The inauguration of America's first black president was a monumental, historical moment; a "new era" for America, in the words of Barack Obama, and a sign of the greatness of a nation. "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed...why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath," he said.
Angry Town Hall Protests
When legislators returned home for the summer they were met by angry constituents who disrupted town hall meetings around the country. Arlen Specter was told he would get his "just desserts" before God; one angry woman in South Carolina screamed, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" To some, it was the dawn of a patriotic movement; to others, a sign of just how uncivilized the political dialogue had become.
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Obama's Troop Surge in Afghanistan
The decision didn't come quickly: President Obama huddled with advisers in a painstaking series of meetings before announcing his plan for one of the two wars he inherited. He would deploy 30,000 troops, he said, and start bringing them back in July 2011. "I do not make this decision lightly," a stone-faced president told West Point cadets. "I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service."
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Ted Kennedy Dies
Ted Kennedy, one of the most influential legislators in Congressional history, lost a battle with brain cancer in August. Kennedy, whose 1980 presidential bid fell short, will long be remembered for his work on a huge range of issues, including health care, civil rights and education. "The Lion of the Senate," whom President Obama called America's "defender of a dream," would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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Sarah Palin Resigns
Sarah from Wasilla was ready to move on: Not long after a vice presidential campaign that catapulted her to national fame, Sarah Palin decided in July she had had enough of her job as Alaska governor. Palin's reasons for quitting were unclear -- in her wide-ranging, campaign-style speech she attacked enemies and claimed she had no plans beyond "to fight even harder for you." Her memoir and book tour would come soon after.
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The Health Care Reform Push
There was one thing everyone could agree on: The health care system in America was broken. How to fix it was another story. The House passed a bill that included a "public option," but Senate Democrats didn't have the votes to do the same; Republicans railed against the bill while President Obama said it was necessary and historic. The debate was a reminder of why, despite obvious problems, reform has taken so long.
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Sotomayor Joins Supreme Court
Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed to be the first Hispanic and third female justice in Supreme Court history in August after a relatively easy confirmation process (though there were some bumps -- including the one that made "wise Latina" a household phrase). Shortly after her confirmation, Sotomayor said, "it is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now."
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Mark Sanford's Affair
He was not, it turned out, hiking the Appalachian trail: South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's tearful admission of an affair with his Argentinean "soul mate" was the stuff of great drama. It effectively ended the Republican's once-promising national prospects, prompted talk of impeachment, and meant a divorce and a new life for Sanford's wife Jenny, who emerged as a possible candidate amid the chaos.
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Stimulus Package Passes
It was President Obama's first major initiative and his response to a crippling economic downturn: A $787 billion stimulus package signed in February and designed to grow the economy through federal spending and tax cuts. For the rest of the year Democrats and Republicans would argue over its impact, with the former saying it saved or created more than a million jobs and the latter calling it wasteful and unnecessary.
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The Beer Summit
It was, perhaps, the oddest political moment of a memorable year: A Cambridge police officer, a Harvard professor and the American president raising a glass in the wake of a racially-tinged debate over the arrest of the professor in his own home. The president hoped for a "teachable moment" in the wake of the controversy; what he got instead was a reminder of just how complicated American race relations remain.
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Rod Blagojevich Impeached
It was sometimes hard to believe that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was real: The details of his alleged corruption, exposed in profanity-laced, secretly recorded phone calls, and his defiant response to critics seemed the stuff of a less-than-believable novel. But there he was: That hair, those metaphors, that me-against-the-world mentality. And perhaps unlike Obama's Senate seat, Blago happily gave it away for free.
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The GOP Rebounds
Off-year elections are often taken as indicators of what will happen in the future, and this year's races brought bad news for Democrats: Republican governors won races in New Jersey and Virginia, two states that went to Barack Obama in 2008. In the wake of the wins, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele argued that the Republican Party had "found its voice again."
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Obama's Nobel Prize
The decision that shocked the world: The young American president, less than a year into office, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize that even he said he didn't deserve. In December, he accepted the award shortly after announcing that he would deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. His speech echoed George W. Bush and amounted to an argument for "just war" given in perhaps the premier forum for defending peace.
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Joe Wilson: "You Lie!"
It was the moment at which conservative town hall anger spilled over into the halls of Congress: After President Obama said health care reforms would not apply to illegal immigrants, then-little-known Rep. Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted out, "You lie!" The comment prompted gasps from the crowd, and Wilson later apologized. House Democrats would soon formally admonish Wilson, though the president said he accepted the apology.
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The Climate Fight
The victory of Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress meant high hopes that the U.S. would seriously address global warming this year. But negotiations dragged in Congress as critics railed against the alleged negative economic impact of cap-and-trade and pointed to "climategate" to counter the scientific consensus. An attempt to craft a worldwide strategy in Copenhagen, meanwhile, barely got off the ground.
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Obama Reaches out to Muslim World
In June, President Obama went to Cairo to deliver a speech he hoped would herald a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims." He said the "cycle of suspicion and discord must end" -- and that stereotypes on both sides must be rejected. The immediate impact of the speech was unclear, but its importance was undeniable; as Bob Schieffer said, "the most remarkable thing to me was just simply that he made it."
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Alan Grayson's "Die Quickly"
For most of the year, Alan Grayson was a little-known Florida Democratic representative. Then, in September, he stepped onto the House floor and made a statement that transformed him into a hero for progressives -- and earned him the ire of an outraged GOP. Said Grayson: "If you get sick in America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly." He later said people like a Democrat "with guts."
Cheney Comes Out Firing
When Barack Obama took office, his predecessor, George W. Bush, faded into the background. Not so for Mr. Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, who emerged in 2009 as perhaps the president's most high-profile critic. From his charge that Mr. Obama was "dithering" on Afghanistan to his angry denunciations of his move to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, Cheney offered an unapologetic, defiant defense of his beliefs.
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Sarah Palin's Book Tour
There is perhaps no politician in America that embraces her polarizing nature quite as unapologetically as Sarah Palin: She scheduled stops for her score-settling memoir primarily in areas where she was likely to find supporters, and used her book to thumb her nose not just at Democrats but also perceived enemies in her own party. It worked: In its first two weeks, more than a million copies of "Going Rogue" were sold.
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Obama Goes to Europe
Eight days, five countries, and a trip to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen: President Obama's springtime journey to Europe was his presidential coming out party on the world stage and, unofficially, a pointed reminder that President Bush, so unpopular in Europe, was no longer calling the shots. Concrete gains on international issues were few, but on this trip, at least, such concerns often seemed beside the point.
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