12 biggest controversies of 2009
OBAMA INAUGURATION STIRS RACIAL TENSIONS
With the economy teetering on the edge of collapse, the nation's first African-American
president is sworn into office under what many commentators consider the most
difficult domestic circumstances since the Great Depression. His skin color continues
to provoke debate: While Rush Limbaugh worries that Republicans won't properly
oppose the president's "radical" agenda because "they're afraid of being called
racists," Robert Schlesinger in U.S. News & World Report counters: "Obama ran as a presidential candidate who was African- American rather than an African-American presidential candidate."
IS THE STIMULUS BILL JUST A PORKFEST?
Just two weeks into his presidency, Obama makes the case that without a
massive stimulus bill, the country will face economic "catastrophe." Working
together, congressional Democrats and the White House cobble together a $787
billion package that includes tax cuts, more government aid, infrastructure
investment, and several programs that Republicans condemn as pork. "As a
nation," says Senator Tom Coburn (R–Okla.), "we got into this mess by spending
and investing money that didn't exist. We won't get out of it by doing more of the
same." Obama responds, "We can and we must turn this moment of challenge
into one of opportunity."
AIG HAS ODD WAY OF SHOWING GRATITUDE
After the government rescues AIG from bankruptcy with a $180 billion bailout,
the insurance giant outrages Americans by lavishing $165 million in bonuses on
executives in its financial-products group—the risk-happy division that had taken
down the company. The Obama administration, worried that public anger could
weaken support for the additional bailouts required to stabilize the economy,
denounces AIG and appeals for calm.
IOWA LEGALIZES GAY MARRIAGE
In a surprise decision, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously rules that banning
gay marriage violates the state's Constitution, making Iowa the third state—and
the first in the Midwest—to recognize same-sex marriage. That loud noise you
just heard, says Joe Sudbay in America Blog, was "heads exploding at Mormon
headquarters and the American Family Association." While conservatives blast the
ruling's "gobbledygook" as a "lawless judicial attack on traditional marriage,"
supporters of gay marriage say the "haters" are just fighting the inevitable.
OBAMA NOMINATES 'WISE LATINA' SONIA SOTOMAYOR
While liberals praise President Obama's decision to nominate New York federal
judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, conservatives
lambast the nominee for remarking (in 2001) that she, "as a wise Latina woman,"
can often "reach a better conclusion than a white man." In the ensuing debate,
conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Speaker of the House Newt
Gingrich call Sotomayor a "racist," while The New York Times' Bob Herbert says
that apparently there is no level of achievement sufficient to escape the
stultifying bonds of bigotry." On Aug. 6, the Senate
confirms Sotomayor by a vote of 68 to 31.
IRAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS DESCEND INTO
Though incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
seemingly defeats challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi by a
large margin, hundreds of thousands of Iranians—provoked
by reports of widespread voting irregularities—take to the streets of Tehran to
protest a "stolen" election. Iran authorities fail to block the news from reaching
the West when protesters adopt social-networking site Twitter as a news outlet
and cell phone video footage of protester Neda Agha-Soltan's murder at the
hands of the government floods the Internet.
SARAH PALIN MYSTERIOUSLY RESIGNS
Standing in the backyard of her Wasilla home, Sarah Palin abruptly resigns as
Alaska's governor before completing her first term, delivering a speech that
liberals call "rambling" and incoherent, and even conservatives find hard to
defend. Her sudden departure stuns both the political establishment and the
media, and spawns at least 11 competing "theories" about her motives. Some
columnists suggest that Palin wants to ramp up for a 2012 presidential bid, while
others speculate that an imminent scandal led her to resign.
TEA PARTY WREAKS HAVOC ON TOWN HALLS
Public debates over health-care reform run into snafus when members of the Tea
Party and other right-wing organizations carry out plans to disrupt town-hall
meetings with noisy demonstrations, taunts, and Second Amendment–protected
wielding of AR-15 assault rifles and other weapons. Sarah Palin's charges that
"ObamaCare" will lead to "death panels" further fuels the anger. At one point,
Democratic Rep. Barney Frank compares a protester whose communication skills
he finds lacking to a "dining room table."
Many commentators seem genuinely shocked when South Carolina Republican
Joe Wilson heckles Obama shouting, "You lie!" as the president tries to explain to
Congress that his proposed health-care reforms would not provide illegal
immigrants with taxpayer-funded coverage. Wilson's boorish behavior "struck a
new low" in America's standard for political conduct.
OBAMA's 'PREMATURE' PEACE PRIZE
The news that Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just
months into his first presidential term confounds nearly everyone, including the
president, who remarks: "Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this
morning." Iain Martin in The Wall Street Journal describes the honor as "bizarre,"
noting that, "traditionally, it has been standard procedure that winners of the
prize do their peacemaking first."
FORT HOOD AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
Soon after the shocking news that an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, has
killed 13, and wounded 30, at the America's largest military installation, critics
begin wondering aloud why the Army and the FBI had missed so many warning
signs including Hasan's jihadist rants to colleagues.
LIEBERMAN 'HIJACKS' HEALTH-CARE REFORM
With Obama promising the US that a health-care reform bill would be passed by
both houses of Congress before Christmas, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an
independent whose vote was critical to Democrats, seizes the opportunity to
exert his considerable influence and force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to
reshape the bill at the 11th hour. The power play sparks outrage among many
Democrats: "Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals