Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What We Lost in the Aughts

At the turn of a millennium, the odometer of our lives clicked into years with more than one zero in them, setting off a decade of losses:

Economy, in a meltdown with budget surpluses becoming record deficits. National security, two wars--one pointless, the other unending. Political life, in the dumpster. Social well-being, off the charts with fear, distrust, animus and anxiety for the future.

All this can't be entirely blamed on Presidents and politicians. We picked them, so they must represent our collective wisdom--or lack of it. (Was Pogo right?)

A high-schooler I know is writing an essay on the most significant event of the decade. My choice is 9/11, which changed our perception of getting up every morning and feeling safe in the world, bringing political and social transformations, all for the worse.

Without 9/11, Bush's Neo-Cons could not have taken us into a war that did nothing for our security, drained blood and treasure, and damaged our standing in the world.

Along with foreign-policy hubris were eight years of bipartisan domestic neglect, weakening regulation of a financial system gone wild with greed that drew over-entitled but unqualified individuals into home ownership, resold their inevitable failure and brought the economy to its knees.

To deal with all this, two years ago we elected a President of intelligence and good will (while congratulating ourselves for ending centuries of racial inequality) and tasked him with cleaning up a monstrous mess in face of a disloyal opposition bent only on his failure at the nation's expense.

Under the circumstances, Barack Obama may be better than we deserved to get, his political tribulations of the past two years notwithstanding. Fault him for unrealistic hopes of GOP cooperation and for stubborn persistence with health care reform, leading to iffy distant benefits but sparking Tea Party rage at what could be sold as a "government takeover."

For someone even his detractors saw as a shrewd young politician, Obama's failures have been more the result of tactical mistakes rather than policy judgments.

In this season of renewal, the President is getting an unexpected gift of reviving political approval for lame duck achievements, but an American minus decade is ending with questions about whether the next will be much better.

We can only hope and try.

1 comment:

Yellow Dog Don said...

The significant event could have been when the SCOTUS allowed 537 machine votes in Florida to be worth more than 543,895 votes nationwide. The tragic domino effect of events during the Bush presidency took off from there.