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A new direction

12/28/2010, 8:59 a.m.
“As bad as it’s been, a baby New Year won’t be enough.”

A new direction

The traditional depiction of the new year is an old man leaving and an energetic infant stepping forth. Whenever the past year has been especially challenging, the old man is much the worse for wear. Indeed, 2010 has been a difficult year, but the political victories of President Barack Obama at the end of December foretell promised improvement.

The country has been in the throes of an extended recession which began in December 2007, according to the economists. Despite the continuing high rate of unemployment, which stands at 9.8 percent for the nation, economists indicate that the recession ended in June of 2009. That is not at all the case for African Americans, with an unemployment rate of 17.2 percent. And in five states the rate for blacks exceeds 20 percent.

Despite official assertions that the economy has improved and the worst is behind us, there was still a lack of public confidence. Unemployment benefits were running out for many Americans. People were losing their homes to bank foreclosures. The prospect for new job opportunities was grim. There was little to inspire the confidence of the working and middle classes.

Americans had come to expect that when all else failed, the federal government would come to the rescue. However, the emergence of the Tea Party in the November elections indicated that Congress might become deadlocked in political warfare. Although that might yet happen when the new senators and congressmen take office, in the waning weeks of 2010, Obama demonstrated a more efficacious way of governing.

The first challenge was to resolve the tax cut issue. The Bush tax cuts favorable to the rich were due to expire on Dec. 31. However, the tax code also contained benefits for the middle class. Democrats wanted to extend the tax cuts only for the first $250,000 of income. Republicans insisted that everyone should enjoy the same tax cuts.

Democrats also wanted to extend unemployment benefits for those whose rights have expired. Republicans insisted that it was fiscally irresponsible to do so. The fiscal argument was ignored by the Republicans in the debate over tax cuts for millionaires. Obama essentially traded tax cuts for all in order to win unemployment benefits for those in need.

Liberal Democrats were not happy with the compromise, but the president astutely understood the importance of Americans having confidence in their government. This is no time for doctrinaire obduracy.

Obama has unleashed a new spirit of optimism that might prove to be even more important, at this point, than the president’s stimulus plans and the Federal Reserve strategy to boost the economy. Nothing is more important than for Americans to believe that it is time to move forward.

Perhaps the spirit of the 2010 lame duck session will even inspire the 112th Congress when it takes office on Jan. 3, 2011. That spirit has certainly inspired the American people already.