I came up with this list in response to a call for 2008 lists on my brother's blog, The League of Melbotis. I got a little carried away with it, though, and by the time I was done, I wasn't sure that the list was appropriate for his blog, which tends to a lot less political and more pop culture oriented than my blog (and, I would have to admit, probably more upbeat than my blog is, on the whole). Nonetheless, I spent a bit of time coming up with this list, so I feel the need to publish it. Here ya go:
Steanso's Top 10 Things They Wanted Us to Like in 2008 that Ended Up Being Lame
10- Joe the Plumber- The McCain camp tried to sell us on the fact that Obama's tax plan was going to hurt this "everyman" plumber, who was supposed to represent the average, common working man. The problems were that he wasn't really a plumber (he only had a hypothetical plumbing business that he was going to start), that real plumbers don't typically make over $250,000 a year, and that he already had liens on his property for failing to pay the taxes that he already owed. Joe turned out not to be the "everyman" that the GOP thought he was, but instead demonstrated that the GOP didn't even really understand what a working class American looked like.
9- John Edwards- Early on in the primary season, you really seemed like a viable option, John. I supported you, and thought that you were a smart, ethical guy who had the country's best interests at heart. But then it turns out that you were having an affair with some campaign worker while your wife was battling cancer? While I'm typically of the opinion that the private lives of politicians aren't really anyone else's business, this particular affair seems to have cast doubt, not only upon your moral character, but upon your wisdom and judgement. Did you really think this was the kind of thing that was going to remain quiet as you made a run for the presidency? I mean, if The Enquirer was able to dig this story up, did you really think it would have remained hidden for long? Thank goodness you didn't get the Democratic nomination because that affair is clearly the sort of thing that could have easily cost the Democrats the race. How self-centered do you have to be? Plus, my mom really liked you. Shame on you, John Edwards.
8- the dispossession of the "Big 3" U.S. auto manufacturers- Sure has been fun watching the CEOs of the "Big 3" squirm over the use of their private jets and watching legislators stick it to those union workers who get paid far higher than their other industry counterparts and receive better benefits, to boot. The U.S. auto industry seems to have been making some questionable decisions for a long time, it's true (building unpopular, gas guzzling models and allowing its unions to raise costs to unworkable levels), but given the fact that Washington continues to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at Wall Street, at investment and banking firms which were every bit as mismanaged as the auto industry, the recent, popular game of "let's bash the auto industry" doesn't really seem to make sense. Is it because people love finance executives but resent auto workers? Why do we seem so ready to believe that Wall Street will change its ways, but scoff when the auto industry promises to do the same? No matter how you come down on the question of bailouts for the auto industry, the fact that millions of jobs hang in the balance for working families ought to give us some pause, and the thought that we might be bearing witness to the downfall of what was once one of America's strongest industries, an industry which helped to build the American middle class, ought to be making us feel somber. Somehow the old "misery loves company" mantra doesn't really seem like it makes for strong economic policy.
7- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- We had hope that Spielberg and Lucas might provide a new chapter in one of the best adventure stories from our childhood, but instead we got a watered-down, pale imitation of the former grandeur that had been Indiana Jones. I'm not saying that every moment of the original three movies was perfect, but those movies were classics because of how much they meant to us when we first saw them. Why bother to put out a new Indiana Jones movie unless you have a really great new story that you're dying to share with the audience? This movie, instead, was just a frantic, less than epic quest for more money.
6- completely computerized voting machines- We've had these for awhile, but why do we still have them? Living in an age where paranoia and fear of voter fraud runs rampant (and an era when even the lowliest computer user understands how easily computer data can be lost, altered, or destroyed), why in God's name do we still have computerized voting machines which don't provide a paper receipt of your voting record after you vote? It's the only way that a person could perform a reliable recount in order to verify the results of an election, and the absence of a paper trail at this point is just downright suspicious. We shouldn't have to question whether our vote is really being recorded anywhere when we hit that "cast ballot" button.
5- Brett Favre's "retirement" announcement- I knew he wasn't going to retire. I really knew he wouldn't be able to sit out this football season once it got fired up. Nonetheless, after suffering through tons of flip-flopping about whether he would retire we finally saw Favre get up and tearfully announce that he was leaving the Green Bay Packers and leaving the game of football. It was the end of an era. A momentous occasion. The exit of one of the greats. We all saluted him for his career, gratefully acknowledged his contribution to the sport, but eventually went on with life, making the adjustments that would be needed in order to enjoy football in a post-Favre era. But then he was back. He wanted back in, wanted his replacement benched, and was willing to do some mudslinging against the team that had supported him for years if they wouldn't immediately, unquestioningly put him right back into the lineup. I was happy to see Green Bay stick to their principles and I didn't mind seeing Favre move on to play with a different team, but I was sorry to see Favre acting like a prima donna, and, at least in my mind, tarnish his name a bit. Mostly I was annoyed with myself for buying into his assertion that he was truly leaving the game, when I never really believed it, anyway.
4- economic stimulus packages- Whether it's a $600 check in your mailbox or a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, none of these economic stimulus packages seem to be really doing much to help revitalize the economy, and worse, they seem to be driving our government into increasingly deeper debt. What's really annoying is that I keep reading lots of articles about the economy, and I still can't seem to understand the roots of our current financial crisis enough to get a strong feel for whether these plans are ever going to really help. All I know is that my new X-Box 360 and all of my video games didn't really seem to turn the economy around.
