The Associated Press ranked Barack Obama's political ride the top story of 2008. It wasn't. The top story had to be the implosion of the economy -- here and across the globe.
A year ago, who would've thunk it?
Big-name financial houses gone -- from Bear Stearns to Lehman to Merrill Lynch -- and numerous others peering over the edge, standing perilously there beside General Motors. The Dow nearly halved, wiping out something like $10 trillion in investor wealth -- now you see it and now, abracadabra, it's gone! Scandal, greed, mayhem and shamelessness rampant on Wall Street -- and corresponding confirmation that Ivy League diplomas carry no validation of their owners' ethics or intellect. Credit crushed. Real estate and the mortgage market tanked. Uncountable lives forever changed.
Comes now the Obama administration (in fact, it comes Jan. 20 -- concluding a four-day, 24/7 drinking opportunity authorized specifically for the occasion by D.C. officialdom) to make everything better. (AP ranked Obama's meteoric rise, and presumably the congressional Democratic surge, ahead of the collapsed economy; AP ranked the saga of John McCain not at all -- but never mind.)
To kick-start things, Congress and the departing administration already have begun rewarding failure with an infusion of taxpayer funds -- not to mention putting the feds in the automobile, banking, and insurance businesses.
There's no accounting of how key recipients of this largesse are using the taxpayer dollars. Twenty-one banks refuse to provide any information about the received funds, and proclaim they would find such an onerous undertaking impossible even if they wanted to perform it. Many CEOs disdain receiving less compensation for failure than for success. And the United Auto Workers union, for one, insists the Detroit windfall enables it adamantly to reject renegotiation of its Big Three contracts until their 2011 expiration.
Just when things seemed unable to get worse, l'affair Blago flowered in Illinois -- pregnant with its possibilities for hammering Obama & Co., which took political root in the same strange Chicago garden. Then, in New York, one Bernie Madoff wearied of trying to prove the yes-you-can of Lincoln's negative axiom -- i.e., you can't fool all of the people all of the time. When Bernie threw up his hands, he implicitly acknowledged that about 35 years is the max.
Lately the Democrats, who routinely declare they have all the answers, have refined the prospects for remediation, suggesting everything will take longer. How much longer? No one can say because the economic situation is, you know, very difficult. And to fix the economy Obama continues to appoint untold Clinton-era alumni (and alumnae) instrumental in its breaking.
Obama's astounding story clearly is No. 2. He beat both the Clinton machine and -- in McCain -- the Republicans' best. One has to wish Obama well, because if he fails the nation fails with him. Yet as his biographer David Mendell notes, Obama offers on issue after issue an ingenious lack of specificity. The moment for specifics approaches. There should be no misperceiving the leftist essence of his policies social, economic, and foreign.
Three other stories -- two of them not on your standard list.
(1) The success of the Petraeus surge in Iraq, and seemingly the consequent stabilizing of Iraq as a rare working democracy in the Arab world. The long war against islamofascist terror remains a fundamental priority. Immediately following the Republican convention, McCain was making precisely that point -- and leading Obama. Then the bottom fell out of the markets and the economy -- and, election-wise, that was all she wrote. Still and all, America and the survival of liberty depend as much on our military capabilities as on our economic strength.
Mumbai reminded anguishingly that the war goes on. So does Afghanistan. So do Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah. So does "post"-Putin Russia. So does a China ambitious for hegemony in the Pacific Rim and beyond. Regarding this beloved land, "God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet . . ."
(2) The departing year taught two telling lessons about the mainline media. (a) That it remains as leftist as ever (helping to explain (2b) below). It persisted in its hateful treatment of President Bush. It greatly favored any Democratic presidential aspirant to any Republican, and of course Obama to McCain. And in its new infatuation with Obama, it sought to eviscerate Sarah Palin. Even Time's Mark Helprin has noted: "It's the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq War. It was extreme bias -- extreme pro-Obama coverage."
The national press showed practically none of the interest in Sen. Obama's Chicago that it showed in Gov. Palin's Wasilla. And Bloomberg columnist Al Hunt provides a bias update -- regarding Caroline Kennedy's credentials for succeeding to Hillary Clinton's seat in New York: "She has all the qualities -- intellectual curiosity; a friendly, at times pointed, sense of humor; and a deferential manner (she hails her own cabs) -- that are the stuff of a good legislator."
(2b) In 2008, the mainline press may have reached the tipping point -- when newspaper circulation and advertising revenues pitched over from gradual decline into a plunge. The reasons? Massive cultural changes, the move away from the written word to the visual, and the sense on the part of growing numbers that they find either the news or the opinion -- or the opinionated news -- contained in newspapers no longer important or relevant.
Finally (3), the weather. 2008 began and ended with cold and snow toppling records across the land. So much for man's central role in global warming. But wait: Rivaling in idiocy explanations for so much else about 2008, Gorean fellow travelers are discerning in these deepening winters the religious truth that global warming actually caused them. Another possibility: In 2008, global warming overheated their brains.