As the year lurched to its close, perhaps it's time to take stock of where we've been. At the dawn of 2009 we found ourselves tied to the railroad tracks with the Train of Financial Ruin bearing down upon us, at which point a handsome stranger came along and rescued us. And we lived happily ever after.
Not really. It wasn't that kind of year.
It was the kind of year when a president could save the economy, get an international agreement on global warming (sort of), push through the most far-reaching health care legislation since Medicare, win the Nobel Peace Prize and still be widely reviled as an alien creature out to reduce the nation to serfdom.
It was a year when the No. 1 American sports hero, bar none, could suffer an instant fall from grace when he is found to be augmenting his quiet, sedate family life with a private, secret life that Bill Clinton would envy.
A year when the first Hispanic woman is named to the Supreme Court, only to be called a racist. That kind of year: a sour kind of year.
Still, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, sometimes you have to go to press with the year you've got rather than the one you would prefer, so here are some of the major figures of the year that left the station:
- Barack Obama: He, of course, is the fellow who untied us from the railroad tracks (thereby saving what was left in our IRAs after George W. Bush got through with them, I might add) and immediately plunged in the polls.
Faced with a Republican opposition impervious to reason, logic or facts, he did the best he could on health care and global warming, but it wasn't enough. He kept sinking in the polls.
If he found a cure for cancer, his enemies would accuse him of trying to put radiologists out of business.
He's my Person of the Year, barely beating out:
- Tiger Woods: One moment it was all "Be like Tiger, kids," and "Buy this, buy that, Tiger does," and the next he had a popularity rating usually reserved for war criminals. You would think he was the first good-looking famous multimillionaire who was found to like other women, even while married.
Still, I must confess to being amused at the thought of his wife chasing him out of the house with a golf club in the middle of the night, like some 1930s comic-strip character. He's living proof of the axiom: To be very unpopular, one must first be very popular. To his former fans I would say: "You mean you actually went out and bought a Buick because you thought he was a good husband?"
Say what you will of him, at least he hasn't said the experience has caused him to find God. Yet.
- Sarah Palin: Returned to the scene by throwing aside her day job as the governor of the Very Important State of Alaska and writing a book: "How I Almost Saved the Republican Party but Those Moosebutts in the McCain Campaign Wouldn't Let Me." Good to have her back; we missed her.
- Bernie Madoff: Proved that while you can't fool all of the people all of the time, if you fool enough of them for long enough you can really make a bundle.
- Mark Sanford: The South Carolina governor who made a wrong turn on the Appalachian Trail and would up in a lady's bed in Argentina. It could have happened to anyone. Well, maybe not anyone, but it could have happened to Tiger Woods.
- General Motors: At this writing it's on the brink of killing off Saab, an eccentric Swedish auto brand that it recently bought. Saab now joins Saturn, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and LaSalle as car companies GM has run into the ground.
It may not longer be the largest car company in the world, but it certainly is the biggest auto graveyard.
Have a happy New Year anyway.
Minuteman Media and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.