Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back / Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual review of the predictions and prognostications for the coming year.

A year ago I looked ahead to an election year and said:

– A Democrat will be elected president and the Democrats will increase their numbers in the House and Senate. Yeah, that’s an easy one; the trick is, which Democrat and by how many seats? If Hillary Clinton is the nominee (and the Iowa caucuses are three days away), then it will be a close race against whomever the GOP finally lands on and the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. If it’s not Hillary Clinton, the shitstorm of negative, childish and outrageous campaigning from them will make everyone reel in disgust. Which means that the GOP will go ballistic on anyone, even if they choose to nominate someone who isn’t a cross-dressing thrice-married adulterer, a sluggish and thuggish good ole boy from Tennessee by way of Law & Order and Curly Sue, a flip-flopping automaton with magic underwear and a rather odd way of packing a station wagon, a war hero who thinks being a maverick is sucking up to the current administration, or a folksy former governor from Arkansas who sells himself as a “Christian leader” and lumps gays in with pedophiles as “aberrant.”

So it’s time to go out on a limb here and predict that it will be President-elect Hillary Clinton when I write this piece a year from today, with a strong majority in the House, ten more Democratic senators, and a whole new cottage industry of right-wing nutsery in full bloom. George W. Bush will retire to Crawford to watch someone else clear his brush. He will grant interviews to fawning sycophants from Newsweek and Time and portray himself as the next LBJ without the charm.

I’d give myself a B on that one; I missed on the Democratic nominee (but then, Barack Obama was still behind in the polls), but I sure got the Republicans’ and the right-wing nutsery’s number.

As for Iraq:

– We won’t be any closer to getting out of Iraq, and at 12:01 on January 21, 2009, it will become the Democrats’ war.

True. And now we can add Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and — as always — the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Surprises: The Economy. The warning signs were out there about the economy a year ago. I certainly knew that the housing bubble had burst because my landlord was on the lam and I had to move out in June. But not being an economist, I didn’t see the rest of the dominoes lined up, and neither, apparently, did John McCain, the Bush administration, and Wall Street.

The silly stuff:

– We will continue our obsession with the trivial. Several more white women will disappear and get coverage on Larry King Live, while no one will notice when it happens to countless other people who aren’t beautiful or packing diapers in the back seat. More and more politicians will be caught with their pants down, literally and figuratively because they are human; the fun stuff is when it happens to people who have made a living demonizing those whose practice they are emulating.

That’s too easy; people are people, and our obsession with fools craving their fifteen minutes will always be with us, be it a plumber from Toledo or a governor from Alaska. The one surprise was that the politician caught with his pants down was John Edwards.

So it’s time to boldly go forward with my predictions, being careful to be general enough to get some right so I can do this post a year from now and call them good.

– President Obama will get a honeymoon for a few months where he will actually get some things done. He knows he has only eighteen months at the most to do his most effective work; by June 2010 Congress will be gearing up for the mid-terms, then before you know it, it will be 2012. So expect a big economic stimulus package like FDR’s New Deal and a middle-class tax cut, and expect a lot of blow-back from the GOP who will scream about socialism and boondoggles. There will be set-backs and issues taken off the front burner, including health care reform, and getting out of Iraq will be harder than we thought. Of course some foreign government will test the new administration — like they’re not already — and we will be surprised at how the new president handles it. The economy will show signs of recovery by September, thanks in part to the stimulus by the government but also from the ingenuity and resilience of the American people.

– In spite of setbacks like Prop 8 and Amendment 2, the march toward equality for the queer community will continue. I think we’ll see the repeal of DADT within the first year of the Obama administration and a continued shift in public attitudes about the treatment of gay and lesbian citizens. There will be bumps, bruises, hurt feelings, and setbacks, but the tide is turning.

– The rest of the world will welcome us back like the prodigal child, and we will reach out to them, recognizing that we have a lot of atonement to do. This will be in part to try to bring peace, but also to help get our economy back on track; you can’t sell things to people when you’re calling them part of the axis of evil. In that vein, the Obama administration will take steps to ease the travel and money restrictions on Cuba, which will infuriate a few loudmouths on Calle Ocho in Little Havana and make farmers and auto parts distributors very happy.

– Jeb Bush will run for the Senate here in Florida and win in 2010. But he will become the Ted Kennedy of the Bush family; the Senate is as far as he will ever go in national politics; the only way he would ever get beyond that is if he changed his name to John Ellis Obama.

– Meanwhile, Florida will still struggle with a lousy economy and the fall-off in the housing and tourist trade. The state legislature will refuse to consider raising taxes and will probably end up taking even more money from education, all the while wondering why test scores are falling. D’oh.

– The Detroit Lions will actually win a football game. And while I make no predictions about how the Tigers will do, they — along with the Yankees — proved that spending a lot of money on star players doesn’t buy you a winning season.

– 2009 marks some interesting anniversaries: the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon — where were you? — and the beginning of the Nixon administration and all that came with it, something that still captures our imagination today.

– I wish I could predict what new fads, obsessions, words, and trends will pop up to distract us for the next year or so, but trust me, they will be there, and just as we got tired of hearing about “game changer,” “lipstick on a pig,” “Joe the Plumber,” Twitter, and the rest of the words that should be banished, like “First Dude,” “maverick,” “bailout,” “carbon footprint,” and anything else that came and stayed too long, I hope a year from now we can dump them onto the ash-heap of history.

– Personal predictions. Last year I boldly predicted that I would finish writing Small Town Boys. Wrong; it’s on hiatus while I take care of some other business, including finishing another story. I promise to get back to it this winter. I also predicted that I would do some restoration work on the Pontiac, but that was before my physics experiment with the Mustang in downtown Coral Gables. In a sense, I have restored the Pontiac, but only to keep it running well as my only car. My job has had some interesting twists and turns, and last month came full circle, bringing me back to the same place I was at this time last year but with new responsibilities and an appreciation — on both sides — of finding out that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone (thank you, Joni Mitchell).

My final prediction from last year:

– One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

I’m sticking with that. Happy New Year and best wishes. I hope we’ll all be here to do this again a year from today.