A Year to Remember

Brief Thoughts on 2008

Soaring Fuel Prices. Subprime Mortgage Crisis. Chengdu Earthquake. Georgia. The Olympics. Phelps. Musharraf. Recession. Iraq. Bailout. Large Hadron Collider. An Obama Victory! Madoff. Plummeting Fuel Prices. Gaza. Leap Second.

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There are many terms that will be used to describe the last year — both today and in the future — however, ‘unimportant’ will certainly not be one of them. The year 2008 will be one for the history books — a historically and culturally significant year filled with great highs and deep, distressing lows.

This year will be remembered as the start of what will likely be considered the most significant economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression. It will be remembered as a time of great unease and a precipitous drop in our collective confidence. However, it will also be remembered for a remarkable thing — the year when a majority of the voters put aside their racial biases and elected Barack Obama the first black President of the United States.

This year will be remembered for the collapse of the mortgage industry due to abuse, negligence and fraud in the subprime lending market. It will be remembered for the resulting collapse of the banking industry and the $700 billion bailout proffered by the government to stem the tide of panic. It will be remembered for the resulting recession and job losses that have so tightly squeezed American families.

At the same time, however, people in the future will recall that in 2008, America elected a President who promulgated a vision to strengthen the ranks of the middle class, restore sensible tax policy and invest in infrastructure and renewable energy — giving the average American a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.

This was a year when American hopes and dreams played center stage. People saw their picture of the ‘American Dream’ — a house and a couple of cars on a plot in the suburbs — dimmed by seemingly endless increases in fuel prices, by the sinking economy and more than a million foreclosures. Many universities, charitable foundations and non-profit groups (among others) saw their dreams of doing good work stopped or hampered by losses in Bernard Madoff’s long-running criminal fraud.

At the same time, however, in spite of our difficulties, this country also found opportunities to celebrate in our unity, as we always do from time to time. Few Americans will soon forget the captivating triumph of Michael Phelps in his pursuit of a stunning 8 Olympic golds. 143 Million people — almost half of the population of the United States — joined together to watch our athletes compete with the best of the best on the world stage.

Likewise, few will forget the thrill of a well fought presidential race — from the primaries to the memorable general election. The opportunity for this nation to participate in our national political exercise, even in the depths of depression, particularly because of the strength of the two candidates was a uniting experience in itself. The memories of November 4th, 2008 will escape few that were alive on that date — truly a watershed moment in American history.

Now that we have turned the page on 2008 and are about to turn the page on the current presidential administration there are many reasons to have hope for the future. We are certainly not out of the woods on the economic front, and we still have ‘enemy combatants’ in Guantanamo and more than a hundred thousand of our young men and women stationed abroad, but at least we can rest assured that there is change ahead.

It’s now 2009, and though we should certainly put to bed many of the poor memories of 2008, we should both pause to remember the good moments and should take special care not to forget the lessons that have been learned so painfully these last twelve months — lest they too soon be repeated again.

This column first appeared in The Tech on Jan. 14, 2009.