The year in review

A month-by-month log of the year's events


As the year begins, Israeli warplanes are pounding targets in Gaza in response to a wave of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli towns. The airstrikes are followed by a ground invasion that draws criticism for its high civilian death toll. In Washington, before an estimated crowd of 2 million people, Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in as 44th president of the United States, and the first African-American president in history. With the nation mired in two foreign wars, not to mention the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Obama gives a somber inaugural address calling for a “new era of responsibility” in American life and a new culture of cooperation in Washington. “The stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply,” Obama tells the crowd, some of whom weep in gratitude for what his election represents. The new president begins his term with an 85 percent approval rating. His popularity is quickly exceeded by that of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a pilot for US Airways. After losing both engines to a flock of geese, Sullenberger somehow glides his powerless plane and all 155 passengers to a soft landing in New York’s Hudson River. For the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Sullenberger is hailed as a national hero, and rewarded with what he will later describe as “rock-star sex” from his admiring wife.


Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

President Obama fights for, and wins, his first major piece of legislation: a massive, $787 billion “stimulus” package to jump-start the crippled economy. The bill passes the House without a single Republican vote—indicating that the new climate of “bipartisanship” that Obama vowed to seek may elude him. In a further blow to the new president, three appointees to Obama’s administration—including Tom Daschle, as health secretary, and Tim Geithner, as treasury secretary—are revealed, in the space of a single week, to owe substantial sums in unpaid taxes. “I screwed up,” Obama tells the nation. Geithner is confirmed by the Senate despite the revelations, but Daschle withdraws his nomination.


The economic picture darkens, with news of a 6.2 percent fourth-quarter shrinkage in the overall economy, and up to 700,000 jobs lost in February alone. The national mood is hardly lifted by the news that troubled insurance giant AIG, the recipient of a $170 billion taxpayer-funded bailout, is awarding $165 million in bonuses to only 400 of its employees. Fulfilling a campaign pledge, President Obama unveils a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2010, leaving a small contingent of 50,000 “support troops.” But he sends an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, where the war continues with no end in sight. In the entertainment world, rumors fly that pop superstar Michael Jackson’s nose is being eaten away by flesh-eating bacteria. “Michael thinks the end is near,” a friend is quoted as saying.


President Obama attends the G-20 summit in London, where he is cheered by rapturous crowds and world leaders jockey to be photographed in his company. At home, however, Obama’s popularity is already starting to slip. On tax day, hundreds of thousands of angry Americans hold a series of “Tea Party” rallies to protest what they see as out-of-control government spending. Some protestors—members of the so-called birther movement—carry signs accusing Obama of lying about being born in Hawaii, contending that his birth certificate is a forgery, and that he was actually born in Kenya and thus is not a legitimate president. At a Tea Party gathering in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry goes so far as to suggest that Texas might secede from the Union, “if Washington continues to thumb its nose at the American people.” North Korea ignores the threat of new sanctions for its nuclear-weapons program, test-firing a three-stage ballistic missile capable of reaching targets in Hawaii and Alaska. Amid the general gloom, the world’s heart is touched by the unlikely figure of Susan Boyle, a plump, frizzy-haired, 48-year-old Scottish spinster whose soaring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on a British TV talent show gets millions of YouTube hits and catapults her to international stardom.


Justice David Souter, part of the liberal bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court, announces his retirement. President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace him. If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic justice in the court’s history. The issue of race, however, looms as a potential barrier to her confirmation, after a tape surfaces of Sotomayor sharing her opinion that “more often than not” she would expect a “wise Latina woman” to make better judicial decisions “than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Susan Boyle is invited to Washington to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner and meet President Obama, but declines, choosing instead to spend the evening at home in Scotland with her beloved cat, Pebbles. Days later, Boyle checks into a private psychiatric clinic, where she is treated for emotional exhaustion.


Iranian voters flock to the polls, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is declared the winner by a decisive margin. But reports quickly surface of widespread voting irregularities, and hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets to protest what they see as a stolen election. Government forces mount a brutal crackdown. Cell phone camera footage of a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, bleeding to death in the streets of Tehran galvanizes international opinion against Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics. In Los Angeles, pop legend Michael Jackson dies suddenly of heart failure at the age of 50. The coroner blames his death on a cocktail of prescription drugs in his system, including Propofol, a powerful general anesthetic Jackson had apparently been using to fight insomnia. Thousands of fans gather in cities throughout the world, weeping and playing his music, and American TV networks devote more than a week of nonstop coverage to Jackson’s breakthrough music career and his troubled life, which included multiple, unproved accusations that he molested young boys.


Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice presidential nominee, abruptly resigns as governor of Alaska. In a rambling speech, Palin says she is weary of defending herself against frivolous ethics charges, and that she needs a new platform from which to promote her ideas. “Only dead fish go with the flow,” she explains. In Cambridge, Mass., black Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. is arrested in his own home by a white policeman investigating reports of a burglary, after a furious Gates tells the cop he is asking for his ID only because “he’s a black man in America.” The incident becomes a national controversy after President Obama, a friend of Gates, says police acted “stupidly.” Obama later retracts his remark and invites both Gates and the arresting officer to chat over beers at the White House—an event the media dubs Obama’s “Beer Summit.” At the urging of President Obama, Democrats in Congress introduce a 1,017-page plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system.


A national debate over the president’s health-care plan begins with surprising vigor. At “town hall” meetings across the country, lawmakers from both parties are harangued and shouted down by angry opponents of Obama’s plan who see it as a step on the road to socialism. Some protesters even show up with guns, in pre-emptive protest of any attempt to infringe on their Second Amendment rights. Also lending her voice to the debate is new private citizen Sarah Palin, who, writing on her Facebook page, says that the America she loves is not one in which “my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand before Obama’s ‘death panel’” to prove themselves worthy of health care. In Washington, Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At his home in Massachusetts, Sen. Edward Kennedy dies of brain cancer.


Public opposition to Obama’s health-care plan continues to grow—or at least to grow more heated. A crowd of up to 75,000 descends on Washington to protest the various bills now inching their way through Congress. Chanting “kill the bill,” some in the crowd wave signs depicting Obama as Hitler, and likening his health-care plan to the Nazis’ Final Solution. To rally support, Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on the need for reform. His remarks are briefly interrupted by Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, shouting, “You lie!” Wilson later apologizes, and is formally reprimanded by the House, but becomes a hero to members of the Tea Party movement, who deluge him with more than $1 million in campaign contributions. Presidential advisor Van Jones resigns after his name turns up on a “truther” petition calling for an investigation into whether President George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Leading the calls for Jones’ ouster is Glenn Beck, the outspoken and

theatrical host of a Fox News talk show, who tells his millions of devoted listeners that Obama is not only socialist but a “racist” who harbors “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”


Iran’s long-standing claim to be pursuing nuclear technology for only peaceful purposes is undermined by the discovery of a secret uranium-enrichment plant, hidden inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom. President Ahmadinejad dismisses the secret site as “a very ordinary facility in the beginning stages,” but all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Iran’s allies China and Russia, demand that Iran immediately allow inspections of the Qom site. To the dismay of his critics, and even many supporters, President Obama is announced as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The White House begins an effort—seen by many as petty—to marginalize and discredit the Fox News network. In Switzerland the film director Roman Polanski is arrested and faces extradition for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles in 1978. Talk-show host David Letterman confesses on air to a string of “creepy” affairs with younger, female employees, after the boyfriend of one of the women threatens to expose him. At the Presidents Cup in San Francisco, golfer Tiger Woods leads the U.S. to a stirring victory over the international team.


The House of Representatives passes its version of the health-care bill, a $1.05 trillion package that would extend health coverage to 36 million uninsured Americans, partly by the creation of a government-run insurance program—the so-called public option. The bill passes, however, with the support of only one Republican representative and faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where, according to GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the House bill will be “dead on arrival.” At Fort Hood Army base in Texas, Maj. Nidal Hasan, a military psychiatrist, goes on a shooting rampage, killing 13 and leaving 32 injured. Hasan, an American-born Muslim, had been corresponding with a radical Islamic cleric, had given a PowerPoint presentation calling “the war on terrorism” a “war on Islam,” and was reported to have shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he opened fire.


Susan Boyle’s album, I Dreamed a Dream, tops charts around the world, becoming one of the fastest-selling debut albums of all time. Revelations about the serial philandering of golfer Tiger Woods fill the tabloids, as a seemingly unending parade of cocktail waitresses, porn stars, and other attractive young women claim to have had an affair with the world’s most famous athlete, with some releasing his embarrassing text messages to prove their cases. In the Senate, intense back-room negotiations are under way over the fate of the health-care bill, and in another prime-time address to the nation, President Obama commits to sending 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan. After a lengthy review of the war’s progress, says Obama, “I am convinced our security is at stake.” But Obama also sets a date—July 2011—for troops to begin withdrawing, later saying that the pace of withdrawal will be dictated by conditions on the ground. Russell Wiseman, Republican mayor of Arlington, Tenn., accuses “our Muslim president”—whose approval rating now hovers grimly around 47 percent—of deliberately timing his Afghanistan speech to block the annual broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.