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2007 - Political Winners and Losers

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2007 wasn't a happy year, as the major political stories were mostly downers. Here are my choices for the big winners and losers.

Winners: Given that his approval ratings hovered in the thirties all year an unprecedented stretch of negative poll numbers it may seem strange to declare President George W. Bush a winner for 2007. Nonetheless, Bush had a good year: not for what he accomplished but rather for what he blocked. The President took an obstructionist role and was able to stop changes to his Iraq policy and his conduct of his "war on terror." Pundits predicted Bush would be remembered as "a President who made many mistakes, but refused to admit any of them."

Crucial to the 2007 "success" of the President was the advent of General David Petraeus, who in January became the Commanding General of the allied forces in Iraq. Petraeus convinced Bush to shift his strategy in Iraq and send additional troops to take over the day-to-day security operations, to police the civil war. In September the General reported the troop "surge" had reduced violence but little political progress. Polls indicate 48 percent of the American public now feel the situation in Iraq is going well; nonetheless, a majority want our troops to be withdrawn. (Bush and Petraeus talked about keeping troops there indefinitely.)

The war cost $2 billion per week with much of this money going to the Military Contactors used in Iraq. The Washington Post reported more than 100,000 contractors were employed in Iraq, not including subcontractors, plus an additional 20,000 security operatives. Some of the largest contracting firms include Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater. The war slogged on while their bank accounts grew.

The Presidential campaigns started unusually early and produced two big winners. Among Democratic candidates, Barack Obama emerged as a surprisingly strong candidate. The junior Senator from Illinois raised more than $80 million and ran an unexpectedly strong second behind Hillary Clinton in both fundraising and voter support. At year-end, Obama was leading in Iowa and running a strong second in the early primaries.

The weak set of Republican Presidential candidates provided an opportunity for dark horse Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. Raising almost no money, Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, won the hearts of many conservative Christians. At year-end, he was leading in the Iowa primary and had become a factor in the national race.

Losers: It came as a surprise to no one that Hillary Clinton decided to run for President. She entered 2007 with the aura of inevitability; most observers thought she would easily raise more money than any other contender and, therefore, effortlessly win the Democratic nomination. At year-end, it appeared that Senator Clinton might lose some of the first few primaries. Many Democrats were giving her a second look, wondering if she was actually the most competitive presidential candidate.

Given the amount of money they have spent, and the amount of media attention they've garnered, it's surprising that the Republican candidates for President have fared so poorly: Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner, but voters have questions about his personal life and hard-core Republicans wonder about his values. Mitt Romney has spent lots of money, but so far his candidacy has not captured the imagination of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. John McCain was the early favorite but faded due to money problems and the perception that he was too unpredictable. There was great anticipation that Fred Thompson would bring new energy to the competition, but instead he delivered ennui. At yearend, the most popular Republican candidate was "none of the above."

Another big loser was the 110th Congress. Beginning in January, Bush-weary Americans expected the democratically controlled Congress to make major changes in the conservative policies that have derailed the US over the past six years. While Congress was active, held many more hearings and passed more bills than had the 108th and 109th Congresses, the big items didn't get fixed: the war continued with no plan, there was no immigration reform, the farm bill was dominated by agribusiness, and the AMT problem was fixed by increasing the deficit. At yearend, Congress was more unpopular than the President.

This was the year when most Americans recognized that global climate change was a reality and not some figment of the imagination of alarmist liberals. As scientific report after report rolled in, the news became evermore disturbing. The public finally realized their future wellbeing is threatened by global warming. Unfortunately, most of us don't know what to do about it because there has been no leadership from the Bush Administration.

In 2007, the big losers were mainstream Americans. The war dragged on and the economy faltered; meanwhile, we were confronted with the daunting twin challenges of global climate change and reduced energy supplies. As the year ended, it came as no surprise that many Americans felt discouraged and an overwhelming number told pollsters the US is headed in the wrong direction.
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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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