Saying goodbye to 2008

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By Rick Howell

    That time of the year has arrived again in which we think about what has passed and ponder what may be ahead.

    The United States is, in 2008, in a major recession. We just went through a Christmas season in which retail business may have seen recent record lows in holiday spending. The auto industry got a bailout, but one that was modest compared to what was done for the financial markets.

    Layoffs and joblessness continue, and that effect has been seen even here in Bedford, and to a larger extent in the Roanoke Valley.

    But that’s the bad news…and if that’s all we thought about we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the positive developments that give us hope for 2009.

    Because, indeed, there is hope. That theme of hope, and a desire for changes in government policy both foreign and domestic, was the centerpiece of one of the most historic presidential elections in a long time.

    The emergence and triumph of Barack Obama is a story still untold, partly because its most definitive chapter only begins next year. In 2009 and beyond, we’ll be able to make judgments we can’t yet make. But in 2008, his election as president was easily the event of most importance.

    It wasn’t just the toppling of a racial barrier, as significant as that is, it also appeared to be an ideological shift as well. Politics since 1980 had centered around the conservative movement. The assault on the presidency it launched with Barry Goldwater succeeded years later with Ronald Reagan.

    But in George W. Bush, conservatives bottomed out and paid a terrible price at the polls this year. Their failures have gotten them chased out of power, and they’re not likely to get it back without some serious reforms in the Republican Party.

    While Obama campaigned on the notion of “one America,” it was clearly a vision of unification around what were liberal/progressive goals: universal health care, tax cuts for the middle class, and an end to the mistake of war in Iraq.

    Those of us who voted for him aren’t expecting miracles. But we have every reason to believe that he and the Democratic Congress will carry out they agenda for which they were elected.

    Of the notable Americans who passed away this year, I thought none more special than actor Paul Newman. Besides leaving us the memory of his acting and some very good films, Newman knew how to put his money where his mouth was politically.

    A life-long liberal, his money went where his principles were. His non-profit ventures put many millions in the coffers of charities. His camp for children with cancer and other diseases was established with that same money. He left a legacy of true and selfless service to other people.

    We will start 2009 in economically troubled times. Things might actually get a bit worse before they get better. But our history is filled with examples of Americans pressing onward and overcoming our troubles. With the leadership of a new president, we must start that process again in 2009.

    It takes courage to face up to difficulty and try to beat it. Our best leaders have tried to summon that in us, rather than exploit our fears for votes. As much of the country looks to Barack Obama for new ideas and new leadership, another president once came into office in similar conditions.

    Franklin Roosevelt comforted a nation with some reassuring words that might be just as applicable in 2009. We have nothing to fear, he said, but fear itself.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com