Adios, 2008

  Jerome Shea       December 29, 2008      Weekend Wonk

Well, it’s hard to say if 2008 is leaving us like a grand symphonic coda or like dishwater circling a drain. A little of both, I guess. Herewith, a look at some highlights large and small.

The daddy of all big news had to be the November election. After the longest primary and then presidential campaign in our history, we elected Barack Obama as our first black president. Thousands were electrified by his acceptance speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. And John McCain’s concession speech showed us the John McCain we used to know. Bless his heart for that, because things had got pretty ugly. Obama was tarred by association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and with Bill Ayers, former Weatherman. We were told repeatedly that Barrack Hussein Obama was “not one of us,” and the crazies insisted that he was a clandestine Muslim who would sell us out to Bin Laden. We kept watching for McCain’s legendary temper to erupt. We watched Obama and Clinton (sometimes both Clintons!) duke it out. When Sarah Palin sashayed into the spotlight, half of us cheered and half of us gawped in dazed disbelief. And then we all watched Tina Fey do her Sarah Palin number on Saturday Night Live and laughed till the tears came. Closer to home, Democratic candidates swept the field in New Mexico, as they did in many other states. In George Bush’s words, his party got the “thumpin’” that even some stalwart Republicans felt it richly deserved.

This fall, everything fell apart. Shaky mortgages went south, big banks, investment houses, and insurance companies either failed outright or were rescued—for the moment—in panicky bailouts. They were, as the saying goes, “too big to fail,” so taxpayers sucked it up and took it on the chin once again. Then GM, Chrysler, and Ford came on bended knee (actually, they came on their corporate jets, demonstrating again that they just didn’t get it). They too will probably be kept afloat for the near future. (I consider GM’s plight fitting punishment for abandoning my father’s Oldsmobile in 2004: that ad campaign always hit me where I lived.)

Wouldn’t be a good year without some juicy scandals. Neither Eliot Spitzer nor John Edwards could keep his pants on when he should have, and not sex but greed will take Rod Blagojevich out of the political game and maybe into the slammer. Good on him, though, for upholding an old Illinois political tradition.

Much closer to home, our first grandson arrived on Groundhog Day (2/2) to join his two big sisters. Also in February, in a spooky coincidence, “Sally,” whom I hadn’t heard from in over forty years, sent me an email just after I had featured her in a wonk (“Ford Flathead II”). In March I astonished myself with my performance in the TransMountain 20k down in El Paso and got totally pumped. Three weeks later I set out on a marathon training run—I was signed up again for the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll in June—and after about nine miles I abruptly stopped, said to myself, “This is just no fun anymore,” and walked home. Well, it was a good twenty-year run, so to speak.

People died, of course, and some, like Wm. F. Buckley and Yma Sumac, had their passing noted in these wonks. I was at my annual Advanced Placement Reading in Daytona Beach when Tim Russert suffered that fatal heart attack. Michael Crichton died. So did Paul Newman and Studs Terkel and Jesse Helms. Heath Ledger o.d.’d and David Foster Wallace hanged himself. Albuquerque lost a favorite son when Tony Hillerman, who gave us Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police in his groundbreaking crime novels, moved on. I am proud to point out that he rated a long obit in the New York Times. But writers keep writing and I want to give a nod to two of them especially. My old friend Joe Shaw, a Hillerman protégé who never gave up, had his first novel, To Honor the Dead (UNM Press), published this year. It’s damned good and the first of a trilogy. Another old friend finished a trilogy with The Bird Shaman (Bascom Hill Publications). I haven’t yet read The Bird Shaman, but I finally got around to her debut novel, Pennterra, and was duly impressed. The woman I am talking about is one Judith Moffett. But you, dear readers, know her as “Sally”!*

See you next year.

*Judy has also published poetry, translations, literary criticism—you name it. Her website is Joe Shaw, a technological troglodyte, has no website. Bad on him.

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