Sunday, January 4, 2009

Welcome to 2008...Again

By Alan Caruba

Americans, famed now for their short attention span and memory, as well as their general lack of knowledge of their own history, would benefit if they just looked back a year to the beginning of 2008 to recall what we were thinking and what we were anticipating.

Writing in The Economist, a British magazine, the eponymous “Lexington”, a columnist, noted that, “Americans have traditionally been much more optimistic than Europeans, and happier, too. They believe that people determine their own fate. They also believe that their children will have a better life than they do.”

“But the past five years have produced a dramatic souring in the country’s mood. Three quarters of Americans now think that the country is ‘on the wrong track’…Trust in government is half what it was in 2001.” But Lexington then began to innumerate all the reasons Americans were doing so much better than his British and European counterparts, not the least of which was a range of social problems that Americans were addressing much better.

“Americans have the highest fertility rate of any rich country. That is a long-term vote of confidence in the country’s future,” concluded Lexington and, indeed, the first bit of news on January 1st was that of the first babies born in 2009.

The Economist is a weekly comprehensive look at the world in terms of events, but mainly in terms of, well, economic trends. Its reporters in the first week of 2008 were contemplating a Cuba without Fidel Castro; a Mexican economy dependent on its oil exports; writing about slum conditions in Mumbai, India; Thailand’s upcoming elections; the oppression in Myanmar, formerly Burma; and the slow economy recovery in Germany.

What that first issue of 2008 reveals is a world—as always—in transition, but to what? For all the showy meetings and conferences, it remains an ironclad truism that nations pursue what they regard as their own best interests. Alliances may be long or short, but always subject to events that change perceptions.

Americans who had barely elected George W. Bush in 2000 welcomed his “with us or against us” attitude following 9/11, the biggest game-changer of the decade, but as events in Iraq dragged on his popularity continued to plummet. By 2008, more than 35 million Republicans stayed home rather than vote for John McCain.

The incoming President-elect, Barack Obama, will arrive at the White House with the highest popularity rating in recent history. Keep that in mind a year from now.

As 2008 began, The Economist opined that, “A credit crunch, a liquidity squeeze, a sub-prime meltdown—the shape-shifting menace that has vexed the world in 2007 has been all these things. But now it looks like becoming a banking crisis as well.”

By the fall of 2008 a panicked Congress authorized a multi-billion bailout of Wall Street, banks, insurance companies, and even Detroit auto manufacturers that, as 2009 begins, has metamorphosed into a bailout of every industry and State that has a full panoply of lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

If by 2010 some trust, some confidence has not been restored in both the economy and the politics of the nation, and if the Democrat controlled Congress has passed every insane, liberal program possible, we will likely see a significant shift back to Republican control, not unlike that of 1994. If the GOP can avoid committing political suicide by running Gov. Palin for President in four years, it may retain and gain power.

Meanwhile, 2009 looks to be a grim year for a lot of people and for the future of the nation. When economies falter, it brings out the worst in nations and people.

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