With the new year here, we have the opportunity to reflect on the year gone by and to thank the passage of time for resolving some situations. While some happenings in 2008 came and went, other events of 2008 still require time, time that will absorb much of 2009 and even beyond.
So today, before we forge ahead with the rest of this new year, we reflect on the events that shaped politics and the politics that shaped events, by presenting to you the 10 most significant political stories of the year that helped to get us where we are today.
10. – THE DEATHS OF TIM RUSSERT and TONY SNOW
Both of these men loved politics. For a time they were both involved in politics on different sides of the aisle and during a different time they covered both sides of the aisle in politics . Tony Snow started in print and broadcast journalism delivering political news and commentary and ended his career in politics as the Press Secretary for President Bush. Tim Russert began in politics working for a political legend, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and ended covering politics on NBC. As host of Meet The Press, Tim became a part of every American household and despite his personal left leaning tendencies Tim Russert was respected for probing questions that were leveled at liberals and conservatives alike. Tony Snow was also a partisan. For decades he was a favorite in conservative circles, yet when delivering a news story people of every party carefully listened to the insightful delivery of facts that he presented. His last major endeavor was one that helped provide the White House with the ability to properly convey the right messages. Tony served as Press Secretary for 17 months. Probably the most understandable 17 months of the Presidents two terms in office. Tim Russert died after suffering a massive heart attack on Jun 13th at the age of 58 and Tony Snow died after battling colon cancer on July 12th at the age of 53. In life they shaped politics and political opinion. In death, they left us a legacy of lessons and examples to follow.
9 . – IS THAT CAMPAIGN MONEY IN YOUR POCKET OR ARE YOU JUST GLAD TO SEE ME?
The Empire State helped to set a tone for 2008 when early in the year, New York’s Governor, Elliot Spitzer got caught up in scandal. After serving only 14 months in office the rising Democrat star found himself standing next to his wife announcing his resignation. Suspicious transfers of money in and out of Spitzer’s bank account led federal investigators to believe that he might be taking bribes. However their probe discovered that for over several years Spitzer wasn’t taking bribes, he was paying out at least $80,000 for prostitutes. The period covered his tenure as New York’s Attorney General as well as his brief time as Governor. The happiest people of all in this episode were David Paterson and New Jersey. As Spitzer’s Lieutenant Governor, Paterson, became New York’s first African American Governor, and the nation’s first legally blind one. New Jersey was just happy to know that they were no longer the only state in the region to lose a governor because of sexual scandals and illegal conduct.
8. – WEEKEND AT KIM’S
Around August rumors began to circulate that North Korea’s obscure and, to put it kindly, eccentric leader, Kim Jong-Il, was dead. Since then no reputable sources have either seen him or heard from him. Not that that is unusual, few people have ever heard or seen Kim Jong-Il, but what is unusual are recent decisions that Kim Jong-Il supposedly made to eliminate efforts to develop nuclear power. Did Kim make that decision? Is North Korea really abandoning nuclear ambitions? Or is North Korea propping up Kim Jong-Il, like a bad, out of sync, Korean version of “Weekend At Bernie’s” while a different, unknown, brain dead ruler is pulling the strings and, at the same time, trying to pull the wool over our eyes? All jokes aside, the sensitivity of the situation is a dire one. Chaos on the Korean Peninsula could create a ripple effect that no one can afford. Dramatic events could alter sensitive relations with South Korea and negotiations with the United States. All of which could result in tensions throughout the world including those involving hard feelings between North Korea and Japan. And let us not forget North Korea’s greatest ally, China. With their booming economy, the Chinese are ambitious. Knowing who is in charge of things could be helpful in 2009.
7. – BID WELL FIDEL?
In 1959 Cuba took on the face of Fidel Castro. Just 90 miles off of our shores, Cuban communism and Castro were too close for comfort. As much as we didn’t like it, invasions, coups and even assassination attempts did not eliminate Castro’s hold on power. However, time did reduce Castro’s influence. As time changed most of the world, Castro and Cuba didn’t but the logistics which helped to make him a thorn in our side did change. The, once feared communist Soviet-Cuban relationship lost it’s potency as the Soviet Union lost it’s hammer and sickle. As time went by, our concerns with Cuba focused more on human rights for Cubans than defense from Cuba. So it was still welcome news when, in February, we discovered that an ailing Fidel Castro was resigning from office. Not that it mattered much. Before stepping down, Fidel told the Cuban Communist Party that they were too elect his brother Raul to be the new Commander in Chief. The event did not change things very much but after almost 50 years in power, and events such as the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Elian Gonzales and other disconcerting situations, as minor as the effects of this change may be, Fidel’s painstakingly slow departure from the world stage is welcomed and ranks as the seventh most dramatic political occurrence of 2008.
6. – THE GEOGIAN-RUSSIAN WAR
It was not a battle that reshaped Europe again but the surprising developments that caused the Russian Army to invade a neighboring, breakaway Republic with internationally recognized sovereignty, gave us all a glimpse of reality. It may not be the Soviet Union anymore but a bear by any other name is still a bear and the vulnerabilities of newly formed and reformed European nations and those with relatively new freedoms still offer some new Russian leaders the same old reasons for wanting control. The incident helped to demonstrate that freedom in parts of Europe is still a fragile concept.
