With the end of the year approaching, it's fun to look back at the year almost over and find events that had an impact on us. Here's my list of the top 10 stories (and, no, I'm not going to ask Anton Fig for a drumroll).
10. The 2009 elections. Every election during a President's term seems to be spun into a "referendum of the President" and a "bellwether event that could define the President's history." The elections that occurred this year were inconclusive on both fronts. Two Democrat Governors went down to defeat, Democrats retained a House seat, but the attention was focused on New York District 23. A third party candidate who entered the race shortly before the special election was held came close to unseating the eventual winner, and may have won if the Republican candidate had dropped out sooner. Democrats may have crowed about "taking a Republican seat for the first time since the Civil War," (which, by the way, is factually inaccurate, as a Democrat held the House seat from NY-23 way back in 1993), but they still almost lost it, and may lose it during the next regular election cycle.
9. Arlen Spector changing parties. Democrats had been pushing to reach 60 votes in the Senate to give President Obama a veto-proof and filibuster-proof majority, but they had fallen short even with the two Independents who caucus with them. Then, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector announced that he would switch parties and become a Democrat. Given his propensity for bucking his own party as a Republican, it wasn't so much of a surprise that he would switch parties. The real impact is that Spector's defection brought the Democrats closer to their goal of 60 votes at a time when the Republican Party needed to retain Spector to keep the threat of a filibuster alive. Then, with a single defection, the dominoes fell on that notion.
8. The Ft. Hood shooting. Since 9/11, we hadn't had much on the domestic terrorism front. Then, Ft. Hood happened. With the numerous warning signs that Major Nidal Hasan was planning on committing mass murder, it should have been easy to pinpoint him and prevent the Ft. Hood shooting from even occurring. As it stands, those red flags were missed, and Hasan committed a deadly terrorist act on our shores. This is important because the Ft. Hood shooting showed that, even with allegedly more stringent rules designed to pick out people like Hasan, human error played a fatal role in a terrorist act.
7. Michael Jackson's death. From a young man with unbelievable talent to the punchline of thousands of jokes, Michael Jackson touched lives around the world. His unexpected death in 2009 when Jackson was on the verge of making a musical comeback shocked us all. Although scandal ruled the later years of his life, his talent was undeniable.
6. ACORNgate. What started with two young filmmakers attempting to do what the mainstream media used to do blossomed into a full-fledged scandal that still has implications into 2010. James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles posed as a pimp and a prostitute and uncovered what appears to be an organization run at the local level, if not higher, by people who no regard for the law. The scandal was so prevalent that Congress voted to temporarily bar ACORN from getting federal funds. And as yet, no one has been able to come up with a plausible defense for ACORN's actions, but they have taken the step of singling out O'Keefe and Giles for possible legal action and criticism for the tactics they utilized. Regardless of how this plays out, ACORNgate proved to be a major story in 2009.
5. Sarah Palin's reemergence. After Sarah Palin resigned as Governor of Alaska, many people wrote her off as a quitter and a lightweight whose impact on the political environment would be limited at best. Yet, months after people wrote off her political career, Palin has come back as a potential game-changer for the 2010 and 2012 elections. Her book Going Rogue is a best seller. She's stumping for candidates who favor a more conservative ideology. And, perhaps the biggest indication that she's still a player in the political game, the Left still can't stop talking about her. Not too bad for a "lightweight" and a "quitter."
4. Climate Gate. Two "Gates" in the same list? If Bill Gates had done something noteworthy this year, we would have hit the Gates trifecta. As it stands, Climate Gate was the bigger of the two "Gates" on the list because it has the potential to unravel what was considered to be conventional wisdom for the better part of a decade, if not longer. Emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit suggest that scientists who have been promoting the concept of manmade global warming may fudged the numbers and hid data that would undermine the concept they were promoting as fact. As yet, we're still trying to sort through the emails and make sense of the attempts to take the focus away from what the emails said and put it on how the emails came to light, but one thing is clear. Climate Gate has shaken the scientific community, and its impact will resonate for years to come.
3. The TEA Party movement. If Sarah Palin's relevance in politics is determined by how much the Left complains about her to this day, the TEA Party movement seems destined for political immortality. Millions of people across the country found their voices and made their discontent for government run amok known. Although conservatives made up the bulk of the TEA Parties, people from all walks of life and all political ideologies joined the movement. As 2010 rolls along, we'll see whether the TEA Parties hold real political heft or just gave the politicians in Washington a fear that will die down over time. For the sake of the country, let's hope the former is the case.
2. The health care reform debate. Stemming in part from the TEA Party movement, Americans took their elected officials to task over a proposed health care reform bill. The debate went from a mere functional matter that was anticipated to be passed by Congress's August recess to a Christmas Eve day vote in the Senate that opened the door to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, and along the way things got heated. In retrospect, I'm not sure Congress expected the kind of reaction they received from the general public, and they sure as heck didn't expect there to be the kind of trouble passing a bill that they experienced with the health care reform bill. As it stands right now, it's unclear whether health care reform is going to be passed yet in 2009, meaning this hot button political football will be punted into 2010 where it will have other implications.
1. The inauguration of Barack Obama. No matter what your political persuasion, the inauguration of a new President is a big deal. Obama's election and inauguration signaled a change in America with the promise of a new approach to governance. It was also a clear sign to the world that America, at least on the surface, has gotten past its history on race. It doesn't matter what you feel about the man or the job he's done as President, Obama's inauguration was a significant moment in time for our country, as it is deserving of the top spot as the biggest story of 2009.