On September 12, 2001 can you imagine thinking that only ten years later, America’s first black president would finally orchestrate the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden three years into a depression?
Maybe it’s because there’s no official name for the 00s. It’s easy to say, “that’s so 90s” or “that’s so 80s.” But what to call the last decade? The failure of a handle may be what is holding us back from an honest retrospective on the monumental effects this decade will have on America.
In the late 90s, the peace dividend boosted the US economy, but it was coupled with a string of deregulation and free trade agreements. In spite of the latter, wages for the lowest earners grew in real terms for the first time since the 1970s. Most people felt their fortunes rise.
The 90s were a time of soap opera politics. The Monica Lewinsky scandal was the story of the decade and so controlled the media that not a few presumed Clinton’s attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden was done to get peoples’ minds off the scandal. Clinton himself ran for reelection on picayune things like the V-chip. The Republicans squandered some popularity on all of this, but people began to wonder why the government needed a surplus. Thus, the 2000 election was mostly about whether or not to enact massive tax cuts on a policy level, but it was not about policy much at all.
The tone for the entire decade was set by that election when the Supreme Court invented new law to stop a recount of votes in Florida and handed the election to George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote. Power was what mattered, and the only thing that mattered in the 00s. Policy outcomes were secondary. If there was a good result, they took credit; if it failed, whatever.
Bush was struggling in his first term. No one told him that he hadn’t won a mandate to govern. He barely won his taxcut package and his approval ratings sank. Then 9/11. It became the excuse for everything.
First, the “Patriot Act.” Then alert levels. The government began to tell people how to act and fanned all kinds of hysteria. Before even being sworn in, the Bushies had set their sights on Iraq. They began to slowly roll out new hysteria about Iraq, in part to achieve their goal of getting Saddam, in part to continue to justify their programme, and in part to cover up their failure to catch Osama Bin Laden.
Taxes were never raised to pay for Bush’s guns and butter, not for Medicare Part D, not for No Child Left Behind, and not for his two wars.
But the real evil was the neglect that the Bushies made their M.O. in government. The incompetence first showed during Hurricane Katrina. What did people expect when people who don’t believe in government run the government? But this same kind of do nothing approach was allowing a giant bubble in financial products and real estate to blow up.
The middle class was enjoying this bubble. They could cycle their debt into the new equity in their house and maintain their accustomed lifestyle despite no increases in wages and anemic job growth that didn’t quite keep up with population growth and the decline of manufacturing due to “free trade.”
This same kind of neglect was apparent in the management of the wars, where it was more important to score political points by using soldiers Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch (both Democrats) to push the GOP agenda than it was to do anything good.
The Democrats weren’t quite ready to man up in 2004, but the close election showed people were getting closed to being tired of Bush. By 2006, America said no more. But they still got more. Bush doubled down on Iraq in the face of the election results.
And then the housing bubble collapsed.
8 years of people who don’t believe in government running government changed everything, but because there was no positive agenda no one noticed. This is the period when America went from being the country that put men on the moon to the country that lets its major cities be destroyed by natural disasters, that has infrastructure collapse like major bridges in Minneapolis, from the country that brought down a President for covering up a robbery of a political opponent he crushed anyway to a country that hasn’t put a single responsible person in jail for the fraud that caused the most massive economic downturn since the Great Depression.
We wanted to believe that electing Barack Obama would fix everything. We’re a country that has picked ourselves up out of trouble through a consistent formula of military victories, progressing the civil rights agenda, or technological advances, and sometimes through legislation.
And even if Obama had cleaned up Iraq and Afghanistan, caught Bin Laden (which he did), gotten single-payer healthcare, and balanced the budget, or completely tore down any barriers to gay and lesbians, it’s unlikely that would be enough this time to turn us around.
No positive legislative agenda can change the illusion in the minds of so many people that they can have it all for no sacrifice. That they shouldn’t have to take care of their neighbors. That government is always the problem, even the day after our government killed the biggest killer of Americans in the US in decades.
If you don’t think so, you only need look at the reaction on the right to the capture of Bin Laden. They give credit to Bush, that this happened despite Obama, that Bin Laden isn’t dead really, that this was politically timed, and so forth and so on. They’ve been programmed to think everything Obama does is wrong, even when it’s something they want.
Bombing Libya would have been the biggest cause for everyone to love dear leader if the President had been Republican, we all know that.
No, it’s becoming Hatfields and McCoys. Obama knows this and he thinks that if he tries hard enough, he will do something to heal this breach. I don’t know. I don’t think anything can reach these people.
What I do no is, in a decade with no name, an agenda with no positive legislation changed America into a rotting hulk of what it was and once the eggs are cracked it’s almost impossible to put it back together again.