This year has reminded us that our easy way of life comes at a price, and that there are consequences and tradeoffs in almost everything we do. Let's go down the list.
Illegal immigration: President Bush's comprehensive immigration bill collapsed this summer, following public outrage from the middle and poorer classes of both parties. These Americans reminded their politicians that first they want their southern border closed to illegal immigration — and discussion of anything else second.
They are not racists, nativists or protectionists — much less "anti-immigrant." Instead, a substantial number of Americans — from all backgrounds — simply believe that once illegal immigration ceases, the problem becomes manageable.
Employers will have to hire our own poor and unemployed, and thus raise wages. Mexico will have to deal with its own problems rather than blame the United States. Tribalists and ethnic provocateurs will have to relearn that integration and the melting pot are not going away. And immigrants crossing the southern border will have to wait in line like everyone else and come here legally.
The housing crisis: Housing prices tanked in 2007. Millions of home mortgages by last spring were behind or in default. The media rushed to blame government and lenders — as if poor buyers had a gun held to their heads when they bet that housing would continually appreciate.
Yet most Americans who buy homes judiciously, and pay their mortgages promptly, were probably more philosophical than outraged. Homes had become way overpriced. Anyone who rushed out to borrow heavily to buy in such an overheated market was intent on recklessly profiting by quick resale — or hopelessly naive.
Food is not cheap: Farm prices soared. For 40 years, Americans had become accustomed to the idea their food would stay cheap, and that farmers were invisible or irrelevant. Now we are learning that farmland and irrigation water are finite resources, while world population continues rising. Before we can solve global warming, convert to ethanol fuels or restore ancestral rivers, we first have to eat — and thus make sure there is enough land and water to produce food.
Oil price jumps: Petroleum reached $98 a barrel by November. Conservatives thought the market alone might easily correct the problem. Yet they are starting to see in the meantime that petrol-rich, anti-American dictatorships, flush with American cash, won't be so patient with us.
Liberals tend to claim we won't have to find and burn far more of our own oil and coal, or build nuclear plants. But they are learning that for now that would only make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin and the House of Saud even happier.
Iran nuclearization: The recent National Intelligence Estimate told us Iran stopped trying to acquire nuclear weapons in 2003. The news was as unexpected as it was widely distrusted. What's clear, at least for now, are the effects of the report: The hawks' ideas of pre-emptively bombing Iran are fortunately off the table. But, unfortunately, so are serious economic and diplomatic efforts to persuade the Iranians to stop. This flawed report will come back to haunt us.
Progress in Iraq: In recent months, we have seen violence reduced in Iraq as Sunni tribal insurgents joined U.S. troops in hunting down al Qaeda terrorists. These insurgents' turnabout may have been influenced by the U.S. troop surge, a change in U.S. military tactics, worry over the Shi'ite-dominated government, confidence in an oil-fed prosperity or a growing awareness of the savage nihilism of al Qaeda.
The fact that the insurgents approached us for help after being defeated or demoralized suggests that the present truce could evolve into a peace in ways no one had foreseen.
Antiwar and over-the-top: After Moveon.org ran its infamous "General Betray Us" ad — in The New York Times no less and originally at a reduced rate — the entire vocal antiwar movement never quite recovered. Before the ad, Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink and Michael Moore were all seen as just vehemently antiwar. After the lunatic ad, all such critics were suspected, unfairly or not, of being anti-military and potentially undermining the thousands of Americans serving in it.
Hollywood and whine: The American people go to the movies to be entertained and occasionally enlightened. They do not pay to be lectured to, brainwashed or made to feel ashamed of their own country and military. Brian De Palma's movie "Redacted" did all three and came and went from theaters faster than you could say "agitprop."
"Lions for Lambs," "Rendition" and "In the Valley of Elah" did little better. The fates of these films should remind those in Hollywood that when we want to be preached at, we prefer church.