Unexpected twists make 2008 an epochal year
The financial crisis, war on two fronts, and, above all, the US election make 2008 historic.
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It's possible that the alleged Madoff fraud will end up as not just the biggest bank scam, but among the most expensive individual criminal acts of all time.Skip to next paragraph
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But in truth, the biggest events of 2008 were not so much one-off actions as culminations of trends that had been building for years.
Even the election of Barack Obama can be seen as the result of a lengthy process. US disapproval of President Bush's job performance has been low for years, in large part due to the grinding war in Iraq.
Bush's job approval ratings, as measured by the Gallup Poll, peaked at 90 percent of Americans in the wave of patriotism that followed the attacks of 9/11. Since then it has been a steady slide, to a low of 25 percent just prior to the election.
Voters were ready for major change
Americans seemed ready for a change in party in the White House. Not that Republicans didn't try – remember Rudy Giuliani, who insisted that he'd win the Jan. 29 GOP Florida primary because of the state's many retired New Yorkers? He got crushed. And Mitt Romney, who had money and hair, but in the end, not enough supporters.
Hillary Clinton fought hard, but in the end she could not overcome Obama's superior organization in caucus states, and the relentless math of the Democratic Party's proportionate allocation of delegates.
Election night was stirring in the way politics seldom is, despite candidate promises and voter hopes. To his credit GOP, nominee John McCain gave a gracious concession speech that acknowledged the history of the moment.
Ironically, Iraq was better by the election. President Bush's surge in troops, plus the defection of former Sunni insurgents into the US-sponsored Sons of Iraq militia groups, greatly reduced violence in the country.
In November the Bush administration struck a landmark deal with the Iraqi government which mandates the withdrawal of US forces by 2011. And as of Jan. 1, 2009, Iraqis will gain control over the Green Zone, the sprawling fortified section of Baghdad from which the US has operated since the 2003 invasion.
For US voters, worry about the economy has more than replaced worry about the stability of Iraq. At the end of December, 77 percent of respondents to a Gallup Poll on consumer confidence said they had a negative impression of economic conditions.
The corresponding figure for those who had a positive opinion of the economy? Three percent. The low single digits.