In the long run, several events may point to a new direction in American government and politics:
(1) The election of Senator Webb in Virginia and Senator Tester in Montana. Granted both won by a very, very slight edge, but against almost insurmountable odds. Both came across as honest, forthright candidates, not charismatic celebrities. The issues they identified and spoke so articulately about are issues that may very well dominate political debates for the next decade.
(2) The rising popularity of Keith Olbermann and Anderson Cooper as newscasters. Both are brassy, fresh, outspoken. They go against the corporate grain, "telling it like it is" instead of repeating political spin. Not since Dan Rather was in the White House press corps have national networks been quite so fresh and spontaneous. They are not Walter Cronkites, or even Edward R. Murrows, but they are a far cry from Katie Couric & Company, too! They seem to be speaking to and for the disaffected young.
(3) John Edwards opening his presidential campaign in a backyard in New Orleans. The country may not be ready for him, but at least he will guarantee that the right issues are debated in 2008, that the American working class has a voice, and that there will be at least one honest, articulate candidate. The uprising of interest in Barak Obama may point in the same direction, but that's a bit harder to read.
(4) The public disrepute of evangelical ministers, on the one hand, and the turning of other evangelical leaders to such basic issues as poverty, world health issus, environmentalism, and prejudice, on the other. I do not believe that evangelicals have been well served or represented by their national spokesmen nor by the politicians they have supported. And I certainly do not think they should be concentrating their efforts strictly on opposition to gay marriage, evolution, stem cell research, nor even abortion. Maybe we are about to see a turn around there. James Dobson's boys are not looking so good these days.
(5) The Baker panel report and Bush's outright rejection of it may point not only to a schism in the Republican Party between the elder Bush's regime and the younger one's, but perhaps more important, to the Party's recognition of the danger of the political use of war and imperialism to bolster political appeal. The elder Bush's tears at the ceremony in honor of Jeb's last day as governor speak volumes. Maybe the reign of Karl Rove and his cronies has come to an end.
(6) The funeral of Gerald Ford has reminded the country, and especially Republicans, that there was once a moderate wing of that party and a healthy respect for bipartisan negotiation. The release of his final interview with Bob Woodward, likewise, demonstrates Republican resistance to the Bush oligarchy. Is it possible that they will even recall President Eisenhower's historic farewell address in which he sounded a prescient warning against the "military-industrial" complex?
(7) Jimmy Carter's new book (Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid) and his continuing presence on the national scene, especially his moving eulogy for Gerald Ford, demonstrate that the voice of common sense is still respected and that indefatigable efforts to achieve "peace on earth" are still possible and can be effective. People are even remembering (occasionally) that the ONLY lasting peace in the Middle East, that between Egypt and Israel, was achieved by the relentless perseverance of President Carter at Camp David. Where do we see such efforts now?
(8) And Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth gives further evidence that public defeat can be personally ennobling. How much better off we would be now (globally, fiscally, ecologically, morally) if Gore's actual victory in 2000 had not been overturned by the Supreme Court. Maybe, just maybe our nation will confront the environmental crisis in time to forestall a cataclysm in this century.
(9) The defeat and public humiliation of Katherine Harris in Florida. (Remember she was the Secretary of State who engineered Bush's "victory" in Florida in 2000. Even James Baker must be seeing his mistake now in the debacle of the "hanging chads.")
(10) The elections in Iran on December 15. Moderate conservatives opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a majority of the seats, followed by reformists. Could it be that the triumph of moderation in the US has been balanced in the heart of the Middle East? Could it be? Even in a nation that Bush and Cheney and their neoconsservative minions keep threatening to bomb?
In my view, those are the major events of the past 4 months (well, actually one or two go back a bit further than that, and one goes outside the US). Why? Because they point to future hopes, not to dismal past failures. The ones I have listed as #1 and #10 provide more hope for democracy than anything I can think of in the past quarter of a century.
Taken together, they suggest the possibility of a major turn-around. With the right leadership, we could even see reform of the magnitude accomplished in the Progressive Era of Teddy Roosevelt, in the New Deal of FDR, in the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine after World War II.
Could it be? At least we can hope.