Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator and presidential candidate from Illinois, campaigns in Holland, Ohio, in this Oct. 12, 2008 file photo. Obama’s successful presidential campaign not only marked a revolutionary moment in American history — it also elevated the ideal of “change” to a prominent position in the parlance of our time. (AP photo/Jae C. Hong)
NEW YORK — All year long, the word was everywhere. It was something we could believe in. It was something that mattered. But by the end of 2008, it was not, most definitely, richly jingling in our pockets.
The word was “change.” It was what we craved, what we feared, what we endured.
After a long, long campaign, America elected its first African American president. And it was Barack Obama, a senator from Illinois whose father hailed from Kenya, who first pounded the word into a drumbeat that echoed far beyond politics. In any other year, that victory would have stood alone as a chapter in history.
But this was not any other year.
This was a year when many other words were plucked from the dictionary to join vocabularies stretched to the breaking point by a daily drumbeat of surprises.
Some were good: “Phelpsian,” the adjective coined to describe swimmer Michael Phelps’ feat at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
But most reflected bewilderment and alarm — words like “bailout” and “financial meltdown.”
Global stock markets plunged, and then plunged some more. Stately institutions like Lehman Brothers simply disappeared. Retirement funds vanished, erasing the dreams of people who’d hoped to stop working in their golden years or to send their children to college, or to someday buy their own home.
Unpaid mortgages were the locomotive pulling a southbound economic train. Years of easy money had prompted banks to give loans to folks who were credit risks, and in 2008 that trend kindled a meltdown of mammoth proportions — a worldwide meltdown caused by the intricate, and baffling, selling and reselling of mortgage debt.
The end result for the homeowner was foreclosure. Americans suffered greatly.
By the end of the third quarter, one in 10 mortgage holders was in foreclosure or delinquent in payments — a 76 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The worldwide recession had at least one salutary effect — the price of oil plummeted, as economic activity ground to a halt. The cost of filling up at the gas station at year’s end was just half of what it was six months before in the U.S.
You had to wonder: Six months later, would there be any new American cars to gas up?
The government got into the bailout business in the fall, when the cascading failures of the financial industry put the global economy at risk. Congress approved the Troubled Asset Recovery Program — TARP, a new acronym — and said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson could invest as much as $700 billion in bailouts to keep the wheels on the economy.
A lot went to banks — some healthy, some not. But then the CEOs of Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers — Rick Wagoner of General Motors, Robert Nardelli of Chrysler and Alan Mulally of Ford — came to Washington, hats in hand. They said they were teetering on the edge of disaster.
But their mode of transportation enraged politicians.(p2)
"Barack Obama has been elected president of the United States and the whole world is elated," the Banner wrote in its Nov. 6, 2008 editorial. "Progressive whites, African Americans, Latinos and Asians have come together to vote for change. Despite the economic recession, a spirit of optimism has gripped the country." More »
"We've seen such a divide in the country with the election and I think it's really incredible that this concept that we have of making change through music will be seen across the country," said Mia Ferguson, 15, a member of BCC's elite Premier Chorus. "It's important for people to see that everyone can feel the same message and get the sense that a change can be made, and that we can all work together to make something beautiful." More »
Millions of voters flocked to Massachusetts polling places, lining up before polls opened at 7 a.m. and staying even after they closed at 8 p.m. to cast ballots in arguably the most memorable presidential election in American history. More »