Whether history judges 2008 as historic (Barack Obama’s election) or miserable (economic catastrophe, unrelenting wars, political scandals abounding) or both depends on the angle of vision through which future generations will perceive these days. But we don’t need to wait for history’s judgment to hope that 2008 takes a few things with it into the dustbins of history:
Goodbye to bigotry and racism as filters for political decisions. Those terrible sins are still with us, of course, but as the Obama election demonstrates, a majority of Americans do desire a nation where candidate content and character, not color, determines political choices and policies.
Goodbye to vengeance as an international policy. The agony of Iraq proves the fruitlessness of vengeance as a national security strategy. Thousands of American troops are dead and wounded, untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives destroyed, but the threat of terrorism remains unabated.
Goodbye to torture as an American defense strategy. May “waterboarding” never again appear in our national security vocabulary.
Goodbye to the misuse of the word “justice” as a cloak for the denial of basic human rights — as in using the phrase “bring ’em to justice” to support the official practice of extraordinary rendition, detention without charges or due process, prisoner mistreatment, torture, even death while incarcerated.
Goodbye to the treacherous brew of politics and religion. The 2008 election at least slowed the dangerous surge of fundamentalism that was contributing to serious ideological rifts in American society, red states and blue states taken to the extreme. The founders of this nation understood well the need to keep Church and State in their proper relationship, separate and mutually respectful of the rights of each sector. Let faith flourish without governmental intervention, let the people participate in this democracy without religious sanction.
Goodbye to Blago, Britney, Barry Bonds, Bailouts and Caribou Barbie. Goodbye to Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber, and Jeremiah Wright. We’re sorry we ever heard of Bernie Madoff, Eliot Spitzer, and John Edwards’ affair, but good riddance to Ponzi schemes, Client #9, and perfect hair on two-timing men.
Goodbye to the Masters of the Universe, the Wall Street gamblers who lived large while squandering our economic trust and the future financial health of this nation. May they think long and hard about the hardship they have inflicted while they downsize their homes in the Hamptons.
Goodbye to the fabulous people whose deaths in the past year leave us with a sense of real loss but many fine memories — the films of Paul Newman, the commentaries of Tim Russert, the literary passion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the proud voice of Odetta, Bo Diddley’s guitar, the great faith of Cardinal Avery Dulles. (See the New York Times Magazine on “The Lives They Lived.”)
Goodbye to the Year of the Rat. Welcome the Year of the Ox. We’re going to need the strength of oxen, to be sure, to pull our global society out of times of war and recession back to peace and prosperity.