Tuesday, December 30, 2008
These past couple of weeks it’s been interesting to read all the 2008 Year in Review pieces. They’re everywhere: Top political stories, the biggest scandals, the best romances, the saddest tragedies, the fashion trends…
Thinking about my own “year in review,” given the many lists out there I figured I would just make a few comments about my impressions of the year, and thoughts moving forward:
2008 will go down in history, which I don’t need to point out, for the election of an African American to the presidency. I’ve heard young people (under 30 or so) say they figured this day would come in their lifetime, and I’ve heard older people (over 60 or so) say they didn’t think they’d live to see this day. Being in the middle, I’ve spent some time pondering this—did I think I would see this day?
Like so many things, the possibility of it has always been present for me. I hadn’t ruled it out, but I also can’t say that I ever thought I’d live to see it. I always want to believe but don’t always quite make it there. To me, the election of Obama has been a demonstration that social change is possible…and that is very gratifying.
Along with that election came the most intense primary election that I can remember. Beginning with the surprising diversity of our final choices, then barreling through intense arguments and spent feelings regarding who to choose, to those final weeks of coalescing when it was clear Hillary would finally concede--it was simply amazing. You know, I don’t think after watching Hillary all those months that any woman should ever let the descriptor “intense” signify something undesirable.
In the end, the instinct that it was okay for Hillary to stay in to the very end was right. It paved the way for Obama’s final ground game, and it showed her grit and determination. Sadly, it seems that’s something women have to demonstrate overtly to be taken seriously much of the time. We have a long way to go on the gender front, and I was glad--even if pained--that the primary exposed the rifts that riddle the feminist movement. Yes, sexism was on rampant display in the media, as was the racism and classism that riddles the white feminist world itself. Nonetheless, for people on the left side of the equation, it was a primary election tailor made for debating the issues they hold dear. And I thought it was good for progress.
On the New Mexico front, a lot has been written elsewhere that gives a run-down on the political year. Heath Haussamen has a great Top 10 list that you should check out. I’ll just give you the few things that made an impression on me.
For one, I was both moved and impressed when Bill Richardson endorsed Barack Obama right after Obama gave his speech on race. Interpret it how you will—all the cynics and skeptics (you know who you are) love to tell me I’m too idealistic. Regardless, if you’re a political hound who thinks every single thing is calculated to its N-th degree, then be impressed because it certainly had an effect--I believe it got him a cabinet seat. If you are an idealist, consider it an act of solidarity and be moved by it. I suppose I have a little bit of both in me, and I figure Richardson does also.
When it comes to the Senate race, the Steve Pearce/Heather Wilson primary was very instructive. It didn’t seem to matter to primary voters that Pearce would have a much harder time winning against Udall than Wilson would have. They just wanted a conservative who is solidly not in the middle. I think I have to respect them for that, even though it left them no seat in the congressional delegation.
The “progressive sweep” that so many talk about was inspiring. Not because I think progressive energy is sweeping New Mexico, but because it shows that the large amount of progressive energy that has always existed in this state can be harnessed to achieve real political representation. And in this case the effort manifested at both the federal level with Martin Heinrich’s win, and at the state level with a number of highly progressive people elected to the legislature. Yes, it had something to do with Obama’s ground game…but that wasn’t the whole story by a long shot.
Is it the economic crisis that has caused corruption to all of a sudden be so visible? In the case of Bernie Madoff—a situation that perfectly symbolizes the financial house of cards that has imploded around us—yes. But with the rest—no, not so much.
The depth and breadth of it is astounding. Perhaps we should just thank U.S. Attorneys for the fact that we know a pretty clear thing these days...corruption is simply everywhere. Ethics reform anyone?
Something to be very optimistic about is the increasing consensus about the need to shift away from fossil fuels. The run-up in gasoline prices during the first half of 2008 freaked the American public out...in a major way. And the result was a serious boost to the movement to go green and clean with cars as well as the energy sector as a whole. Many wonder if we'll see a repeat of the 1970s this go round--after oil prices dropped, everything went back to business as usual. But I don't think it'll happen this time. People get that the oil days are going to end eventually.
Another point to make about 2008, is about the emergence of gay and lesbian rights as a more mainstream issue. The move by the California Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage and the subsequent marriage of over 18,000 couples had a real impact on the American psyche. The passage of Proposition 8, which rolled that gain back just a few short months later at the polls, caused a significant percentage of Americans to pay serious attention to this issue for the first time. And I think ultimately more straight Americans are on board the GLBT justice train than ever before.
All the rest aside, for a huge percentage of Americans 2008 was a painful year. That gasoline shock only added to a rapidly escalating economic crisis--vast numbers of the normal people in this country are in serious financial straits. I say “normal” people to differentiate all of us from the one class that leads the high life at the expense of everyone else.
The images of the CEO's of these giant corporations receiving bail-out money while still living their excessive lifestyles of private jets and high-priced resorts, not to mention huge salaries, simply amaze me. Do they have no humility, or sense of mutual aid in times like these?
Well, the answer is obvious--the capitalist system, of which they are giants, doesn't foster those traits.
Bernie Madoff's scheme is emblematic of everything that is wrong with our financial system. There he was sucking out people’s money to pay off other people, just moving it around and feeding off the top while he was at it. But when his scheme couldn’t sustain itself anymore, the outcome was highly destructive to the people who trusted him.
This is very similar to the mortgage crisis itself. All the mortgage holders who were persuaded they could have the "American dream," too, did what they were told they needed to do: "Just get yourself a house, no problem." But when the scheme began to tank they're the first ones out on the street, while those in power are methodically trying to save their accumulated largesse.
You know, if building houses is the engine of growth for so many of our cities, as many seem to think given the sprawling subdivisions that are literally everywhere, and if home ownership is seen as the one necessary aspect, really, of middle class status, then don't you think something is seriously out of whack? From the looks of things, a heck of a lot of people just can't afford a house.
And, really, what's wrong with renting anyway? If we had a secure safety net in place for our senior citizens...there wouldn't be anything wrong with it.
I’m hoping that the Obama administration will seriously reform how we conduct business. I have to admit I'm skeptical. He may be all for a big government spending project to jump-start the economy, but will he push for serious structural reforms that will mitigate the worst aspects of our economic system? Or is his stimulus package about restoring the status quo? Just like his own election…I hold out hope that he means it when he talks up such things as universal health care, but I also can’t say I really believe deep down that I’ll see it.
But, as we have seen, social change is possible…so I'm prepared to be optimistic.
Happy New Year. See you all tomorrow, in 2009.