Bailing Out of 2008
You can bet that in a year when an Ohio plumber became more famous than the Dalai Lama, a hockey mom from Alaska came within a heartbeat of the White House, gas hit $4 a gallon, and rich automakers begged Congress for $25 billion, Dave Barry might have a few words to say.
How weird a year was it?
Here's how weird:
O.J. actually got convicted of something.
Gasoline hit $4 a gallon -- and those were the good times.
On several occasions, Saturday Night Live was funny.
There were a few days there in October when you could not completely rule out the possibility that the next Treasury secretary would be Joe the Plumber.
Finally, and most weirdly, for the first time in history, the voters elected a president who -- despite the skeptics who said such a thing would never happen in the United States -- was neither a Bush nor a Clinton.
Of course, not all the events of 2008 were weird. Some were depressing. The only US workers who had a good year were campaign consultants and foreclosure lawyers. Everybody else got financially whacked. Millions of people started out the year with enough money in their 401(k)s to think about retiring on, and ended up with maybe enough for a medium Slurpee.
So we can be grateful that 2008 is almost over. But before we leave it behind, let's take a few minutes to look back and see if we can find some small nuggets of amusement. Why not? We paid for it, starting with . . .
. . . which begins, as it does every four years, with presidential contenders swarming into Iowa and expressing sincerely feigned interest in corn. The Iowa caucuses produce two surprises:
On the Republican side, the winner is Mike Huckabee, folksy former governor of Arkansas or possibly Oklahoma, who vows to remain in the race until he gets a commentator gig with Fox. His win deals a severe blow to Mitt Romney and his bid to become the first president of the android persuasion. Not competing in Iowa are Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy is to stay out of the race until he is mathematically eliminated, and John McCain, who entered the caucus date incorrectly into his 1996 Palm Pilot.
On the Democratic side, the surprise winner is Barack Obama, who is running for president on a long and impressive record of running for president. A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas are, because they were so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.
Obama's victory comes at the expense of Hillary Clinton, who fails to ignite voter passion despite a ripsnorter of a stump speech in which she recites, without notes, all 17 points of her plan to streamline tuition-loan applications.
The worsening economy takes center stage in . . .FEBRUARY
. . . when, amid much fanfare, Congress passes, and President Bush signs, an "economic stimulus package" under which the federal government will give taxpayers back several hundred dollars apiece of their own money, the idea being that they will use this money to revive the US economy by buying TV sets that were made in China. This will seem much more comical in the fall.
The battle between Obama and Clinton heats up as the two engage in a series of increasingly hostile debates, including one in which Secret Service agents have to tackle a large, angry, red-faced man who bursts from the audience shouting incoherently. This turns out to be Bill Clinton, who is swiftly dispatched by his wife's campaign to work his magic on voters in the crucial Guam caucuses.
On the Republican side, McCain emerges as the front-runner when Mitt Romney drops out of the race, citing "motherboard issues."
Speaking of losers, in . . . MARCH
. . . New York's Eliot Spitzer becomes embroiled in an embarrassing scandal when a criminal investigation reveals that the governor looks like a large suit-wearing rodent. Also he has been seeing a high-class prostitute known as "Kristen" in a Washington, D.C., hotel. Spitzer resigns in disgrace; "Kristen," hounded by the press and no longer able to pursue her profession, receives a $23 billion bailout from the federal government.
In football, beloved Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre retires and embarks on a series of emotional farewell events, several of which are still going on when he signs to play for the Jets.
Speaking of emotional, in . . . APRIL
. . . the price of gasoline tops $4 a gallon, meaning the cost of filling up an average car is now $50, or, for Hummer owners, $17,500. Congress, responding to the financial pain of the American people, goes into partisan gridlock faster than ever before, with Republicans demanding that the oil companies immediately start drilling everywhere, including cemeteries, and Democrats calling for a massive effort to develop alternative energy sources, such as wind, sun, tides, comets, Al Gore, and dragon breath, using technology expected to be perfected sometime this millennium. It soon becomes clear that Congress will not actually do anything, so Americans start buying less gasoline.
Speaking of buying things, in . . . MAY
. . .
In presidential politics, the increasingly bitter fight for the Democratic nomination intensifies when Obama and Clinton hold a televised debate, moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, that consists entirely of spitting.
On the Republican side, McCain, preparing for the fall campaign, purchases a new necktie.
The big spring Hollywood hit is the film version of Sex and the City, which draws millions of moviegoers, including an estimated three men, two of whom thought they were in the theater for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones Experiences Frequent Nighttime Urination.
In sports, both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 are won by Usain Bolt.
Speaking of victory, in . . .
. . . Obama finally claims the bitterly contested Democratic nomination when Clinton, behind on delegates and in debt to the tune of $25 million, including $9 million for hairspray alone, suspends her campaign and declares that she has "no hard feelings" and will do "whatever it takes" to help Obama get elected, "even though he is scum." Bill Clinton, at his wife's side, nods vigorously, but is unable to speak because of the restraining device. A gracious McCain tells the press that he "looks forward to a spirited debate with Senator Mondale." Before he can take questions, he is informed by his aides that he has an important meeting.
In economic news, Chrysler announces a plan to lay off workers who have not been born yet. The lone economic bright spot is the iPhone, which is selling like crazy thanks to the release of a new model enhanced with the capability of sucking pieces of your brain out through your ear until all you want to do is play with your iPhone.
