Can 2009 be a return to sanity?

There’s always a temptation, come the holidays, to write a year-end column.

The problem is that you have to have paid attention in the preceding 12 months. Not just ordinary attention, but close attention, so you can point to when things went well or turned sour.

I, um, didn’t.

I mean, I know who won the election, and I hope I understand why. But the small details, the things analysts hold up as Moments In History? Generally I don’t notice.

For instance, I saw every moment of the ‘60s, the signature decade of my generation. I went to Vietnam; I went to college, I protested, I grew my hair long. By the time I realized it was an Era, though, the nation had moved on to disco.

Still, you only get one chance a year to do a year-end column. So this is mine: Five things I’m thankful happened in 2008 and five I’m hoping to see in 2009.

2008 first:

• George Bush stands revealed.

Nothing he’s done has changed my initial opinion of him. Two months after the World Trade Center attacks, when his approval was in the mid-80s, I wrote, “Osama bin Laden is Bush’s best asset. If it weren’t for him, the president’s rating would be 32 percent and falling.” I got more hate mail than I’d seen since I wrote that Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s wasn’t a surprise.

How do you like me now, Bush fans?

• Sarah Palin didn’t have legs.

When she was introduced as McCain’s pick, I got the same feeling I had at Bush’s election: This is a mindless ideologue—but will people catch on in time?

They did. My faith in democracy, shrinking since 1980, swelled.

• The Rove Gambit failed.

Sliming your opponent probably can still get you elected. But it didn’t work for McCain, and maybe that will raise questions about the no-substance, all-ordure campaign.

• A portion of the military is speaking out about the war in Iraq.

The largest military unit I ever led was a platoon of Montagnards. Still, when U.S. forces swept into Baghdad at cruising speed, I thought, “Too easy. The insurgents are going to pop up behind our troops.”

If I knew it, the professional soldiers in the Pentagon knew it. Muzzling them while listening to chickenhawks like Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz is one of Bush’s gravest offenses.

• The War on Science is over.

That’s the other of the gravest offenses.

On the plus side, here’s what I’m looking forward to in 2009:

• The impotent rage of the mindless conservative.

They’ll rise again, more’s the pity, but not for a while. Meanwhile, they’ll be pissed off. Good.

• Decisions based on sound Science instead of “sounds like science.”

If this nation weren’t a confederacy of scientific dunces, we’d long since have marched on the White House to protest the wholesale endangerment of our planet, our health and our children.

• Openness in government.

The Obama administration will have secrets, and probably some will be dark. With luck, though, the full-throttle, matter-of-policy deceit of the Bushies will take a break.

• The end, at least for a while, of faith-based anything.

This may already be over, with Obama’s selection of homophobic bigot Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. But if, just once, a person in high position was to say to the My-Way-Or-Burn-In-Hell right, “I respect your views, but I do not share them,” and lightning didn’t strike, it might shove the United States boldly into the modern era.

• Barack Obama.

I mean, Barack Obama. Could this be cooler?