If 2008 was a year that overflowed with painful surprises, 2009 is already promising a flood of difficult challenges.
We know that national priorities are being reshuffled and that it will cost trillions of dollars to address the home mortgage crisis, a deep recession, controversial bailouts of the banking, insurance and automobile industries, two foreign wars, another chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict and climate change, just for starters.
In Maryland, limited resources will increase the difficulty of meeting long-term challenges such as protecting the Chesapeake, improving our children's educational performance and reducing crime in Baltimore.
But Americans are resourceful, and with sacrifice and strong leadership, we could end what is certain to be a difficult year with renewed confidence and hopes for a brighter future. The answers are simple.
Economically, we should demand accountability for the hundreds of billions that are expected to be spent to create jobs and prompt a recovery. We should consider this spending an investment in the future and favor education, health care and infrastructure improvements that we know will pay dividends. Every significant spending decision should be publicly justified.
With our private finances, if we have jobs, good credit and little debt, we should put aside economic fears and buy what we want and need. If we are seriously in debt, we should budget, and save. If we are out of work, we should seek training where opportunities are promising.
In foreign affairs, we should seek allies who share our goals, recognize the limits of our power and seek effective strategies short of war to challenge our enemies.
Most important, we should reinforce the social safety net that protects the poorest and oldest Americans. A key will be agreement on a plan that ensures quality health care for everyone regardless of his or her economic circumstance.
All of that won't solve every problem, but how we meet the challenges we face will shape our children's future.