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Fighting Over the Squandered Decade

Posted on Dec 31, 2009

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Certain decades shape the country’s political life for generations by leaving behind an era to embrace or, at least as often, to scorn.

The 1960s were definitely such a decade. The 1930s qualify, and so do the 1980s. But as important as all these periods have been, their significance may be dwarfed by the reckless and squandered decade that is, mercifully, ending.

I’m afraid that the past 10 years will be seen as a time when the United States badly lost its way by using our military power carelessly, misunderstanding the real challenges to our long-term security, and pursuing domestic policies that constrained our options for the future while needlessly threatening our prosperity.

I am aware that the previous paragraph is thoroughly controversial, and that befits any description of a politically consequential decade. Much of the contention surrounding Barack Obama’s presidency is simply a continuation of our argument over the effects of George W. Bush’s time in office.

That is why Obama, despite his fervent wishes, has been unable to usher in a new period of consensus. Bush’s defenders know that Obama’s election represented a popular reaction against the consequences of the 43rd president’s time in office. Because Obama is both the anti-Bush and the leader of the post-Bush cleanup squad, his success would complete the rebuke. So the Bush camp—Karl Rove’s regular contributions to The Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages are emblematic—must stay on the attack.


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Domestically, Obama inherited an economic catastrophe. Dealing with the wreckage required a large expenditure of public funds that increased a deficit already bloated by the previous president’s decision to fight two wars and to cut taxes at the same time. Bush’s defenders, preferring to focus attention away from this earlier period of irresponsibility, act as if the world began on Jan. 20, 2009, by way of saddling Obama with the blame for everything that now ails us. But the previous eight years cannot be wished away.

Our current president is more deliberate about the use of American power than his predecessor was, and determined to repair America’s image with other nations. Obama is committed to fighting terrorism, but does not believe that a “war on terror” should define American foreign policy.

This leads directly to another essential argument over the meaning of the last decade: whether the proper response to the 9/11 attacks included not only the widely supported retaliation in Afghanistan but also the invasion of Iraq. Obama’s view—that the Iraq war wasted American power and dissipated good will toward us around the world—is a direct reproach to the core assumptions of the Bush foreign policy.

So is Obama’s refusal “to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests,” as he put it in his recent West Point speech, as well as his insistence upon appreciating “the connection between our national security and our economy.” This measured approach to the use of force is antithetical to a foreign policy based on “bring ’em on” and sweeping pledges to “defeat our enemies across the world.”

But this makes it imperative for Obama to inspire trust in his capacity to thwart terrorism, and his administration’s initial response to the Christmas Day airliner attack fell short. Republicans were shameless in politicizing the incident, knowing that rehabilitating Bush’s approach to terrorism depends upon discrediting Obama’s. The president can’t afford to give them anything to work with, as he finally seemed to grasp on Tuesday.

It should not surprise us that the battle for the future will be shaped by struggles over the past. How often over the last 40 years have conservatives defended their policies in the name of rolling back “the excesses of the ’60s”? For even longer, liberals were charged with being locked into “the New Deal approaches of the 1930s.” Liberals, in turn, pointed proudly to both eras as times of unparalleled social advance.

As for the 1980s, that period remains a positive reference point for conservatives even as progressives condemn the Age of Reagan for opening the way to the deregulatory excesses that led to the recent downturn.

Americans instinctively recoil at living too much in the past. Yet we have no choice but to reach a settlement about the meaning of the last 10 years. It is the only way we will successfully turn the next 10 into a decade of renewal.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)

© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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By LillithMc, December 31, 2009 at 9:43 am Link to this comment
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Our social programs have been shorted by our military expenses connected to the constant movement to the right as described above by JDmysticDJ.  Bush shifted power toward executive control.  We see how much Congress is corrupted by the same “complexes” who took as much money as they could get: military, economic, energy, health insurance.  The question is if we can retain some connection to democracy or if the power brokers will decide it is more efficient to go the route of China and eliminate representative democracy.

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By bozhidar balkas, vancouver, December 31, 2009 at 8:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Living in the past” appears an overgeneralization; thus, true-false or wright-wrong answers to that utterance do not apply.

