Saturday, December 27, 2008

Politically, time will tell if new year will bring anything new

(Originally published 12/27/08)

Ah, the New Year ... time to resolve to lose those 15 pounds, get organized, quit smoking and make your life all you want it to be.

In other words, it's time to make all of last year's old resolutions new again.

For all the trite clich├ęs about the new year (a fresh start, a blank slate, etc.), the new year can sometimes bring more of the same.

That can be true in politics, too –- different campaigns, same dirt; different names, same scandals; different promises, same results (or lack thereof).

Will this year finally bring something new?

President-elect Barack Obama, who won the presidency on a promise of change, will come to the White House already having dealt with its first scandal in the mess surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. As the International Herald Tribune pointed out this week, every president for the past three decades has been interviewed by federal investigators at some point. And although he participated as a witness, not a target, of the probe, "Obama may have set a land speed record by giving his first interview to investigators even before taking the oath of office," the IHT said.

How long will the Blagojevich scandal drag on? Will Obama's chief of staff-in-waiting, Rahm Emanuel, emerge unscathed? And how will the scandal itself tarnish the bully pulpit Obama won on Nov. 4?

Turning to Congress, how will Democrats handle their expanded power? They won bigger majorities in both houses at least in some part by running more conservative candidates in predominately Republican districts (Bobby Bright in Alabama's CD 2 is one example). How will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid manage their bigger tents? Will the larger numbers shelter Obama’s initiatives to success? Or will the broader spectrum of political opinion in their party actually slow things down?

Most of Obama's biggest battles will be fought in the Senate. And although Democrats fell shy of the 60 seats they needed to avoid Republican filibusters, their lineup isn't final yet. The Minnesota grudge match between GOP incumbent Norm Coleman and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Al Franken enters its eighth post-Election Day week; meanwhile, in Illinois, with Blagojevich facing impeachment, state legislators split between appointment and a special election and the state Supreme Court unwilling to intervene, it's uncertain how long Obama's Senate seat will remain vacant. Every day it does, Illinoisans are being shorted representation in Washington -– and Reid has one fewer vote on the board.

Closer to home, the campaign to succeed Gov. Bob Riley will kick off soon. The state budget is in proration and funding is in short supply. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for ambitious, egomaniacal politicians. Budget woes plus political jockeying? Should make for an exceptionally disappointing legislative session –- even by Alabama's low standards.

We'll have plenty to discuss into the New Year and beyond. But time, and the performance of our elected officials, will tell whether it will really bring anything new.

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