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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

Winners and Losers 2008

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Ending a year with the worst economic cataclysm since the Great Depression, entering the seventh year of the Iraq war and facing a growing, all-out war between Israelis and Palestinians, you’d think we’d all be a little down.

So why does everybody seem to be so upbeat about 2009?

Obviously, the overwhelming credit goes to the indisputable “Person of the Year” for the past year, the coming year and quite possibly for our lifetimes.

That may seem like an awful lot to put on President-Elect Barack Obama, but every time Obama has faced a major challenge, he’s not only met expectations, he’s exceeded them.

Of course, it helps that so many Americans, no matter what their political persuasion, are so eager for the end of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush. But even though Bush has not served America’s interests either at home or abroad, it’s wrong to dismiss him as unintelligent or incompetent. In fact, for eight years Bush was stunningly effective at accomplishing exactly what he wanted to accomplish.

The totally unnecessary war in Iraq has killed more than 4,200 Americans so far and nearly 200,000 more in Iraq, but it made enormous profits for corporations with close ties to Bush that were lucky enough to win no-bid contracts and receive billions of American tax dollars.

Failing to raise taxes to pay for the war and, instead, slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans while hundreds of billions of tax dollars were being shipped to Iraq may have helped wreck the American economy, but Bush’s wealthy pals sure appreciated it.

With Americans waking up to the looting of their tax dollars over the last eight years, Obama actually has a license to spend government money to create millions of jobs, launch universal health care and invest in education and technology to provide the jobs of the future.

It sure beats shipping the money to Halliburton.

The Year in Wisconsin

As we look back on 2008, there were also lots of winners (and a few losers) right here in Wisconsin.

We don’t know yet who the biggest Wisconsin winner will be as a result of Obama’s election. My guess is Gov. Jim Doyle, who was occasionally used as a national spokesman by the Obama campaign. There was some local talk about a possible cabinet appointment, with mention of either attorney general or secretary of education. Both jobs were filled with more experienced appointees.

At the moment, Doyle would be content with some federal billions to pull him out of an enormous state budget deficit. For the longer term, I’ve always expected to see Doyle cap his political career as his father did with a lifetime appointment as a federal judge.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was one of the first big-city mayors in the country to endorse Obama. And Obama’s first political appearance in Milwaukee was not as a presidential candidate: It was as a candidate for the Senate campaigning for Congresswoman Gwen Moore in her first congressional race. It can’t hurt Milwaukee’s chances for federal resources to have a congresswoman the president of the United States  refers to as “Girlfriend!”

The biggest political losers statewide last year were Assembly Republicans, who lost control of their house of the Legislature to the Democrats. They lost the Assembly the same way they’d previously lost the state Senate: deservedly.

Republicans spent way too much time trying to stir up right-wing extremists over hotbutton issues such as trying to put concealed guns on the street or making it more difficult for people to vote, especially Democratic people, under the guise of stamping out nonexistent voter fraud.

The Democrats now hold the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature for the first time since 1986. That would be better news for the state’s largest city if Milwaukee representatives hadn’t been shut out of top leadership positions in the new Assembly.

One of the few rising political stars from Milwaukee in the new Legislature is state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, a bright, young advocate with expertise in social welfare and criminal justice issues. Grigsby will join Milwaukee state Sen. Lena Taylor on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which shapes the state budget.

Another low point of an otherwise upbeat political year was the election of the unethical Judge Michael Gableman to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has since charged Gableman with knowingly lying in a sleazy, racist ad aimed at his opponent, Justice Louis Butler, the only African American on the state Supreme Court.

White voters were played for racist fools by Gableman. But by the end of the year, Wisconsin Republicans could no longer count on their old standby strategy of racism.

In November, Barack Obama won a majority of all white voters and 59 of the 72 Wisconsin counties—more rural, suburban and urban counties than in any other state of the union.

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.