All year long it’s been one piece of bad news after another, but now it’s time to put on the rose-colored glasses and list some of the good things that happened in 2005. I had to e-mail about fifty people to come up with these items, but that’s OK. Keeping you cheerful is part of my job. I mean, the war could be wrong, but the Iraqi elections could still be good. So fill that glass half full with whatever and…and…well, just drink it.
1. The Bush Administration is on the defensive. The President’s poll numbers rival Nixon’s at his nadir, most voters say they don’t believe him on Iraq, he’s had to admit that the prewar intelligence was wrong, Plamegate stalks the White House. Social Security reform is off the table. Hurricane Katrina proved the grown-ups were definitely not in charge–“You’re doing a heckuva job” enters the lexicon as Bushese for “You have screwed up totally but I don’t care.”
2. The Republican Party is mired in corruption and cronyism. DeLay’s on trial, Randy Cunningham’s going to jail, Frist’s AIDS charity ladled nearly half a million to his friends, Jack Abramoff seems to have the whole party on his payroll. The Supreme Court is looking into that mid-Census redistricting in Texas that gave them five new seats in 2004. David Brooks openly wonders why working-class people should vote for the GOP. Good question!
3. The media are waking up. In The New Yorker, Jane Mayer revealed the shocking role of doctors and psychologists in torturous goings-on at Guantánamo and the CIA’s role in the killing of a detainee at Abu Ghraib. In the Washington Post Dana Priest exposed the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. The LA Times‘s Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi reported that the Pentagon paid the Iraqi press to publish pro-US stories. The New York Times finally got rid of Judith Miller and just this December revealed that Bush authorized the National Security Agency to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Too bad the Times didn’t break the story when they got it, before the 2004 election.
4. The Christian Taliban is going too far. Terri Schiavo, pharmacists denying women birth control and emergency contraception, creationism in the public schools–oh, excuse me, “intelligent design,” just bounced from the Dover, Pennsylvania, school system by federal court Judge John Jones III as, well, creationism. When your claim to be victims of secularism rests on Wal-Mart greeters wishing shoppers Happy Holidays, you are clearly a bunch of great big babies.
5. Civil liberties are making a comeback. ACLU membership is at an all-time high of more than a half-million. The Senate failed to reauthorize the Patriot Act, at least for now. The House banned “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of detainees (but it also voted to deprive them of habeas corpus).
6. The world is becoming more gay-friendly. Really! Gay marriage was legalized in Spain, South Africa and Canada (it’s already legal in Belgium and the Netherlands), and Britain and Connecticut now permit civil unions, joining Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden. Capote and Brokeback Mountain, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as lovelorn gay cowboys, are huge successes. Basketball star Sheryl Swoopes came out and kept her Nike contract. Gay studies classes have started up in China.
7. The left is alive in Latin America. Evo Morales has just been elected president of Bolivia on a platform of Indian and poor people’s rights, opposition to US-backed privatization schemes and support for coca farming (well, it’s their country). Socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet–pediatric surgeon, single mother, agnostic, feminist, former political prisoner–is the frontrunner in Chile’s presidential runoff. Just to show he doesn’t hold it against Americans that Bush tried to overthrow him and Pat Robertson wanted to kill him, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is sending cheap home heating oil to the poor in Massachusetts and the Bronx.
8. DNA evidence exonerated twelve death-row inmates (that makes 168 so far). Little by little, support for the death penalty is declining.
9. Heroes and whistleblowers spoke truth to power. Cindy Sheehan put a family face on the antiwar movement. Dr. Susan Wood quit the FDA over its anti-scientific refusal to sell emergency contraception over the counter. Bunnatine Greenhouse blew the whistle on Halliburton’s no-bid Army contracts in Iraq.
10. Third World women are on the move. War-weary Liberian women elected Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Africa’s first female president. Malalai Joya, the fiery young feminist who excoriated the warlords at the 2003 loya jirga, won a seat in Afghanistan’s Parliament. In Pakistan three sisters refused to be forcibly married to settle a dispute with another family; their father supported them.
11. Harvard president Larry Summers said women might not have the genes for science and caused such an outcry he’s been atoning ever since with tenure offers, study commissions, millions in recruitment funds. Advertising biggie Neil French said women didn’t have the moxie to be creative directors and lost his job. That leaves opinion journalism as the single remaining field in which conventional wisdom says women just can’t cut the mustard–and women believe it.
12. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives went down in flames, along with a parental-notification abortion referendum he supported. With his failure to commute the death sentence of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, they don’t even like him in Austria anymore.
13. The Women’s Review of Books is starting up again, with work by Dorothy Allison, Linda Gordon, Alicia Ostriker and other wonderful writers–this time, subscribe! And while you’re at it, treat yourself to a copy of The Solitude of Self, Vivian Gornick’s deep and moving meditation on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which reveals Stanton as a heroine for our times.
14. Hardly anyone believes that global warming isn’t happening. The bad news: It’s happening. But we’ll talk about that next year.