2008 has not been the best year of our lives. An election that seemed to have a lot of inspiring potential — a Republican candidate who once had solid bipartisan appeal, the first serious female presidential contender in U.S. history, a visionary candidate who also happens to be black, a female vice presidential candidate — turned into a singularly nasty and divisive campaign. (Or does every presidential campaign these days seem nastier and more divisive than all the previous ones?) In Russia, faint hopes of a “Medvedev thaw” were buried in the wreckage of the August war with Georgia, which also pushed Russia and the U.S. close to a “new Cold War.” Finally, there was the financial crisis that soon became an economic one. We may not be in for a new Great Depression, but no one doubts that tough times are ahead.
And yet, in the midst of all this, there is good news.
(1) Back in October, I wrote:
Many people who are tired of the mudslinging can’t wait for the election to be over. But Nov. 4 is unlikely to bring much relief. The dogs of war are loose, and they won’t be easy to leash. If, as seems likely, Obama is elected, a large number of people on the right will see him as a stealth radical who won thanks to media bias and rampant voter fraud. If McCain pulls off a surprise upset, at least as many people on the left will blame racism, Republican dirty tricks or both—and some will regard the results as proof that the right-wing cabal behind Bush will never let go of power. Either way, a substantial minority of Americans will see themselves as living under an illegitimate and evil regime.
And that’s more frightening than the economic crisis.
I’m happy to say that I seem to have been wrong. With some exceptions (Sean Hannity, and Melanie Phillips), conservatives have been remarkably willing to give Obama a chance. Obama’s judiciously centrist picks have had a lot to do with this; but credit also goes to McCain’s and Obama’s post-election graciousness. And that’s a good reason to take pride in the American political system and its ability — sometimes — to bring people together.
(2) While Sarah Palin’s candidacy proved to be mostly a dud, it did accomplish some positive things. It remolded the conservative “base” in a more feminist direction, by giving it a heroine who was a working mother, a self-proclaimed feminist, and an unabashedly ambitious woman. It also highlighted the need for a more ideologically diverse feminism. No less a feminist than Naomi Wolf (in full throes of Palin Derangement Syndrome this past election cycle) wrote, back in 1993 in her book Fire With Fire, that feminism should discard “litmus tests” on everything from gun ownership to abortion which exclude too many women. Wolf wrote that the beliefs of conservative and Republican women who embrace “self-determination, ownership of business, and individualism” should be “respected as a right-wing version of feminism.” Hear, hear.
(3) In Russia, the crisis (accompanied by the steep drop in oil prices) may accomplish what the Medvedev succession did not: weaken the authoritarian state’s grip on power. More on that soon. Of course, if there is a new “Russian revolution,” it may not be bloodless, and it’s far from certain that it will bring the good guys to power.
Stay tuned for 2009. It could turn out to be the best of times and the worst of times. May the “best” part prevail.
Happy New Year to all.