Editorial -- The New Year

Thursday, January 1, 2009

THE REFLECTION and prognostication that many of us engage in in print, voice and video around New Year's often seem a bit contrived, as if we have to do it because of the calendar, even though nothing much is changing from one year to the next. This time it's different. Americans and many of the rest of the world's people, with whom Americans' lives and fortunes are intertwined, have the feeling that in 2009, we may really be in for it. It's a year when the two-faced Roman god for whom this month is named might well be portrayed looking back with shock and ahead with trepidation.

The central fact, of course, is the quake that has rolled through the economies of the United States and much of the world in recent months, the aftershocks that continue, and the dread feeling that the Big One is yet to come. We are discovering that the economic arrangements that have served us so well for years do not guarantee permanent prosperity, and, by the way, there are many people whom they have never served all that well, anyway.

Americans remain hopeful. A new presidential administration is on the way, full of ideas and vigor. World leaders have learned from past economic disasters the need for cooperation and coordination. But the politics of fear and narrow self-interest can undermine the best efforts to revive and maintain prosperity and to provide greater security for all when it comes to the essentials: housing, food, medical care.

Policy will matter, and in this regard it is good to know that the president-elect is not given to following the tired formulations of the left, the right and the various shills and operators who dominate so much of what passes for public discussion. He is pragmatic, open-minded and thoughtful. But, as he knows, he will also have to take on some powerful forces, those aligned with his party and those in opposition, and that will take courage. And in the end, of course, it will be not just policy that saves us but, as always, the energy, imagination and desire of the people -- people who see opportunity where others do not and who have the freedom to pursue it.

Some well-known words from Abraham Lincoln, delivered to Congress in December 1862, have been cited often in the past few months. They are worth citing once more on this day: "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Lincoln added in that speech: "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history." That's as true now as it was in the much darker year of 1862. The imperative to act wisely and well is just as urgent.

Oh, and while we're at it, happy New Year.

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