A few bright spots provided glimmers of optimism in what was otherwise a very turbulent year.
Healthcare Reform: The Left’s Running Sore
Year two of the Obama administration began with the president riding high, at least among his supporters, for having managed to somehow ram a healthcare bill through congress as 2009 drew to a close. The president signed the landmark bill into law on March 23, but that was hardly the end of the issue. Indeed, passage of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” seemed to be merely the end of the beginning. Multiple states filed suit to challenge provisions of the Act , with the mandate to purchase insurance being the most popular target. Republicans made plans to neutralize “healthcare reform” and the massive projected costs of the healthcare bill further invigorated the resolve of the increasingly important Tea Party Movement.
Thus, neither the president nor his party have been able to truly cross “healthcare reform” off of their “to do” lists. Instead, what would come to be known by critics as “Obamacare” became a symbol of big government largesse in 2010, serving as a rallying point for everyone who believes this administration is mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures in hopes of achieving a socialist, nanny-state nirvana. With the economy stuck in the mud throughout the year and the utter failure of stimulus spending to create the jobs Obama promised it would, Democrats would pay a heavy political price for running up the national credit card bill, but that part of the 2010 story comes a bit later.
Tragedy in the Caribbean
On January 12 a massive earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale, struck Haiti with an epicenter just a few miles from the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince. The devastation was horrific. Over 200,000 Haitians were killed, hundreds of thousands more were injured and perhaps a million people were left homeless after the collapse of hundreds of thousands of poorly built buildings.
Relief efforts were initially hampered by nearly non-existent infrastructure in the poverty-stricken nation, as well as the corruption and weakness of its government. As a result, chaos reigned in Haiti for the first few weeks after the earthquake struck and the world looked on in horror. Billions were raised for Haitian relief, President Obama called upon former Presidents Clinton and Bush to head up fund-raising efforts in the United States and America’s military might was dispatched to help restore some semblance of order and distribute supplies. Almost a year after the earthquake ripped the heart out of Port-au-Prince, things are marginally better, but the outlook can hardly be described as hopeful. Cholera is rampant and, according the Haitian government, about ninety eight percent of the people who lost their residences on January 12 remain homeless.
Victory For Freedom of Speech
To the horror of the left and the delight of the right, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act on January 21. “If the First Amendment has any force,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” The decision removed bans on corporate spending for political campaigns that McCain-Feingold had imposed. By overturning the ill-conceived finance reform bill, conservatives said the court redressed an imbalance whereby well-healed left-leaning organizations like big unions were allowed to donate lavish amounts to candidates of their choice, while corporation were denied their first amendment rights to do the same.
On the other hand, the left’s frenzied, appalled reaction featured a level of hyperbole and hysteria that was truly remarkable, even for them. MSNBC’s ever-frenetic Keith Olbermann thundered that striking down McCain-Feingold presaged the end of the democracy in America. Not to be outdone, President Obama said that the decision was “…a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” He went so far as to call out Supreme Court justices over the decision during this year’s State of the Union address, a event that would prove far more embarrassing to the man hurling accusations and insults during what is supposed to be a solemn occasion than it would prove to be for the accused.
Disaster in the Gulf
On April 20, an explosion ripped through the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and unleashing a flood of sticky crude into the gulf. It would take a few weeks for everyone to come to grips with the magnitude of the disaster, as it slowly became evident that there was no quick and easy way to cap the gusher. The well, which was operated by Transocean Ltd. under contract to BP-Amoco, was equipped with blowout preventers, but they had been mangled in the explosion. Both BP and the federal government struggled to contain the spill and to find a way to cap the deep well, with each facing mounting criticism as weeks stretched into months while crude continued to boil up into the waters of the Gulf.
A temporary containment system was eventually able to capture the leaking oil and redirect it to a ship where it was burned off. This was the effective end of the crisis, achieved on July 15. The well was subsequently permanently sealed on September 19. While there was certainly substantial ecological damage as a result of the spill, the extent of that damage wasn’t nearly as bad as many predicted. Indeed, the question “what happened to the oil?” became more and more prevalent, as many beaches and other coastal areas remained unaffected. A combination of biological activity in the warm waters of the gulf and herculean efforts by responders appeared to have mitigated the worst potential effects of the spill. The long term economic effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster will be far more serious. Citing concerns over the spill and industry safety practices, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would later announce a seven year moratorium on the issuance of new oil drilling leases in the Gulf and along the Atlantic Coast. Many view this decision, which significantly reduces America’s ability to tap into domestic sources of energy, as the greatest tragedy of all that one can attach to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Israel On the Defensive
On May 30, six ships comprising the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” left Cyprus, intent on delivering what were claimed to be humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian enclave on the Gaza Strip, which was then under tight blockade by the Israeli Navy. Directed by the Israelis to head for the Israeli port of Ashod, where supplies could be off-loaded, inspected and – assuming they were indeed humanitarian in nature – delivered to Gaza, the flotilla’s commanders refused. Five of the six ships were then taken by Israeli forces without any loss of life, but the battle onboard the sixth ship, the MV Mavi Marmara would spark international outrage.
