Summer arrived and people were looking forward to water sports and hoping to get away from the news of water boarding, swine flu and the tortuous economy. Big movies such as Harry Potter and Star Trek offered entertaining escape, however several news stories achieved blockbuster status in terms of the large audiences they attracted.
In May, the nomination of that "wise Latina" Sonia Sotomayor, for the Supreme Court, was the first big news story of the summer. She was vigorously challenged by a number of people who apparently had grown up without a past or ethnic background to color their judgment. They were troubled by the likelihood of her past and ethnic background affecting her judgment. With the interpretation of the law always so clear, much of the nation was surprised to learn that we even needed the Supreme Court. Would Sotomayor pass the test in her quest for the black robe?
President Obama demonstrated that a United States President could still travel overseas and not have shoes thrown at him. The new President's global popularity trended way up. However, serious questions from his critics at home arose as to whether he should have honored custom and bowed to a Middle Eastern leader or if his wife violated custom by touching the Queen of England.
The success of Obama's international trip dominated the news until General Motors filed for the largest bankruptcy in American history. The dangerous state of our economy was again made painfully apparent as another pillar of American business collapsed.
Iran exploded, literally, into the news as their violent and disputed elections became the biggest international story. A significant part of the story became how the news itself was reported; online, with cell phone cameras, Twitter and footage posted on YouTube because of all the restrictions put on mainstream journalists. News came from grass roots sources making it almost impossible to verify the truth of anything that came out of Iran. As the news grew more complex, we needed something that was simple to understand.
Michael Jackson died on June 25th. Superstars have the strange ability to glow far brighter in death than they did in life. After filling endless hours, the media finally questioned the excessive nature of its coverage. They began reporting about how excessive they were regarding their own excessive coverage. The excessive coverage continues to this day. Michael Jackson is still dead.
Sarah Palin, demonstrating the public's endless fascination with celebrity, got back in the news for deciding to not complete the final 18 months of her term as Alaska's governor. She proved herself much funnier than her nemesis David Letterman by giving a speech rationalizing her resignation as not quitting, because, not quitting would be "a quitter's way out".
By mid July, the confirmation hearings of Sotomayor took the forefront by putting her personality in the background. Her ability to remain cool and uncommitted so no one could possibly find anything at all controversial helped her gain confirmation. In this contentious, partisan political environment, saying nothing is the only way to gain approval. That's what she did and that's what she got.
By the third week in July, the health care debate overtook Michael Jackson's death as summer's biggest story. The 1,118 page bill was turned into the biggest event of the summer with all the ingredients of a blockbuster: An epic story about a grand quest that has been going on for generations, with the power to change the course of mankind.
It was a lot like the biggest summer movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, opposing armies morphed the media into a battle ground of confusion, frightening distortions and misinformation as the biggest fears of a frightened population went on a destructive rampage.
The new President who campaigned and was elected on a platform promising change discovered that fear of change overwhelmed the desire for it.
Attempts to reach across the aisle became a quicksand of compromise where neither side was satisfied. Practical politics means angering the fewest, but in this case, the fewest are the loudest.
As July moved into August, a new group called "birthers" wove itself into the lunatic fringe. All of a sudden, people were debating the preposterous notion that Obama had somehow snuck into the White House, in spite of not being a true American citizen. This fact, totally missed by both the Clinton and the McCain campaign, was fortunately noticed by a group of people who gained credibility through significant media exposure. When they produced Obama's "official" Kenyan birth certificate, which proved to be a fraud, they imploded like the monster that is killed by having to inhale its own toxic exhale.
The health care debate got more heated. Obama's popularity started to decline in the polls, which happens to every President a few months after their election. Some welcomed the inevitable decline of his numbers as a sign of dissatisfaction with his presidency.
"Cash for Clunkers", the government program that gives rebates towards the purchase of a new car when an old gas guzzler was traded in was a bigger and faster success than anticipated, which meant it was a bigger and faster failure to those who opposed the program. As you might guess, those for and against it were defined more by party lines than their love of cars.
By the second week of August, Afghanistan, the newest global hot-spot had become of increasing interest. The Obama administration considers it a strategic priority for defeating the Taliban. More money and more troops are being dedicated to a country rife with violence, questionable elections and an even more questionable outcome.
Health care continued as the biggest story. The debates moved to town hall meetings where shouting and people packing guns made all the news. Like the movies, the news has become totally conflict driven, the more outrageous, the more coverage it got. Whether anything meaningful was ever discussed was impossible to discern from what we saw. Rational discussion began to seem like more of a fantasy than the distorted fantasies of the angry crowds.
When a topic as important as health care is reduced to trying to comfort the opposition by assuring them that the government won't pull the plug on grandma, that they won't have to wait six months in line to see a government chosen doctor, that health care reform won't catapult the country into Socialism -there is a lot of educating to do.
Summer ended with the death of Ted Kennedy. News of his death, on August 25th ironically took the spotlight off the issue most important to him, national health care reform, which had dominated the news media the previous five weeks. It was an issue for him forty years ago and remained one of his primary concerns until he died. In Senator Kennedy, both healthcare reform and Obama lost a formidable ally.
According to media pundits, the once overwhelmingly popular Obama is now in danger of having his Presidency defined by his failure in enacting health care reform.
However, like all blockbusters, the story continues. Wednesday the President is giving a speech on health care. Will it turn the tide in his favor? Will it sink his Presidency? Will the nation's children be brainwashed by hearing their President speak? By the way, swine flu is on its way back too. Stay tuned.
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