Friday, December 11, 2009

2009 in Review, Part One

Now that the first decade of the 21st Century is drawing to a close, it is a good time to look back and take stock of the year's important events. By "important" I mean what I think people will look back on in twenty years, not what the howling heads on cable news label newsworthy. The two are occasionally related ... But I assure you, in twenty years' time, L'Affaire Woods will only be of interest to trivia completists. So, on with the show: Part One will cover domestic and foreign affairs, and Part Two will cover science and technology.

Obama Administration, Year One: Graded R, for work-in-progress. No matter who takes office, the Presidency has a very steep learning curve. Obama has done fairly well so far. Not necessarily exceptional, but still more or less what I thought I was buying last November. While no plan ever survives contact with reality, he's rolled with the punches, and moved the chains. He understands that politics is often the art of the half-loaf, as opposed to "my way or the highway." It's an approach that moves both faster and slower than people realize. For example, while Obama has not gotten his health-care overhaul through Congress yet, he's gotten closer to that goal in his first year than any President since Truman ever did.

Financial Crisis: This is probably what 2009 will be remembered for most by historians of the future, as the worst year of what some have been calling the Great Recession. But bear in mind that, only a year or so ago, some were fearing an actual depression as opposed to a recession. It's too early to say that a corner has been turned, but even so there's reason for guarded optimism. While the stimulus didn't work as well as its planners had hoped, it did work somewhat. And while many were outraged at the Wall Street bailout, it was a necessity at the time. Taken together, those two measures returned a sense of stability to the financial markets. The next few years may well be tight, and credit will probably never again be as easy as it was five years ago. But at least the money is moving again. And, as inventory is drawn down, hiring will rise as demand for production increases. With luck, the worst is over.

Cleaning Up The Mess: Closing the prison at Guantanamo has proven rather more complex than it had been assumed at first, which didn't really surprise me. But we're moving in that direction, and moving forward on trials for detainees still in custody, which is a very good thing. The trials will expose for the public record what was done to the detainees while in our custody. The torture that was condoned under the Bush Administration is a stain upon America's honor. The stain can only be washed clean by the disinfecting power of sunlight. I wish that it were not necessary to say that, but the actions of Bush and Cheney forced it upon us. The sooner we face up to that and acknowledge what was done in our name, the better.

Winding Up, Winding Down: While we are winding down our commitment in Iraq, we are also winding up our presence in Afghanistan. In my opinion, this is overdue by at least two years. We don't want to be in Afghanistan forever. But at the same time, we also need to make sure it doesn't turn right back around and become a nation-sized terrorist training camp. That, at least, is still an achievable goal. Looking back, I think people will mark this as the year Afghanistan moved back to the front burner. It's still to early to tell if the shift was just in time, or too late.

Our New Best Friend: I think it's telling that Obama's first state dinner wasn't with one of our neighbors or with a long-time ally, but with the Prime Minister of India. Our growing partnership with the world's largest democracy is our most important relationship with a developing country. Though our cultured differ, we are alike in that we are both former British colonies; and through India's inherited British-derived institutions, we are more alike than different in many ways. India will graduate into major-power status sometime in the next hundred years. They will be a very important friend to have when they do. It's good to see that we're still building on the foundation laid by the Bush Administration's State Department. It's one of the few things they didn't screw up.

The Right Doubles Down On The Crazy: The Reagan Coalition continues to disintegrate. The Republicans managed to lose a seat in New York that they had since ... well, basically since there was a Republican Party, and the social conservatives hailed that as a victory. They have no economic program except for tax cuts, they have no foreign policy besides mindless belligerence, and have more or less run off the serious economic conservatives and the serious national-security conservatives. There are a few serious-minded Republicans out there, but they're keeping a low profile while the Tea Party fanatics run wild. It will be interesting to see what happens. Will the fanatics finally purge all opposition from their party? Or, will they decide they don't need no stinking Republican Party, and opt for going it alone? If that happens, look for a three-way race in 2012. Or 2016. Either way, that will probably mark the nadir of the right's descent into madness.

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