Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Lost Decade

I'm going to make a concerted effort to get my 9/11 rants out of the way early this week. The tragedy still has too much emotion tied up in it for me to want to dwell until the last minute, when my maudlin streak will rear its ugly head.
You know what has me most upset heading into this ten year memorial?
What could have been.
I've written often over the past seven years...has it really only been seven years?...of my frustration of a nation on the precipice of a new century, a budget surplus and the hope of a brand new age of progress. Yes, we were in the middle of a recession, but it was a relatively mild one, a shake out of the fat in the dot-com boom. We've come back strong from those kinds of recessions before.
And yes, we had a moron for President, but morons generally don't do that much damage to a nation in four (or worst case, eight) years. There's inter- and intraparty squabbling, and factions form, and politicians jockey for positions. Bush certainly looked like he'd be a one-term President, lost in the office, popularity dangling in the 40s in not even his first full year in office (and that's without the albatross Obama entered office with.)
We'd have a debt of closer to $10 trillion now, instead of $14 trillion. There would have been no wars to speak of (as far as we can tell. Bush foreign policy was more focused on Russia and China.) The tax cuts probably would have passed, at least the first round, but there's no guarantee rounds two and three, the really economically devastating ones, would have been anything but a non-starter. Remember the attempt to privatize Social Security.
But 9/11 happened. It's hard to say what else we might have saved. To be sure, however, there are plenty of things we would not have.
We wouldn't have Alan Greenspan artificially surpressing interest rates, and Bush encouraging already debt-laden middle Americans from loading up on even more debt in an effort to be patriotic.
One reason I believe the stimulus package of $780 billion should have been primarily for mortgage holders is that it would be akin to a veteran's benefit: after all, we shopped and mortgaged to the hilt because our President asked us to, insisting we were an "ownership society."
We wouldn't have been bullied and cowed into submission by a government that believed to dissent is to commit treason, even if we could see the emperor had no clothes. There'd be no PATRIOT Act. Torture would be a thing for television programs, and at the end of the day, there'd be no using the protagonist as an argument to legtimize what we all know to be illegal, immoral, and sinful behavior.
We wouldn't have the logical end of thirty years of raping the American worker, stripping him and her of union representation against goliaths and behemoths that can stomp a mudhole in our own government. After all, the stimulus package had zero accountability, precisely because that was the term bankstahs dictated to Congress and President Bush. We wouldn't have jobs just folded up in the dead of night and exported, not to Mexico or Central America (which might make sense, if you're fighting an immigration battle,) but to India and Asia and China.
All because this quarter's profit was pennies less than last quarter's and woebetide the company that doesn't pay attention to the software that can pick up that nuance and short the stock and make it crash!
We wouldn't have Glenn Beck, the modern-day Father Coughlin hate-mongerer, railing about them. Sarah Palin would be sitting on someone's lap, taking dictation. Michele Bachmann would be trying to cure her husband of teh gay.
We'd be a better nation. A more secure nation, not just physically but psychically. We wouldn't see bogeymen behind every beard and under every turban. A mosque at Ground Zero wouldn't even catch the blink of an eye in the national attention span. We wouldn't have endless terror scares coinciding with the re-election of a President who was terrified of his own shadow.
You know what has me most hopeful heading into this ten year memorial?
What still may come to pass.
See, there was some good to come out of 9/11 and while I would not thank Al Qaeda from bringing it out in the mix, we ought to acknowledge the wake-up call we got.
I think the foremost good to have come out of the past decade is this: the politics of fear, so amplified and echoed, has been shown to be a hollow barrel after all. Eight years into the Bush administration and no succuessful terror attack was even attempted in the US. One could claim that was the outgrowth of the policies of Bush the Younger, but the American people saw through this and disagree, firmly.
Else, John McCain would be President now. Simply put, the US was shown to be a terrified little child, led by terrifying children. We were The Lord of the Flies writ large.
It is this focus of the people now that has me most hopeful for our future, for as much as I rail against the tyranny of the idiocracy, I see a slow (painfully slow) evolution in the American mindset.
9/11 woke the people up to the hubris of American society, of American culture, of American hegemony. Our belief that oceans protected us from harm was stripped away not by an ICBM, but by a Boeing 757 (or 767).
We were woken by the quintessential American transportation: the transcontinental flight that anyone of us could have been on that morning. 
If we could be attacked so savagely with such ease and familiarity, my thinking goes, then the very fabric of our society, the glue that holds this culture together, has to come under question. How could it not? It's not unlike finding your son or daughter smoking out of the nickle bag you hid in the back of your fetish porn collection. Clearly, you're going to wonder how things got that out of control. 
We questioned the need for war, even as we stood up as the patriots we were demanded to be and supported the troops. We saw the horrors that war did to our economy, masked as it was for the eight years of Bush by being placed off-budget, like how jobs were not being created, yet enormous wealth was trickling upwards. It had to bother us on some level that companies were snapping each other up like potato chips, yet each of us saw no raises or bonuses for ten years. Meanwhile, our taxes would go up, while those on the rich kept slipping lower.
And when the neutron bomb that was the mortgage crisis exploded, the anger that had been bubbling up since 9/11 finally was directed to the proper parties: the businessmen and cronies who had taken from us our God-given destiny of freedom and happiness. Remember how the American people flooded Congress when the first stimulus package failed in a late-night vote?
We elected Barack Obama, arguably the least-likely President since Harry Truman. He spoke of hope and change, and we responded to this. That's not a coincidence, even if in application neither has truly come to pass in a recognizable form (I won't debate the merits of Obama here expect to say that, on the whole, he's done a really good job, all things considered. It's this last condition that concerns me.)
In short, we've begun to reject the old schools of thought: the free markets will provide (they structurally cannot), lower taxes create an economy (they don't), Republicans are strong on defense (who got Osma bin Laden again, while the other guy fiddled?).
Indeed, even the old shibboleths, like the first rule of Socialism is you can't talk about Socialism, have gone out the window, slowly.
Yes, there is a significant percentage of yahoos and asshats and failed PoliSci assprofs who profess the end of socialism and progressivism, but they are winnowing out. We hear them only because they have megaphones, and the American people are rolling up their windows.
Fret not, my friends, my readers. This is a time for hope. This is a time for optimism.
This is a time for America.