5. – THE EBAY APPOINTMENT
2008 ended with a story that will carry well into the first months of 2009. As President-Elect Obama vacated his seat in the U.S. Senate, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich began a private auction process to determine who will fill the vacancy. As investigators, under the direction of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, investigated Blagojevich for numerous improprieties, they discovered that he was basing his appointment to the senate seat on who could give him the most for it. Blago wanted either a “cushy union” job, a high paying cabinet position or at the very least an enormous financial campaign contribution. After being arrested the Illinois state legislature began impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich and he began digging in his heals refusing to resign. The events have the potential for drawing in some big name co-conspirators and participants. From Rep. Jesse Jackson, jr. to President -Elect Obama’s incoming Chief of Staff, Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuelle, many reputations may yet be questioned in this scandal. And to make things even more interesting, Blagojevich took the opportunity to raise the stakes and named Roland Burris, a long time, old line, liberal Chicago Democrat party machine hack to replace Barack Obama. Not at all concerned with peoples faith in government, or the integrity of the process, Burriss accepted the tainted appointment and in doing so, puts the United States and it’s Democrat leader, Harry Reid in the position of denying to seat someone that would be the only African American in the United States Senate. So coming in as the fifth top political occurrence in 2008 is the story that will keep on bleeding and keep us reading…..the process to replace a Barack Obama in the senate.
4. – BRINGING OUTSIDERS IN
One of the most important political decisions made in 2008 was John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for Vice President on the Republican ticket. It was a controversial choice for some and one of the only right decisions made in the opinions of others. No matter how you see it, it remains one of the most spoken about political stories of the year. Beyond the newsworthiness are the implications. For many it was a sign of the fact that government needs thinking that is as far removed from the Washington D.C. mentality as Alaska is from Washington D.C itself. Many Americans are tired of Washington politics and want common sense as opposed to the one hand washes the other, old boys bureaucracy that we perceive as screwing us more than helping us. Sarah Palin embodied, and still does embody, that thinking. She is a political outsider who became a Governor by opposing the political class while representing the working class. Without abandoning conservative Republican principles, Sarah Palin fought against corrupt Republican and liberal politicians. Although picking Sarah Palin for Vice President may have been the right decision for John McCain, trying to restrict and control her wasn’t. By trying to script Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign lost out on the greatest advantageous quality Palin brought to the ticket…….her anti-establishment, outsider qualities. As McCain lost the election for President, Sarh Palin won exposure. Exposure that has made her a person who conservatives look forward to advancing the cause and for Americans to have to consider for national leadership in the future. So at number four in 2008 is the selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Thank you senator McCain!
3. – “OILS WELL” IN THE ECONOMY?
The price of oil ranks third on our list of top stories. As prices for a barrel of oil soared to heights in excess of 150 dollars a barrel , gas prices flew up to over 4 dollars a gallon and the ripple effects raise the cost of everything from milk, eggs and bread to lumber, air fares, and life in general. The high cost of energy generated heated debates over domestic oil drilling, and pushed issues like immigration and terrorism off of the front burners in the race for President. Based upon the duration of the immediate negative effects of the price of oil combined with its ripple effects on the economy, its control of the political agenda and the long term policy initiatives that it created, oil prices is number 3 in ‘08. It is also likely to become a top story again, at least around August of ‘09, when the now delightfully low prices we see rise back up.
2. – THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA
Putting all political opinion aside, Barack Obama ran a long hard campaign, that Republican strategists are dissecting in order to reproduce in elections of their own. The Obama campaign not only effectively tapped into voter dissatisfaction, they organized it and organized it well. Their utilization of the internet was exemplary and their ability to win favor through eloquence and style over substance and fact was done to political perfection. Despite some pitfalls such as Bill Ayers, ACORN, Rev. Wright, admitting a desire akin to socialism by stating that he wanted to spread the wealth, Barack Obama won big. To do so his campaign raised historic amounts of money and more than just raising that money, they spent it right and put it to good use. A use that mobilized the forces well enough to produce his substantial victory. The election of President-Elect Barack Obama comes in second not only because of how he won but because he did win. His victory marked the election of America’s first African American President. Like any other first, it is notable and in this case it is profoundly notable. It demonstrates an undeniable ability for our nation to overcome racial differences and the evidence of decency overcoming prejudice is promising. The effects of President-Elect Obama’s leadership are yet to be seen but the lessons learned and points made by his election are unquestionable.
1 . – BAIL OUT MANIA
POLITICS 24/7 considers the 700 billion dollar bailout that the federal government approved to be the most profound and important story of 2009. Not only was the suggested need for this bailout indicative of our wrong ways of the past, it signaled a continuation of wrong ways in the future. Our promotion of spending as the answer to all of our problems has created generations ands a government that spend beyond our means. The 700 billion dollar bailout meant to solve our problems didn’t solve our anything, it just provided a quick fix. It did however, create more problems. It has called upon more people and more industries to put their own hands out. The bailout set in motion a sense of government control that has taken freedom, with all of it’s risks and promises, out of the free market and it has helped to move America closer to the socialism that we have fought against in the past. Many major events come and go in politics. What we once saw as earth shattering developments often become something that we later laugh about but we fear that bailout trend established in 2008 is no laughing matter for any time.
2008 was an intense year. There were many events and some of the most dramatic ones did not involve politics. Human nature played a role in all of them though and hopefully our better instincts will drive the events and politics of 2009.
With that in mind we wish everyone a happy new year and hope that our better instincts help to make each and every day better than the last.