2008: The Year of Audacity

02/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's funny, because with the apocalyptic news stories ushering us into the new year, I'm reminded of a quote from the film version of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club:

"We're the middle children of history.... no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives."

The movie came out in 1999, at the end of the brooding Winona Ryder nineties -- made possible by the comfort of the Clinton Bubble of balanced budgets, low unemployment, and a gold rush of tech stocks and web advertising. Then boom! Our generation got its Great War with 9/11 and seven years later, Great Depression 2.0.

We now have something outside ourselves to struggle against. A very real and tangible angst.

Now, something else that marked this passing year, other than the sobering wake-up call that we're no longer the Jane Brady of History but are being called by it, has been the show of unadulterated audacity, which unfortunately ranged the spectrum from good to pure evil.

There is first and foremost Barack Obama. He of course gave us The Audacity of Hope. His victory turned New Yorkers into warm, back-slapping and smiling Mid-Westerners still days after the election. He's made us feel like, okay, now that we got a good guy, an actual good person in the most powerful position in the land, let's save dolphins, and bring peace to the Middle East and check off some items on our Captain Planet to-do list. He makes you think that the impossible deserves serious consideration and a lot of hard work and spirit. But it can be done. He came when we needed him most and branded what we achieved exactly right, as audacious.

Next up there's Bernie Madoff, the bad kind of audacious. The evil kind. He's been shamelessly operating for years, stealing $15 million alone from a Holocaust survivor/champion of human rights -- Elie Wiesel, amid ruining many other charities and countless lives. The man's a financial asteroid. Conversations about Madoff at cocktail parties and with cab drivers quickly turn to discussions of medieval torture methods. Send him to Gitmo. He took $10 million from an investor just six days before his arrest, when he must have known his massive scheme was unraveling, fast.

Then there's comic-relief audacity, like the defiant-child performance of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Not only does his first name rival "First Dude Todd" for fannypack-cheesiness, so does his hair. But the funniest thing about Hot Rod is his audacity for refusing to resign as Governor despite his party and the President-elect calling on him to do so. Even after being arrested on conspiracy charges, he still refuses to step down: "No! I'm Governor! You can't make me!" Then he goes ahead and fills Obama's Senate seat with one of his closest confidantes, someone accused of being an extension of his arm-twisting and wallet sniffing ways. Rod, you're too much.

Finally, there's George W. Bush. He started off audacious. Remember "Compassionate Conservatism?" As he neatly steps out of the White House, he assures us that he doesn't care about short-term or long-term history. That's nice, considering he sent us down this tailspin that could last into the next generation and possibly beyond.

Bush told Charlie Gibson of ABC News last month. "I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it."

Translation: What have future generations ever done for me!

Regardless of the mess Bush and Bernie and the wizards of Wall Street have left us with, it's going to take audacity, the good kind, for us to get out of it. So keep thinking and dreaming up big. We need you to.