Dispatch December 2009

2009: The View from Our Bloggers

Obama’s inauguration and Sotomayor’s confirmation, the economic crisis and the unraveling of Iran. From just about every angle, 2009 was one hell of a year. Here's what our bloggers had to say about the year's biggest stories. (Additional reporting by Jenny Merkin)
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The Inauguration of Barack Obama
On January 20, tens of thousands of people flocked to the Capitol to watch Barack Obama become America’s first black president. But how was the speech?

Ta-Nehisi Coates: I think I’ve heard too many Obama speeches. I’m unmoved. It’s not his fault. He sounds awesome as ever. But I’ve seen this too many times, I think.

Megan McArdle: The second half [of Obama’s speech], on the other hand, is beautiful. The libertarians will hate it, I predict. But voluntary embrace of duty is the health of a small state—it’s when people won’t care for the collective that the government starts making them do it.

Andrew Sullivan: Emotionally, it spoke for itself. I cannot deny there are tears in my eyes. He was arguing that we need to think again, to put aside childish things, and that this is the mark of responsibility and adulthood.

The Stimulus Bill
On February 17, President Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus to pull the American economy back from the brink. A mix of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and state bailouts, the bill was attacked as both a bloated waste and an insignificant band-aid.

Megan McArdle: We need a plan that is going to force the banks to recognize and write down their bad loans, restructure dysfunctional borrowers, shut down the banks that are too far gone, and inject substantial capital into the banks that are strong enough to pull through. But that kind of radical action is scary.

Marc Ambinder: Obama has done everything reasonable, and more, to move toward non-partisanship. The overwhelming impression he’s leaving for voters is one of reasonableness and accommodation. The public is clamoring for Washington to do something, anything.

Andrew Sullivan: More importantly, some kind of decision is necessary since the economy is indeed in flux and inaction could be as momentous as action. This president and this new Congress were elected in part to address this issue, that their more interventionist stand was clear, and that they should both get the benefit of the doubt—as well as full responsibility for the consequences.

The Flu Scare
The outbreak of the H1N1 influenza strain, initially and incorrectly referred to as “swine flu,” was deemed a global pandemic. Our bloggers, however, weren’t terribly concerned.

Jeffrey Goldberg: This is a bad flu, and I’m terribly sorry for the few people who have died from it, but I’m reasonably sure we’re not all going to die.

James Fallows: The Chinese government has applied sweeping quarantine measures to try to keep the disease out of the country and then to limit its spread; many other countries have viewed the spread as more or less unavoidable and have tried to cope with the consequences.

The Iranian Election
Before American TV crews arrived in Tehran this summer, the election and its aftermath were Twittered, creating a real-time viral documentary of the protests. The death of student Neda Agha-Soltan, caught by an amateur videographer, became an Internet symbol of the country’s unrest.

Andrew Sullivan: That a new information technology could be improvised for this purpose so swiftly is a sign of the times. It reveals in Iran what the Obama campaign revealed in the United States. You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer.

Jeffrey Goldberg: In my conversations with leaders of moderate Arab states, it became clear to me that many of them want Ahmadinejad to stay president: His rhetoric helps makes their case that Iran is a danger to them.

Clive Crook: There are strong statistical signs of manipulation and plausible allegations of rigging, but do we believe that Ahmadinejad would have lost a clean election?


The King of Pop Dies
On June 25, superstar Michael Jackson died. The world expressed shock and grief as a resurgence of Jackson mania recalled his iconic dance moves, videos, and changing looks.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Long live the king.

Andrew Sullivan: The damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.

Hua Hsu Sullivan: Jackson was one of the last figures of our time who could, in his very presence, describe the possibilities of pop. He wasn't just the King—he was the entire domain, the rules and regulations, the dream-horizon of the citizenry, the place where the land met the heavens.

Sotomayor Joins the Bench
The first Latina Supreme Court Justice was confirmed by a Senate vote of 68 to 31, but it was the reaction to her nomination that drew the most fire.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: I just don’t think there’s much of an argument to stick on Sotomayor. She really is the perfect Obama pick—the sort of justice that forces rabid right-wingers into overplaying their hand.

Andrew Sullivan: I tend to think that what animates her and Obama is a justice who might at one point in his or her life felt powerless in the face of the judicial system.

The Loss of Ted Kennedy
As health care reform crawled through Congress over the summer, its greatest champion, Senator Edward M. Kennedy surrendered to a long battle with cancer. The Atlantic Bloggers paid their respects.

James Fallows: A powerful, brave, often-wounded animal at last brought down.

The Baucus Bill
As Congress debated a landmark healthcare reform bill, Max Baucus unveiled his blueprint ... to nearly universal rebuke.

Marc Ambinder : That loud sound you heard just a moment ago from Capitol Hill was the collective exhale of Democrats: Sen. Max Baucus's Finance Committee health care proposal won't add to the deficit over 10 years.

Derek Thompson: The Baucus plan has no employer mandate, no public option, and a tax on expensive insurance plans which will be passed along to employees. This makes unions nervous because it means rates go up and as rates go up, some employees might feel tempted to drop coverage altogether.

Andrew Sullivan: Allowing the Congress to present different options, from several committees, letting the debate unfold as it has, allowing legitimate fears to be expressed (along with nutty Palin-style lies), bobbing and weaving between parties and senators ... this is the system

More Troops in Afghanistan
After a lengthy deliberation, President Obama ordered 30,000 troops try to secure freedom and democracy in the country and also pledged to begin to drawback by 2011.

Clive Crook: The speech contradicted itself. You cannot argue, as he tried to, that (a) this is a war America must win to safeguard its own security, and (b) whether the U.S. is winning or not, the troops will start to come home in 2011.

Marc Ambinder: The reaction from Democratic members of Congress—those with actual power—seems to be just favorable enough.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Who could have known that Barack Obama would double-down in Afghanistan? Only people who listened to Barack Obama.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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