An obituary for 2005

Steve Hammer

Each year brings its share of high and low moments, victories and defeats, moments of epiphany and moments of despair. In that sense, 2005 was just a typical year.

But the losses in 2005 were greater than in years past and the moments of triumph for the American people were fewer. It's easier to write an obituary than it is a biography and it's hard to find a lot of nice things to say about 2005.

We suffered the greatest natural disaster in the nation's history and then suffered through the slow governmental response to it. Our leaders were in denial and then were unresponsive.

An image which will endure for decades is that of the president observing the disaster from the safety of Air Force One as he flew from Texas to Washington. When it became apparent that he wouldn't be able to assuage the damage by attacking the Democrats, he flew to New Orleans and gave a speech full of empty promises and false rhetoric.

Another image of 2005 was that of the rapper Kanye West, who risked millions of dollars in endorsements by saying on live TV what a lot of people felt at the time: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

It also became apparent during 2005 that not only does Bush not care about black people, he doesn't care about the poor, those who disagree with him or anybody except his masters, the oil industry and the military/industrial complex.

They called Reagan the "Teflon president" because no scandal stuck to him, and Bill Clinton the "Comeback Kid" for his ability to transcend defeat, but Bush is a different kind of animal altogether. Here's a man who (it could be argued) stole two presidential elections, lied to the American people and the world about Iraq, condoned the use of secret prisons and torture, as well as the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, and bungled the Katrina recovery effort.

A lesser president might have been impeached, or even imprisoned, for any one of these acts. The fact that Bush remains in office, with a solid 40 percent of the public behind him, is unprecedented in American history.

He's the force-field president. Any repercussions for his actions simply bounce off the force field he's erected around him.

It comes at a price, however. He will serve the remaining three years of his term with a majority of the public aligned against him. Any chance he may have had at uniting the public behind him is gone. His legacy, and the country's, is tarnished for years to come.

And poor John Kerry has to endure the fact that he lost to this guy, a fact that no doubt tortures him endlessly.

Closer to home, Gov. Mitch Daniels showed off his Bush-like tendencies to alienate and divide, but also an ability to shift the spotlight from himself to his opponents.

He rammed through a Colts stadium deal when Mayor Bart Peterson was unable to do so, and flipped off the mayor in the process. Winning the election in 2004 didn't stop Daniels' campaign; he spent most of the year riding around in his van to small towns across the state, trying to win converts one at a time.

Locally, the city government once again showed its ineptness. Given a Democratic majority in the City-County Council for the first time in decades, Peterson squandered whatever political capital he had, first on the Colts deal and then on Indy Works.

By year's end, he had to trade votes with Republicans to get a gay rights bill and police consolidation through the council. The human rights bill will help the city; police consolidation will help destroy it.

If it ain't broke, don't break it. By merging all the police agencies in the county, Peterson has caused confusion and anger in law enforcement and sacrificed public safety for political gain.

We lost Reggie Miller, the greatest Pacer of them all, to retirement. We lost Ron Artest, the most charismatic player, to his inability to keep silent. We even lost Dale Davis, a revered and honored member of the Pacers, to the hated Pistons.

Just about the only Hoosier who had a good year - besides the corrupt business execs and politicians - was Tony Stewart, the NASCAR driver who just doesn't give an F about anything.

He won the Nextel Cup while doing just about everything Ron Artest did - getting into fistfights and alienating his teammates - while continuing to not only keep his job, but make more money than ever before.

His defiance in a sport that punishes defiance was a triumph for us all. Stewart is a true Hoosier badass, perhaps the only one left. In an earlier era, he would be bootlegging whiskey or running a Paper Moon-style con.

For Tony Stewart, 2005 was a very good year. For the rest of us, not so much. Whatever hardship 2006 may bring, it will be exponentially better than 2005.

In other words, it can't get worse. Good riddance, 2005. Hello, 2006.