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2008: The Worst and Best

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In a tumultuous year, ten political events stood out. The Worst 5. "Just say no." Republican Senators Block Critical Legislation: The 110th Congress saw Republican Senators invoke cloture motions to limit debate and head off filibusters a record 138 times, more than double the previous ignominious standard. The do-nothing GOP killed legislation with broad support bills that had already passed in the House of Representatives including renewable energy tax credits, a windfall profits tax on oil companies, negotiations with drug companies over Medicare drug prices, DC voting rights, and withdrawal from Iraq. As a result Republicans lost eight Senate seats in the general election. 4. "Gimme the money." Paulson Demands $700 Billion Bailout Blank Check: On September 18th, in a one-page memo to Congress, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson proposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, demanding $700 billion to purchase mortgage-backed securities, as well as unlimited discretion spending the funds. Congress modified his proposal to release funds in stages and provide oversight. Nonetheless, many believe the TARP program has been a waste of tax-payer funds. 3. "Running on empty." McCain Suspends Campaign: While the conventional wisdom claims John McCain lost the presidential election because of the economy, he failed because he ran a terrible campaign, consistently making bad decisions. In early September, at the end of the Republican convention, McCain was surging: his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate had galvanized the Republican base and some national polls showed him ahead of Obama. Then came the Paulson's TARP proposal, which many Republicans refused to support. McCain "suspended" his campaign to return to Washington and broker a deal. And then did nothing. Instead of being viewed as a strong leader, McCain was revealed as confused and erratic. 2. "He's a terrorist." Palin Accuses Obama of Being a Terrorist: On October 4th, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." This charge, repeated by McCain, prompted shouted death threats at Republican rallies and the waving of pitchforks. While most Americans and the Secret Service saw the terrorist charge as contemptible and incendiary, Palin and McCain persisted for more than a week. 1. "I'm the decider." Economy Slides into Recession, Bush Does Nothing: For the first six months, President Bush pronounced the American economy "sound" and spurned calls for action. In mid September, Bush reversed course declaring the US was on the brink of economic collapse. On December 1st, economists announced what most Americans had known already, the economy had been in recession since December of 2007. First Bush lied and then he panicked. The Best 5. "No McCain." Clinton Endorses Obama: After a sometimes bitter campaign, where Hillary Clinton continued her candidacy long after most observers had written her off, Democrats worried the New York Senator might offer only a half-hearted endorsement of Barack Obama. On August 26th, speaking at the Democratic Convention, Clinton strongly supported Obama giving one of the most memorable speeches of her career. 4. "I can see Russia from my house." Tina Fey Mimics Sarah Palin: In 2008 Saturday Night Live reinvented itself as a bastion of political comedy. Tina Fey's dead on imitation of Palin mocked Alaska's Governor as a vapid airhead totally unprepared for the vice-presidency. 3. "Respect, Empower, Include." Obama's Field Organization: From the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd to the twenty-five-state get-out-the-vote effort on November 4th, Barack Obama put together the most impressive field organization ever seen in U.S. politics. First, Obamacons took down Hillary Clinton, the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Then they defeated John McCain, despite his despicable attempt to label Obama a terrorist and closet Muslim. On Election Day, Obama won the critical swing states because he had a ground game and McCain didn't. American politics will never be the same. 2. "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog." Bush insulted by Iraqi journalist: In a vain effort to resurrect his reputation, George Bush took a December "victory" tour of Iraq. In the middle of a Baghdad press conference, where he touted the "success" of his strategy, Bush was the target of two shoes thrown by Iraqi journalist Muntathar al Zaidi, who cursed him in Arabic. The incident symbolized Bush's Iraq legacy. 1. "Yes we can." Obama wins Presidency: When was the point you knew Barack was going to be America's 44th President? Was it after his Iowa victory? Or when it became clear he had out-organized Hillary? Was it his speech on race? Or when we knew Obama was going to win all the debates because of his thoughtful, unflappable demeanor? Or did you bite your nails until the evening of November 4th, expecting something awful to happen that would snatch victory from his grasp? However you experienced the campaign, Barack Obama Obama's candidacy was an once-in-a-lifetime political thrill; capped by his dazzling victory speech on November 4th. We can and we did.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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