual, and Congress passed Obamacare while Democrats assured themselves that the public would be appreciative by November. Well. While other Democratic prognosticators were wrong, the Vice-President surely was not when he called it a "big ... deal," even if it was not in the sense that he declared it.

The President defended his plans while delivering his annual State of the Union address, but most of his message was forgotten as the media focused on his hectoring of the Supreme Court for upholding the free speech rights of persons that many people find disagreeable: corporations. Justice Samuel Alito was caught on camera shaking his head, resulting in expressions of outrage from media outlets that don't support free speech rights for any corporations except their own. As the public expressed increasing worry over the burgeoning federal deficit, Congress responded by NOT passing a budget resolution. As unemployment remained near ten percent, Congress did nothing and the Administration launched a PR campaign: "recovery summer." When it became apparent that no significant recovery was happening, the White House stopped using the phrase, and terms such as "shovel ready" and "stimulus" fell into disuse, as well.

Even as the country continued to flounder, the political class was surprised and annoyed at the lack of deference given to them, as a loose coalition of citizens referred to as the "Tea Party" emerged. Liberals continued to try to discount the group by referring to them with a sexual innuendo, but this seems only to have made them more interesting. Having never seen rhetorical excess emerge from a populist movement, leftists were also astounded that this sometimes occurred. Some tried to claim that the Tea Party was a Republican operation, ignoring evidence that Republican grassroots organization is an oxymoron. Besides, as the Tea Party made clear that they blamed the Republican establishment for many of the nation's problems, many Republicans considered the movement a problem, not a help.

The New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, but that was the last of the good news for the Pelican State. An oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana killed 11 people and resulted in a stream of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico for the following three months. Not knowing what to do, the President did nothing at first, and then responded by sending a team of lawyers. BP's CEO complained about wanting his life back and was sent packing to Siberia by the company. Ultimately, the leak was stopped. The extent of the damage remains unclear, but scavenging attorneys remain hopeful that it will be worse than it appears. The administration placed a moratorium on future oil drilling that has harmed a Louisiana economy that has never recovered from hurricane Katrina.

Beyond the oil spill, Mother Nature had a bad year. An earthquake in Haiti brought further devastation to that unfortunate land. A volcano in Ireland disrupted air traffic across Europe for weeks, and a snow storm along the eastern seaboard of the United States stranded travellers at the end of the year. Global warming alarmists held an international conference in Cancun and accomplished nothing of note, as global warming as a political issue seemed to be losing steam.

Foreign affairs remained concerning. The United States continues to wage war in Afghanistan, though no one other than the families of soldiers there seems to notice. Former Congressman Charlie Wilson, noted for his advocacy of help for the Afghans in their previous war against the Soviet Union, passed away. The North Koreans killed a couple of South Korean Marines, and the world remains unsure how to respond. Iran continues to make threats regarding its development of nuclear weapons, with the rest of the world seeming to hope for or dread an Israeli response.

In sports, the Texas Rangers finally made it to the World Series, where they were unable to slay Giant pitchers. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner died, as did former Reds and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson and Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. Not many know that Harwell made the television call of Bobby Thompson's historic "shot heard round the world." Thompson also passed away this year.

In yet another indication that real journalism has ceased to exist, the New York Times referred to Jon Stewart as "the Edward R. Murrow" of our day. Stewart is a talented comedian and a sometimes insightful commentator, but, well.... Daniel Schorr died.

The Tea Party's emphasis on fiscal responsibility made it inhospitable to most Democrats and many Republicans. Some of the candidates it helped made life easier for Democrats. A weak Senate candidate in Nevada saved the political career of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Republican candidate for Senator in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, was forced to make perfectly clear that she was not a witch.

Nonetheless, the House fell on Nancy Pelosi. In addition to picking up over 60 seats in the House of Representatives and six in the U.S. Senate, Republicans gained 675 seats in state legislatures across the country.

Among the Tea Party's successes: they have for the time being made pork barrel politics disreputable. Few incumbent candidates dared to campaign based on their ability to bring home the bacon given the public's insistent alarm over the budget deficit. This year saw the death of numerous notable political figures, among them Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), and Sen. Ted Stephens (R-AK). While these, no doubt, accomplished much that was admirable during their lives, they were renowned for a style of politics that viewed elective office as a raid on the federal treasury in behalf of their constituents. No ill will is meant toward them individually in hoping that this style of politics would die with them.

For most of the last decade, tax cuts passed during the presidency of George W. Bush were derided as benefiting only the wealthy, but Democrats reluctantly agreed in December to continue cuts for upper income earners in order to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. Congress also approved in December an end to the Clinton era policy of "don't ask, don't tell," and the Senate approved an arms treaty with Russia.

With so many new faces in both Congress and state houses across the country, 2011 promises to be an interesting -- perhaps even entertaining -- year. Party on!