More elucidatory wld have been to have said that americans do not want to study own history for its protreptic value;i.e., for what history teaches.
One cld also say that americans do want to learn from history but see no need to do that for they had been trained or conditioned not to see the need for learning because there are ‘experts’ and other ‘educators’ to take care of that.

What is happening to at least 95% of americans, had happened to the pavlov dog. They have been conditioned not to mind own business of running the country.
They have also been taught or conditioned to accept that US flag symbolizes honesty-veracity-well being, etc.

Regarding dionne’s “our prosperity”, this too appears meaningless-meaningful. It had been said by many that some americans are now prospering much more than others.
So, the wars and other US policies, appear to augment some american’s prosperity while diminishing it for mns of other americans.
But hasn’t this been the case always? Rich and superrich living alongside slaves, indigenes, housepeople, et al?

Wasn’t there always in US and elsewhere enorm disparity in wealth-power btwn aghas amirs, counts, princes, sultans, kings, lords, ceos, bankers on one side and the low[er] classes on the other? tnx

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By DieDaily, December 31, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

JDmysticDJ, if only there was such a thing as “right wing” I’d agree with everything you said! As it is, I agree with darn near it! But really, now, it’s time for a person of your caliber to take those incisive observations and re-frame them within a modern and relevant paradigm. Relatively soon the terms “right wing” and “left wing” will be regarded as quaint terms used to refer to the bad old days when folks were ever so easily divided and conquered owing to their sad but endearing lack of sophistication.

Right, left, right, left, is a goose-step. The terms have become meaningless, if ever they had meaning. Even when they seemed to have it, in their extreme manifestations they always wrapped in a circle, becoming one and the same in totalitarianism. Even as a child I thought there was a clue in that, a meaning, and I bet you did too. As an old guy I realized that there only ever was one axis of real measurement, and unsurprisingly it bisects this wrap-around, illusory, circular gauge—and that was freedom vs. statism. In hindsight, is as geometrically obvious as it is linguistically.

But left-right was the grand distraction, the cadence of the hypnotist rapist. And I, like all the distracted, had forever MERELY pondered whether the government should be doing this or that with us, and whether it’s left or right foot was the one to do it with, when in truth the only meaningful discovery, the hidden jewel of knowledge, was that the state had no business interfering there in the first place, that we are not evil, that we are not pests, we are not children, that we do not need any services at the barrel of a government gun, and that it was all a false choice. It was “would you like to die by nips or by cuts”? For only the state makes war on its equally phantasmal, fictional counterparts and thus kills en mass. And kill it has. Only states kill the soul, the left states and right states, they both kill, they both are of infinite emptiness and appetite. You see, people are good, and kind. Except as and when there is are states, differences, us vs. them. We are us and them…that’s the big secret.

Left, right, left, right, hypnotically the rhythm of the jackboots, the screams, the fear, the division. Left, right, left, right, the inexorable advance of statism with its countless millions of dead and dying, the remaining lovingly raped by the smiling false paradigm masters. Left, right, left, right, the paradigm, ever shrinking, ever more ambiguous, ever more difficult to tell one from the other, ever more vociferous in the effort to do so. Left, right, left, right…a sad old thing now, I’ve forgotten which was which, and so have you JDmysticDJ.

All of us, especially as we awaken, have. There is freedom and it is vast. There is statism, and it is a small dark think of unimaginable heaviness…and the insectoid sound of it is “left, right, left, right”. Don’t get left behind my friend! The world is going to heal itself in a great convulsive awakening of deeply and long submerged freedom. When we are reborn into personality and diversity, there won’t even be much of an echo of left-right. There will only be those who want to be left alone, and those who don’t want to leave them alone, and for once the latter shall find themselves cast out as centers of pestilence. Don’t get left behind!

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By hark, December 31, 2009 at 7:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“. . . using our military power carelessly.”  Really?  “Carelessly”?  I can think of many words, like recklessly, disastrously, illegally, brutally (why don’t we ever acknowledge all the slaughter and destruction of our wars?), senselessly, arrogantly, imperialistically, wastefully - but “carelessly?”

That word sets the tone for an entirely different story from the one I saw played out in this worst of all decades since the 1930s.

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By Howie Bledsoe, December 31, 2009 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
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nice one JDmysticDJ,
sadly, too true.  I think we will have 2 choices in the ensuing decades, to either purge the fascists out once and for all, or continue to stay in the ebb and flow of right wing war, corruption, enslavery, incompetence and bloodshed.

