On a Wednesday morning in February, with the homeland security threat level at yellow (elevated), one snow system just past and another, an Alberta clipper, on its way through the northeast, William F. Buckley Jr. sat down at his desk in the study of his Stamford, Conn., home to write a column. He never got up again. Christopher Buckley later discovered his father, who founded National Review 53 years ago and became confidante to President Ronald Reagan and captain to conservatives everywhere, slumped at his desk. He was dead at 82.
Reagan once said of Buckley: "You didn't just part the Red Sea-you rolled it back, dried it up and left exposed, for all the world to see, the naked desert that is statism." And then, "as if that weren't enough, you gave the world something different, something in its weariness it desperately needed, the sound of laughter and the sight of the rich, green uplands of freedom."
At about the same time, a liberal senator from the Land of Lincoln was racking up his 10th straight primary win since Super Tuesday, and passing his near-enough-to-touch-but-let's-not rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, in the delegate count on the way to winning the Democratic nomination for president. When Sen. Barack Obama sealed his bid to become the next president over the summer, he declared it a moment "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." History seemingly had turned on its head from the Reagan Revolution of nearly three decades ago: The desert of statism was said to bloom again and the rich, green uplands of 2008 were sprouting change, not freedom.
Anyone who doubted the new faith in statist solutions and the man who championed them had only to wait until Sept. 7, when the government took control of mega-mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From there the bubble burst, the bottom fell out, the well ran dry, and the metaphors failed to adequately describe the widespread fallout if not outright panic as the credit markets seized. And seized again. And again.
Then even the 55-year-old son of Buckley, a writer and contributor to National Review, became a new believer, quitting the magazine and endorsing Obama just weeks before Obama became the first African-American to hold the highest office in the land. Who in their wildest Reagan to Bush to Bush Again dreams could imagine a front-page story in The New York Times carrying the "n" word-nationalization-to describe the president-elect's plans for the auto industry?
And so the year ends on a note of déjà vu-a president in the wings who promises a new deal and a country that says it wants it, needs it.
But the year of woes and of wilderness road for conservatives brought a wonderful providence for others. Unimagined progress in Iraq, including a Battle of Basra won by the Iraqi army. Over 2 million HIV/AIDS sufferers around the world treated via U.S. dollars, surpassing a five-year goal a month ahead of time. And for about a dozen students trapped beneath 3 tons of concrete and rebar after an EF-4 tornado tore into Tennessee's Union University, rescue and healing. "Someone outside reached out and grabbed my hand. It felt like life had been given back to me," is how 20-year-old Kevin Furniss described it from his hospital bed.
Someone from outside giving back life is the story that never grows old. After all, history doesn't repeat itself, as the Mark Twain quote goes, but it does often rhyme.
ELECTION | Change most could believe in
ECONOMY | Our Great Recession
POLITICS | Obama's fan club
DISASTER | Disaster and hope
SPORTS | Olympic gold
CULTURE | Movie angst
WAR & TERROR | Fragile and unsafe
INTERNATIONAL | Russia's game of chess
RELIGION | Exit strategies
SCIENCE | Stem cells aren't embryonic anymore
DEPARTURES | Notable deaths