Editor’s Note: Yes ... I know ... the second decade of the 21st century doesn’t really start until January 1, 2011, just like the second millennium didn’t really come to a close until the end of 2000, but that’s just a technicality, and no one thinks of it that way, other than pedantic types with history degrees. Regardless, I blame this crappy decade we just finished on Ralph Nader. Why? Because, if he hadn’t massaged his overstuffed ego by running for president in 2000, George Bush wouldn’t have won the electoral college and would have faded from the scene, the treasury wouldn’t be bankrupt today, and we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves stuck in an endless and expensive war in Iraq. So, Ralph ... kiss my ass, and thanks for nothing, you really were the man of the decade.

Because of this article, I got a speaking engagement at the Greenwich Rotary Club on March 3, 2010, when I was asked to speak at one of their luncheons. I had to fill 25 minutes with my wit and wisdom, which is a difficult undertaking, based on the limited amount of wit and wisdom I’m able to muster up. Evidently, this piece caught the attention of someone at the Rotary Club, so I was asked to expand on it. For the full text of my speech, which uses the newspaper article below as an outline, click here.


Decade of Surprises: Life in the Aughts

 

Before we’ve even had time to coin a catchy name for the first decade of the new millennium, it’s already gone. Following a period often characterized as “the century of the United States,” with communism in history’s dustbin and the U.S. the world’s sole remaining superpower, most Americans hoped the “aughts” would be a time to bask in our successes and continue the peace and prosperity of the 90s.

But barely had Y2K fizzled as a threat, when the new century began to sour. The bitter, disputed 2000 election yielded a president a majority of Americans had voted against and ushered in (1) the Bush Era. Before a year had passed, the term “9/11” had a new meaning, and (2) terrorism became a reality America couldn’t ignore.

With murderous Islamic fanatics no longer limiting their insanity to distant, dangerous places with foreign-sounding names, Bush Era leaders turned the fear of terrorism into the Orwellian nightmare of (3) continuous war. Our initial success in Afghanistan pushed us into a second, optional war before we’d won the first, and both became battles we can’t afford to lose, but can’t seem to win.

After hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lost lives, the promise shouted from the rubble of the World Trade Center to get the men who’d attacked us remains empty. Meanwhile, Republicans claim they’ve “kept us safe,” as if the worse attack ever on U.S. soil hadn’t happened on their watch. Round one in our first war of the new millennium has gone to Osama.

More potentially dangerous, we continued to lose control of (4) nuclear proliferation. Once we toppled the government of Iraq, the member of the “axis of evil” without a nuclear program, we demonstrated we won’t — or, perhaps more accurately, can’t — do much about hostile nations with actual WMDs. Despite years of rattling our sabers at Iran and North Korea, the next decade appears truly frightening.

Our impotence in the face of proliferation is mirrored by our growing (5) impotence as an economic power. Immediately after inheriting a huge budget surplus from the fiscally responsible Clinton years, Bush administration big spenders broke the bank by reinstituting deficit spending to provide tax relief for their wealthiest constituents.

Add to this two endless wars we couldn’t afford, and we have debt that’s unprecedented, unimaginable and unsustainable. China, the rising economic powerhouse of the new century, has sustained 9% growth during a global recession and now owns our debt, which means, to a growing degree, it owns us.

During the 1980s, Reaganomics at least used deficit spending to bring us out of recession and set the table for the prosperity of the 1990s. In contrast, Dubyanomics bought us recession, unemployment and wholesale pillaging of the treasury by Wall Street. And, somewhere along the line, we lost much of our auto industry as well.

During the past decade, we also (6) lost a major American city. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, right-wingers brought to fruition a self-fulfilling prophecy that conservatives have espoused for years: “Government doesn’t work” — as well as its Bush Era corollary: “especially when that government is run by conservatives.”

On the upside, however, Bush Era incompetence made possible (7) the election of our first black president. This development, which no one had expected to see so soon, is a major milestone in America’s long, shameful and painful journey from racism and discrimination to equality. Ironically, it also makes reverse discrimination, especially affirmative action, look more and more like a policy whose time has passed.

Meanwhile, the anti-Obama backlash typifies the continued (8) rise of extremism. Recent elections have made the moderate Republican an endangered species, and partisanship has become increasingly divisive and strident. While extremists on the left call Obama a wishy-washy moderate, hysterical rants from far-right fanatics such as Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity are now the voice of the GOP, accusing the president of being a radical, un-American socialist/communist. It’s not surprising the conservative superstar is Sarah Palin, a more-extreme George W with lipstick.

W and Palin epitomize the (9) emerging power of Christian fundamentalism. Coinciding with a decline in mainline Protestantism, this trend mirrors the yawning chasm between liberals and conservatives. In the most-devout nation in the developed world, many Americans, particularly evangelicals, distrust 21st century science. For example, more Americans now believe in creationism, a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience, than evolution, an established fact in the scientific community the world over for more than 100 years.

Sectarian hostility toward science has hindered progress in areas such as stem cell research, while Republicans’ traditional distaste for ecologists, climatologists and “tree huggers” has contributed to an overall (10) stagnation in environmentalism. We spent the “aught years” debating global warming, but did naught about it, which could turn out to be the Bush Era’s most destructive and dangerous legacy.

What’s ahead? With its short attention span, the electorate could quickly wax nostalgic for the Bush Era, if Obama can’t fix the economy right away. And Fox News (GOP-TV) has now hired its own potential candidate for 2012. Is anyone else as frightened as I am by alliteration of President Palin?



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