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By Robert Singer, December 31, 2009 at 7:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maybe it’s the smoke from Mt. Vesuvius that keeps Arianna Huffington and the financial community from seeing that the economic collapse has nothing to do with the Fed “missing” the warning signs leading up to the October meltdown.

“Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”  John F. Kennedy

The Fed didn’t miss anything; the October meltdown was an inside job.

Capitalism never made sense

Professor Ebeling, the Ludwig von Mises professor of Economics at Hillsdale College, understood something was wrong when he wrote: “the perverse development and evolution of historical capitalism, the institutions necessary for a truly free-market economy have been either undermined or prevented from emerging.”

But when he claimed, “it is the principles and the meaning of a free-market economy that must be rediscovered” in order to overcome the burden of historical capitalism and save liberty, he should have written that principles must be rediscovered in order to prevent the planet from attempted murder (ecocide).

American “capitalism” and our consumer economy never made economic, environmental or common sense—unless the goal was ecocide.

Capitalism and a not-so-free market economy based on consumer products, that is, products we are manipulated to want, not need, was never sustainable. Consumers consume…the resources of the planet.

Read the rest at The Market Oracle

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By JDmysticDJ, December 31, 2009 at 5:57 am Link to this comment

The 30’s were the years of recovery from right wing economic excesses, and the ascendancy of right wing Fascism.

The 40’s were the years of the right wing holocaust, a world war against right wing ideology, and the invention and use of nuclear weapons.

The 50’s were the years of right wing red baiting, the seminal years of the multi-trillion dollar cold war, and the birth of the right wing Military Industrial Complex.

The 60’s were the years when enlightened liberal domestic policies were undercut by right wing wars against the Indochinese ,  and the beginning of counter revolutionary, institutionalized, moral decadence.

The 70’s were the years when a right wing president was driven from office, the right wing wars in Indochina ended in failure, and the costs of that right wing war caused economic chaos, and the end of liberal economic policies.

The 80’s were the years of ascendancy for right wing economic policies, the support for right wing military death squads in Central America, and the beginning of democrats moving from the left to the right.

The 90’s were the years when right wing economic policies achieved dominance, the “Mother of all Wars,” was waged, moral decadence became the norm, and democrats moved from the left to the right.

The first decade of the new millennium has been the years of a right wing usurpation of our political system, the beginning of endless wars, and the failure of right wing economic policies.

The next decade will be the decade when right wing republicans again achieve power, because of the failed policies of right wing democrats.

Happy New Year!

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By george szabo, December 31, 2009 at 5:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Truthdig ——Dig for the truth
How is this possible ? with your highly censored sources from all conflict areas. Internal
security monitoring all correspondences and most of the time asking the wrong people
their true reasons behind their covert or terrorist activities.
The last decade is merely the result and continuation of the policies of all the imperialist/
capitalist countries including the old socialist ones. A lot of the s**t going down finally
came to the surface.
Anybody ever take the time to talk to the enemy ??? What are we afraid of ??
What is the real reason for their attacks on our so called ” free world ” Maybe we should
consider negotiating with the enemy.. Oops, sorry, How stupid of me… There is no money
to be made in PEACE ......

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By dihey, December 31, 2009 at 5:13 am Link to this comment

Dionne is giving us an unintended glimpse of what the coming decade will look like.

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By montanawildhack, December 31, 2009 at 5:13 am Link to this comment

What chu talken’ bout E.J.?

You know what I think the greatest skill that the majority of pundits have that appear on truthdig is???  The ability to write an entire column without really saying a f*&king; thing….

My time is worth 12 dollars an hour and I’m sending Mr. Dionne a bill for 65 cents…..

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By ardee, December 31, 2009 at 2:34 am Link to this comment

After more than nine months in office one might think Mr. Dionne’s rose colored glasses unable to continue to hide the fact that Obama is continuing, not repairing, the destructive nature of the George W. Bush Presidency.

As to not setting goals we are unable to achieve, wouldnt any sane ,rational human being see that the entire war on terror is such a goal?

Last evening Thom Hartmann noted that the way to end this mess is to gain energy self sufficiency and simply leave the Middle East, at least militarily. Sounds about right to me.

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