Tiger Woods, in an epic performance, wins the US Open playing on an injured and very painful knee, thereby proving, beyond all doubt, that golf is not a real sport.
Speaking of epic performances, in . . . JULY
. . . Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech -- speaking English and German simultaneously -- to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.
Meanwhile McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody "who is completely, brutally honest." Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawn mower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody "who has competed in a beauty contest." This will lead to trouble down the road.
In sports, the government of China, in an effort to improve air quality for the Beijing Olympics, bans flatulence.
Speaking of Olympians, in . . . AUGUST
. . . Obama, continuing to shake up the establishment, selects as his running mate Joe Biden, a tireless fighter for change since he was first elected to the US Senate in 1849. Meanwhile McCain, still searching for the perfect running mate, tells his top aides in a conference call that he wants "someone who is capable of filling my shoes." Unfortunately, he is speaking into the wrong end of his cellphone, and his aides think he said "someone who is capable of killing a moose." Shortly thereafter McCain stuns the world, and possibly himself, by selecting Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, a no-nonsense hockey mom with roughly 114 children named after random nouns such as "Hamper."
Elsewhere abroad, fighting breaks out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, serving as a stark reminder that, in an increasingly uncertain world, we, as Americans, have no idea where these places are.
Speaking of uncertainty, in . . .
. . . the mood improves at the Republican convention when Palin dazzles the delegates with her winning smile, detailed knowledge of what is on the teleprompter, and spot-on imitation of Tina Fey. The next night, McCain, formally accepting the nomination, pledges to run "a totally incoherent campaign." None of this is reported in the media because the entire press corps is in Wasilla, Alaska, investigating rumors that Palin once dated a yeti.
But the presidential campaign is soon overshadowed by the troubled economy. The federal government is finally forced to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after they are caught selling crack at a middle school. But that is not enough, as major financial institutions, having lost hundreds of billions of dollars thanks to years of engaging in practices ranging from questionable to moronic, begin failing, which gives the federal government an idea: Why not give these institutions MORE hundreds of billions of dollars, generously provided by taxpayers?
And so it comes to pass that in . . .
. . . Congress passes, and Technically Still President Bush signs, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief as the economy stabilizes for approximately 2.7 seconds, after which it resumes going down the toilet. As world financial markets collapse like fraternity pledges at a keg party and banks fail around the world, the International Monetary Fund implements an emergency program under which anybody who opens a checking account anywhere on earth gets a free developing nation.
The economy dominates the presidential campaign, with the focal point being "Joe the Plumber," an Ohio resident who asks Obama a mildly confrontational question about tax policy and within hours is more famous than the Dalai Lama. He draws intense scrutiny from the news media, which, using investigative reporters borrowed from the Palin-yeti beat, determine that "Joe the Plumber" is in fact (1) not named Joe, (2) not a plumber, (3) a citizen of Belgium, and, (4) biologically, a woman.
In the presidential debates, McCain, looking and sounding increasingly like the late Walter Brennan, cites Joe the Plumber a record 847 times while charging that Obama's tax policies amount to socialism.
In noneconomic news, a Las Vegas jury convicts O.J. Simpson on 12 counts of being an unbelievable idiot. He faces more than 60 years in jail, which could end his relentless quest to find the killer of the people he stabbed to death in 1994.
In sports, the entire nation rejoices as the World Series is won, yet again, by a team other than the New York Yankees.
Speaking of winning, in . . . NOVEMBER
. . . Obama, in a historic triumph, becomes the nation's first black president since the second season of 24, setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of The New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration. But the hopeful mood is dampened by grim economic news. The stock market plummets farther as investors realize that the only thing that had been keeping the economy afloat was the millions of dollars spent daily on TV commercials for presidential candidates explaining how they would fix the economy.
More and more companies seek federal help, among them the troubled "big three"automakers, whose chief executives fly to Washington in three separate corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion, explaining that if they don't get the money, they will be unable to continue making cars that Americans are not buying.
Speaking of grim things, in . . . DECEMBER
. . . the National Bureau of Declaring Things That Make You Go "Duh" declares that the nation has been in a recession since December 2007. The bureau also points out that, according to its statistical analysis, "for some time now, bears apparently have been going to the bathroom in the woods."
President-elect Obama, continuing to bring change in the form of fresh-faced Washington outsiders, announces that his secretary of state will be Hillary Clinton. The position of secretary of defense, currently held by Bush appointee Robert Gates, will be filled by Bush appointee Robert Gates.
In other political news, federal authorities arrest Democratic Illinois governor Rod "Rod" Blagojevich after wiretaps reveal that he was . . . OK, that he was being the governor of Illinois. Everybody is very, very shocked.
But the economy remains the dominant issue, with retailers reporting weak holiday sales as many shoppers pass up pricier gifts such as jewelry and big-screen TVs in favor of toilet paper and jerky. As the year draws to a close, the president's Council of Economic Advisers warns that the current recession "could spiral downward into a full-blown depression," leaving the United States with "no viable economic option but to declare war on Japan."
In another troubling note, US intelligence sources report that Iran is developing "a gigantic rocket-powered shoe."
The point is, if you have any money left, you should spend it soon.
And Happy New Year.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for The Miami Herald (McClatchy Newspapers). Send comments to email@example.com.