Eight Turkish nationals and a Turkish-American were killed in the fighting that flared on the Mavi Marmara, while dozens of pro-Palestinian activists on the ship were injured, along with seven Israeli commandos who boarded the ship. A wide swath of the international community unquestionably accepted the pro-Palestinian version of the incident, which suggested that bullying Israeli commandos killed innocent civilians in cold blood when those civilians were doing nothing more than trying to bring badly-needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Video footage subsequently released by Israel showed that the “innocent activists” on the Mavi Marmara tried very hard to kill Israeli commandos and that the ships were carrying many items that had nothing to do with humanitarian aid, like ballistic vests, gas masks, night-vision goggles, and large sums of money. These facts notwithstanding, international condemnation of Israel was shrill and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually eased back a bit on the blockade as a result of the pressue.
Cyber Warfare on the Rise
The year of 2010 saw cyber warfare rise to a position of unprecedented new precedence in the world community. A rogue mercenary emerged in this new electronic battlefield: an Australian troublemaker named Julian Assange, whose website Wikileaks.com released hundreds of thousands of classified documents across the internet. Documents and video footage released by Wikileaks cast a pall on the conduct of the wars that America is waging against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. These releases, critics said, were both unfair – by placing events and decisions out of context – and severely undercut America’s ability to wage those wars. Worse, many believe that the Wikileaks releases ultimately put the lives of our troops and collaborators in grave danger. Undeterred, Assange continued his assaults, going so far as to release thousands of diplomatic communications, many of which proved deeply embarrassing to America and its allies. This event seemed to stir the west into action, leaving Assange on the run in the virtual world, where he continues to struggle to find service providers and is the subject of continuing cyber counterattacks, and in the real world, where the Australian is a wanted man.
On the other hand, cyber warfare proved to be a remarkably effective way of sabotaging Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A remarkably sophisticated computer virus dubbed Stuxnet managed to worm its way into Iran’s atomic program, causing severe damage to that nation’s uranium enrichment facilities. The creators of Stuxnet remain unknown, but America or Israel, or a cooperative effort between both nations, seems to be the most likely answer. While the havoc that Stuxnet has wreaked can hardly be expected to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it has most certainly pushed back the date by which Iran is capable to deploying nuclear weapons by a matter of years. That’s both good and bad news. It’s good news in the sense that the west has bought some time during which it may be able to further undermine the authority of the mullahs in Iran. But, there is still the fear that releasing the kind of sophisticated technology that Stuxnet represents may be the 21st century equivalent of opening Pandora’s Box.
A Stinging Rebuke
Mid-term elections are almost always tough for the party that controls the White House, but voters delivered a remarkably stinging rebuke to the Obama administration on November 2. Spurred on by economic stagnation, continuing high unemployment, alarming debt and seemingly uncontrollable spending, voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots to support a change in course. Republicans picked up five governorships, five Senate seats and a whopping sixty three seats in the House. It was as devastating a rejection of an administration’s policies as America has seen in over half a century.
Most of the Democrats who lost their electoral battles were of the moderate variety, including a number of “Blue Dogs” who veered strongly toward the center of the political spectrum. Many Democrats and their supporters on the left thus decided that the lesson to be learned from the election of 2010 was that moderation is a useless exercise, a conclusion that appears to ensure that the Democratic Party won’t execute a Clintonesque “pivot” toward the middle, but will rather demand an ideological showdown over the next two years. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to run for her party’s minority leader position, and her colleagues’ subsequent support of the soon-to-be ex-Speaker seems to confirm that conclusion. Far from presaging a mid-course correction of the sort that we experienced in 1994, the mid-term election of 2010 is effectively a “throw down.” The leftist core of the Democratic Party digested the results and concluded that it’s time to make America choose between “them” or “us.” How Republicans and conservatives will respond to that challenge remains to be seen.
The Aftermath: Politics as Usual?
Initial returns are not encouraging for conservatives. Despite the slap in the face that voters delivered on November 2, the Obama administration pressed forward with its agenda and secured two leftist victories during the month of December. On December 6, Republicans and Democrats agreed to extend George W. Bush’s “across the board” tax cuts for another two years. That’s great, although a two year extension hardly provides the kind of certainty that developers need to invest in a troubled economy. On the other hand, Obama was able to secure hundreds of billions in new government spending – a stealth stimulus if you will – in exchange for those tax cut extensions. Less than two weeks later, the president secured enough votes to repeal the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to gays and lesbians who serve in the military.
Is this what victory is supposed to look like? In the Novemeber elections, America rejected excessive spending, social engineering and massive increases in the country’s debt, yet the president managed to press forward with yet another plan that accomplished both. The future of both parties, and more importantly America’s future, will depend on the extent to which Democrats and Republicans absorb the lessons of election of 2010. “Hope and change,” the mantra of the Obama campaign in 2008 has been proven to be an empty, meaningless message two years later. How the parties react over the next two years will ultimately decide whether those words will ever have any meaning at all.