3- the BCS ranking system- The stakeholders in the current BCS system seem to have too much invested to allow a true playoff system to take shape, so we're stuck with some kind of lame, esoteric rankings system that seems to be based on subjective favoritism as much as anything else. That's how we ended up with a Big 12 championship this year that had two teams competing, neither of which had a better record than UT and each of which were defeated by double digit margins by the Longhorns this year (yep- OU and Missouri). It's hard to get fired up to declare a team a champion when they lost the same number of games as your team, and your team beat them fair and square.
2- Sarah Palin- She claimed to be "just like us", and maybe she was (at least if you're the kind of person who hunts wolves from a helicopter). Maybe she was a little too much like us instead of being smarter than us but still understanding us. She blasted onto the scene with a home run convention speech, a fresh, attractive face, and a lot of attitude. Disappointed that Hillary's not in the race as a viable female candidate? We've got your new and improved Republican equivalent!! But then the cracks started to appear upon the shiny veneer. She seemed clueless about foreign policy, afraid of reporters, and admitted right from the get-go that she wasn't exactly clear about what the Vice President's job actually was. But it was hard to get to know the real Sarah Palin. She claimed to be a fiscal conservative, but it turned out that she had voted for incredibly large numbers of federal earmarks for her own state. She claimed to be a down-to-earth, average, small town American (goshdarnit!!), but she spent hundreds of thousands of GOP dollars on clothes and used her station as Alaska's governor to apply pressure in the attempt to have her ex brother in law fired from the state police because of a personal grudge. She repeatedly attacked the media as being unfair, but she had a degree in broadcast journalism and had previously worked as a TV reporter. She turned out to be adept at giving speeches, dazzling conservative audiences with her folksy charm, but she used her communication skills to make nasty, unjustified negative attacks- working crouds into an angry frenzy by referring to Obama as a terrorist sympathizer and repeatedly questioning his patriotism. Eventually, though the McCain campaign had brought Palin onboard as a female running mate, presumably to represent change and the new ideas of the 2008 presidential ticket, many of us just saw the same old, tired GOP messages dressed up in a skirt and lipstick. Palin was just a George W. Bush for the 2008 election- folksy, amiable, and good at chatting with the people, but without a well-developed worldview or a new set of ideas to draw from. Without a vision of how and where to lead the country, Americans sensed that a vote for Palin would amount to little more than a vote for the continuation of the floundering policies of George W. Bush.
1- the politics of fear- Well, they didn't really want us to like this one so much as they wanted us to buy into it. And it wasn't just the Republicans. Hillary's "3 a.m. phone call" add conjured up fears of a national security crisis, and then implied that Obama wouldn't be able to handle such a situation. The McCain and Palin campaign tried a number of fear-mongering tactics, from accusations that Obama was a terrorist sympathizer (because he had attended events hosted by William Ayers) to allegations that Obama was a socialist to claims that Obama had a militant, separatist black agenda, via his association with Pastor Jeremiah Wright (and there were even claims that Obama was secretly a Muslim, although McCain himself eventually disavowed these claims). Attacks on patriotism and claims of weakness had seemed somewhat effective during the 2004 campaign (the campaign which turned the word "swiftboat" into a verb), but in 2008, in the face of two unpopular wars, a faltering economy, a broken healthcare system, an energy crisis, and many other obstacles, the American people finally chose to opt for hope and to look for change rather than buying into the belief that significant change could only make things worse. Hope finally triumphed over fear. I hope we don't backslide into a place of fearful decision making if and when our next crisis arises. It's not a good place for making rational decisions and keeping the country productive, and ultimately, when we let terrorism or catastrophe significantly impact our policies, we're letting darkness win. Obama's win, in some regards, is the vindication of the idea that something different doesn't necessarily mean something to be feared. So kudos to the people who have refused to resign themselves to fear. U-S-A!!!
So that's it. I know the list is controversial. But isn't controversy the entire point behind end of the year lists? Incidentally, I almost included the "Time Warner Cable campaign to protect its customers" on the list (here in Austin, Time Warner got into a legal battle this year with our local NBC affiliate, KXAN, over whether the cable company should have to pay for the right to broadcast the KXAN signal. Time Warner immediately went on the offensive, claiming that they were fighting to keep costs down for their customers, but in truth, Time Warner constantly raises our fees without warning, jealousy protects the right to use its cable infrastructure so that competitors can't set up shop in many Austin neighborhoods, and charges us exhorbinant fees based on the fact that it provides lots of channels that no one ever watches. Given their fee schedule, Time Warner could have easily absorbed the cost of paying for the KXAN signal without an increase in cost to customers, but they were worried about protecting their profit margin and about setting a precedent in which more content providers would demand fees for use of their broadcasts.) I left the Time Warner/KXAN battle off the list because it was a local issue, and probably not of interest to people outside of Austin.
So that's my list. Once again, it's probably a good thing that I published it here rather than over on The League. My list over there needs to be something more like Top 10 Fictional Women Who Can Kick My Ass, But Who I still Think Are Hot. Wait. That's not a bad idea. I still have time to send in a submission, don't I?