Various media have been nominating their Men and Women of the Year. Put me down as undecided among several. The most deserving have been the men and women sacrificing for us in Iraq, Afghanistan, and waypoints.
President Bush began the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama has continued them. Our troops are scheduled to exit Iraq next year, whether or not a truly stable central government is by then governing the country. But our involvement in Afghanistan has become disappointingly open-ended, with Obama most recently stating that it likely will be 2014, and perhaps later, before U.S. forces will be leaving that country.
In my judgment, this was a serious policy and political mistake. It is quite possible that the on-ground 2014 situation in Afghanistan will be no better than it is today; it could be worse. In any case, no vital interest is at stake there to justify the human and material costs we are paying to meet it. Yet our troops on the ground have maintained high morale and levels of performance, despite the dubiousness of their mission. They deserve our admiration and respect.
The most influential people in the 2010 political year were Tea Partiers, who changed the terms of reference in American domestic politics. Their bottom-up rebellion — mainly against short-term deficits and long-term debt at federal, state, and local level — has shaken formerly complacent elected officials of both major political parties. Tea Partiers, it turns out, were not the racists or right-wing or religious extremists their critics initially painted them to be. They were ordinary citizens and taxpayers, more independent than partisan, who rejected complacency for involvement and contributed to the anti-incumbent wave that swept the country in 2010.
Because more Democratic than Republican seats were at stake, Democrats took what Obama termed "a shellacking," losing 63 U.S. House and six U.S. Senate seats. Yet the Tea Party label, of and by itself, was not enough to elect deficient challengers such as Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska. Tea Party populism will be subsumed within both major parties' agendas in 2011.
The most important single event in the 2010 political year, after the November elections, was the lameduck session of the Congress, just concluded. Obama struck a compromise deal with congressional Republicans on extension of Bush-era tax cuts, which otherwise would have expired Dec. 31.
He appeared to lose his way, immediately thereafter, when he denounced extension of upper-income cuts included in his bargain. That angered Republicans with whom he had made the deal. It also outraged House and other liberal Democrats who denounced Obama for accepting provisions he had characterized so harshly. Opinion surveys, however, showed a strong majority of Americans approving the compromise package, which also contained a healthy measure of near-term economic stimulus.
To everyone's surprise, bipartisanship then blossomed between White House and Congress, and between both parties in the Congress. A START Treaty with Russia was ratified. Both Democrats and Republicans dumped a budget containing numerous expensive earmarks and agreed to continue government at current spending levels until a fresh budget could be negotiated next spring — presumably without earmarks. Then, by a surprisingly strong margin, Don't-ask-don't-tell rules, governing gays in the military, were repealed. This was a dramatic development comparable to President Truman's elimination of racial segregation in the military 65 years ago.
The resolution of the tax, budget, dont-ask, and START issues before adjournment cleared them from the new Congress' 2011 agenda in January. The first order of business, then, almost surely will be consideration of legislation cutting short-term federal deficits and long-term debt. A bipartisan group of 18 senators, growing daily, will introduce legislation in the new Congress embodying the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission.
This will provide a starting point for serious debate of taxing and spending options which would have been thought impossible as recently as two years ago. Medicare, Medicaid, and Pentagon spending, longstanding "tax expenditures" (subsidies and loopholes), and discretionary spending elsewhere in the budget will all be up for debate. That debate no doubt will consume many months but, once begun, will be hard to stop. Leftover 2010 issues will include immigration, where tough border enforcement must be a precursor to liberalization, and the many legal and political challenges confronting the Obama health-care plan soon after its enactment.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!