When historians update the history of the United States, ponder when we lost our way and punted the mantle of global supremacy to China, they'll conclude this past decade was the turning point. From 2000 to 2009, voters made a series of terrible political choices. As a result, for many Americans the US ceased being a land of opportunity and the light of freedom dimmed.
2000 - America chooses mediocrity:The decade opened with a divisive election where George W. Bush - an unsuccessful business executive - defeated Al Gore - a wooden but seasoned political servant - in an election decided by the Electoral College and the US Supreme Court.
2001 - America is traumatized:Bush ran on a platform of lower taxes and less government; he wasn't interested in or adept at governing. As a result, Bush failed to pay attention to early warnings and, on September 11th, terrorists attacked. The US went to war and the Bush Administration claimed near dictatorial power.
2002 - America gets angry:When our forces failed to apprehend those responsible for the attacks, the White House launched a propaganda campaign to convince Americans that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was the guilty party. Voters bought into this deception and, in the mid-term elections, supported Republicans as the war Party, resulting in GOP control of Congress.
2003 - America gets even:The Bush Administration spin machine persuaded Americans that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and constituted an imminent threat. On March 20th, US forces invaded Iraq and, on May 1st, President Bush declared, "mission accomplished."
2004 - America gets bamboozled:White House propaganda convinced a slim majority of Americans the US was winning the Iraq war and George Bush was a competent President. Bush defeated John Kerry in the Presidential election.
2005 - America wakes up:As it became apparent the US occupation of Iraq had fomented a civil war, Bush's approval ratings fell below 50 percent and continued to deteriorate for the rest of his term. In August, the Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina branded him a failed President.
2006 - Democrats rebound:As Bush's approval ratings sank, so did those of the Republican-dominated Congress. In the mid-term elections, Democrats retook control of Congress. This ended the destructive Bush legislative agenda, but could not undo the harm cause by Administration appointments and edicts.
2007 - The economy tanks:Throughout the first years of the decade, America had a negative savings rate as families borrowed against their home equity to maintain their lifestyle. Faith that housing prices would increase indefinitely led to gross Wall Street speculation. In 2007 the housing bubble burst, resulting in the collapse of the financial system.
2008 - America chooses hope:As the year progressed there were increasing signs of financial panic. Meanwhile, the country was enthralled by the Presidential contest, eventually won by Barack Obama, an African-American.
2009 - America is depressed:Before Obama was inaugurated, it was clear the US was in the grips of a severe recession. As unemployment rose and business activity declined, the mood of the US soured. Divisive Republican political tactics impeded Obama's legislative agenda, particularly healthcare reform.
2000-2009 was defined by dreadful political decisions and missed opportunities. America stagnated because of poor leadership and negative public sentiment.
In 2000, responding to the Republican claim that "government is the problem," Americans elected an incompetent President. After 9/11, the Bush Administration made a series of horrendous decisions that mired the US in Afghanistan and Iraq and ensured that billions continued to be spent on defense. Meanwhile, as the Federal government and the deficit grew, America's domestic difficulties were ignored. Middle-class families saw their quality of life deteriorate, along with their savings and home-equity.
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When Americans chose Bush, they bought into his self-centered conservative ideology: "what's in it for me?" Greed became a virtue. Citizens looked away while the rich and powerful looted America. This "damn the common good" sentiment reached its nadir with Wall Street's promotion of the housing bubble.
After 9/11 America was at war, however President Bush did not call for common sacrifice. Instead of asking Americans to pay higher taxes, Bush suggested they "go shopping." His conservative ideology promoted the notion that government is a "free lunch," that citizens shouldn't have to pay for essential services.
In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Republican Party preached that government is the problem. Rather than blame the current financial crisis on greedy bankers and ravenous Wall Street CEOs, the GOP blamed Federal regulators. Conservatives dogmatically argued that, left alone, the market will fix whatever ails America.
Steeled in this nonsensical ideology, Republicans became the Party of No, choosing to be part of the problem rather than contribute to the solution. Using the Senate cloture rule, Republicans blocked meaningful legislation affecting healthcare, energy, global climate change, jobs, and Wall Street reform.
George Santayana famously wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." At the end of a tragically lost decade, many Americans haven't learned anything and seemed poised to repeat the same mistakes.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.