by Don Klein
In a few days the new year will be upon us making it appropriate to look back on the noteworthy year of 2009. It was historic for a number of major reasons, but I also see a healthy (or rather, unhealthy) quantity of the good, bad and ugly when I recall the happenings of the past 12 months.
Let’s take the ugly first in order to end on an upbeat. We had more than the usual share of ugliness in the country this past year. Sadly I feel the prize for the ugliest goes to former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He was at the controls of his own woeful political train wreck.
I place him on the top of bad boys because he was the one who promised us the best for the future in public service and responsibility. He was a man who as a lawyer fought for the little guy all his life. He was a man of great ideals, was presidential in his bearing and spoke convincingly and intelligently about a new vision of national caring. In short he was beguiling.
But he had feet of clay and proved in the end to be much more than just a disappointment. He was deceitful in concealing an affair of passion with a film contractor who worked for him during the primary campaign and had apparent little regard for the public he would have served if elected by hiding the illicit relationship. All this while his ailing wife, Elizabeth, battled Stage IV breast cancer.
When it came to people with zipper problems, Edwards was not alone. There was Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who let everyone believe he was hiking in Appalachia when actually he had ran off sniffing after his Argentine paramour.
Even worse, there was Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who cuckolded his own assistant while pillow cuddling with the subordinate’s wife, who also worked for the senator. How low can you get having sex with the wife of a staff member, then try to buy them both off when the scandal broke. Ensign has to be the sleaziest of the sleazy.
Then there was the since-impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly attempting to sell the senatorial seat vacated when Barack Obama was elected president.
There also was what is becoming run-of-the-mill congressional criminal conspiracy and bribery cases as former Congressmen William J. Jefferson of Louisiana and "Duke" Cunningham of California were convicted and imprisoned for selling their legislative influence.
Perhaps the wickedest of all frauds were perpetrated by Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street insider who bilked scores of gullible people and organizations, including some giant well-known charities, out of billions of dollars in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. He is now where he belongs – in jail.
So much for the ugly, how about the bad. I can think of lots of bad. The recession was, of course, the worst. Then there was the wide scale unemployment that threw millions out of jobs. There was the inexcusable obstructionist behavior of Congressional Republicans who earned the title "Party of No."
How any self-respecting political party can hold its head up and be proud of being against everything, especially in these terrible times of stress and conflict, is beyond me. I must agree with the argument that not only did eight years of Republicans in power put this country in the ditch, but now the GOP won’t even lend a hand in digging us out of the hole they placed us.
And who is calling whom un-American?
On the good side of the ledger we can all be happy that George W. Bush was only president for 20 days during 2009. That was a positive for the rest of us. President Obama stepped into one of the worst times to be chief executive in the history of the US, probably only surpassed by Abraham Lincoln facing a civil war and Franklin D. Roosevelt starting off in the midst of an expanding depression.
Right after being sworn in Obama struck down torture as US policy, promised to close Guantanamo, signed into law a bill giving women equal pay and launched into hopeful solutions to the economic crisis with a monumental stimulus program. In the summer he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The most gruelling accomplishment was the passage of different health care bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislation raises a serious problem since there are some glowing differences – public option in the House and not in the Senate and a variance on abortion restrictions. The major battle on this measure is yet to come in 2010.
In the end, 2009 was not that great a year. Paul Krugman, of The New York Times, dubbed the entire first decade of the century "The Big Zero," but that’s not entirely true. Good things did happen, perhaps not enough to outweigh the bad. The decade ended with the historic election of the first non-white president of the United States and with the country on a moral rebound from eight years of deceit and international disfavor.
Unfortunately 2009 was the year of the emergence of absurd off-the-wall TV commentaries by Glenn Beck, the year they buried Ted Kennedy, the year of the phony emergencies like the balloon boy and Tiger Woods stonewalling himself into disfavor. It was the year that Kate and Jon Gosselin and their brood of eight gratefully disappeared from the TV screens, hopefully forever.
My vote for man of the year is Barack Obama. For woman of the year, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. My vote for scoundrel of the year, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Recurring Pest of the year, Sarah Palin. Dolt of the year, Rush Limbaugh.
It was a year (with apologies to Clint Eastwood) of the good, the bad and the ugly. Whether you agree or not with these assessments, standby. The new year is almost certain to bring another version of the same. It’s the human condition.