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The Serious, Sublime, and Silly from 2009

5. It Hurts Her So To Say Goodbye

When Sarah Palin decided to resign as Alaska’s governor in July, the conventional wisdom indicated that her career in national politics should have been effectively kaput. This did nothing, however, to dampen a 24/7 media frenzy surrounding her every move, word, and Twitter Tweet which continues to this day. Speculation abounds concerning her future viability as a candidate, whether she will replace Oprah on television, or be named the next pope. There’s no telling what comes next for the Wasilla Wildcat, but her place as a top newsmaker in 2009 is assured.

4. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah

While it didn’t garner nearly as much media coverage as deserved, one of the biggest stories of the year had to be the protests in Iran this summer surrounding their disputed presidential election. It started a quiet but growing movement which continued to play out straight through the end of the year. Some observers still wonder about how much power that official holds in a country where the religious leaders keep all the power cards in their hands, but there is little doubt that we witnessed a change which may wind up reshaping that part of the world for the rest of our lives.

3. Welcome to the Party, Pal

There was a time when the winners of elections made all the news, but 2009 certainly challenged that concept. In an off year when politics often takes a bit of a nap, the sleepy, rural hills of New York’s 23rd congressional district captured the attention of reporters and political addicts around the nation. Despite starting from a position of nearly zero funding and even less name recognition, Doug Hoffman upset the national GOP apple cart. Running on the NY Conservative Party ticket, he energized a national revolt against the Republican candidate, drove her from the field of battle, and came within a few percentage points of winning the election. The media subtext for this story quickly became the Great Republican Schism of 2009, as rank-and-file conservatives took to the streets against a national party leadership which they felt had lost touch with the base.

2. But They Didn’t Invite Alice or the March Hare

The other half of the Great Republican Schism story played out with the advent of the tea party movement and their participation in town hall meetings and rallies around the nation this summer. Marches and angry shouting drew reporters in their masses, eventually resulting in polls finding that the tea party was more popular than both the Democrats and the Republicans. It would have been shocking enough for them to lose to the Libertarians or Greens, for example, but to be trumped by a concept which isn’t even registered as an actual, national political party made the growing strength of the movement one of the top stories of the year.

First Prize: As Long as You’ve Got Your Health …

The top story of 2009 had to be the ongoing debate and legislative battles surrounding health care reform. It dragged out over a long hot summer and a cloudy autumn -- and now looks as if it will rage well into next year. Perhaps the strangest subtext of this story, however, is the way that it morphed into the parallel to the last two items. Health care reform became the Great Democratic Schism of 2009, as Blue Dogs pulled from one direction, siding with most of the Republicans on key issues, and the hardcore liberal contingent ripped the Democrats asunder from the other side, insisting on a public option, single payer, and all manner of other wish list items which never made the final cut.

Whether either party actually fractures over these items, however, will have to wait for our list at the end of 2010. By then, of course, we’ll be arguing about why the Democrats lost so many seats in the last election, so all of this may have been for naught. But until then, Happy New Year and stay tuned for an even wilder ride in the next twelve months.