13 January 2009

The First Retrospective on the First Decade of the New Millennium

Happy New Year!

Is it just me or is this decade flying by? Seems like only yesterday I was partying like it was 1999. That’s because it was 1999! I keep waiting for some scientist somewhere to confirm my suspicion that the earth actually does spin faster on its axis the older you get.

As the year moves along, I’m sure every blogger in cyberspace will offer up a retrospective on the first decade of the new millennium. I thought I would get mine out of the way early.

What a decade it has been! In your wildest dreams, did you ever think you would pay more than $4 for a gallon of gas? Or that you would seriously consider buying a hybrid?

This decade, there have been more scams and scoundrels than You Tube can keep up with -- Blegojevich and Madoff only notable because of the boldness and sheer audacity of their actions.

Technology exploded. The economy may be going down the drain but, hey, you could download any track Moby ever laid down and have it playing on your iphone in seconds. That’s hot. Facebook redefined how we interact with friends. Michael Jackson got even weirder (and whiter). Many of us barely making minimum wage were convinced that we really could afford that dream home then developed a love/hate/love relationship with our Adjustable Rate Mortgage. Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record.*

Two events on either end of the decade, though, will certainly come to define it: the terrorist attacks on a morning in September toward its beginning and the emergence of a new leader promising transformation as it comes to an end. In between, President Bush proved he was in way over his head and by the end of the decade was among the most unpopular presidents ever.

In many ways, the country is still reeling from 9/11. Everything changed that day. In all fairness to Bush, what an ominous crisis with which to be burdened so early in his term.

Still, what we needed from the leader of the free world at that time was wisdom and sound judgment. We got bumbling bravado and incompetence, instead. In the months and years that followed, we squandered enormous amounts of good will from around the globe, incited terrorist activity to unprecedented levels and killed and maimed untold thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers and innocent civilians.

“Mission accomplished,” will undoubtedly be chronicled by historians as one of the more smug and irresponsible statements of the decade.

Osama Bin Laden still roams free and we the people have blood on our hands.

Meanwhile, the federal deficit ballooned. This president created more debt than the previous 42 combined. The country’s infrastructure continued to corrode and the gains we made affecting dozens of social problems in the 90’s (gun violence, teen pregnancy, delinquency, etc.), predictably, took a nose dive this decade due to inattention. No Child Left Behind was ill-conceived and the federal government’s response to Katrina was shameful.

Perhaps history will be kinder to President Bush. Perhaps I’m not seeing the forest for the trees. Today, however, it’s hard for me to conjure much sympathy. He was an awful president. Thank God it’s about over.

This decade will surely also be remembered as the decade in which the US free market system collapsed under the weight of its own greed and corruption. A little greed is important in keeping capitalism churning along, I realize. But decades of sleaze, gluttony, power mongering and deception (all while our deregulate-at-all-cost government looked the other way) finally took its toll.

This decade represents capitalism gone amok, the worst face of the free market system, and provided an abundance of propaganda fodder for socialism as a superior system to developing nations around the world. The gap between the richest and the rest of us grew wider as the poorest among us still waited for a little something to trickle down.

Here’s a little something you may remember from Sunday School: love of money is the root of all evil. Here's another: you reap what you sow. This is America paying for its sins.

About the economy: Certainly, cyclical downturns and bubble bursts are not uncommon. Markets bend and correct and bounce back. This isn’t the first time the sky was falling. But you have to admit, this time it seems different. Bank mergers, bankruptcies and bailouts dominated the financial news in late ’08.

My bet is that what emerges from the ashes won’t much resemble your father’s America, that this is truly a defining moment in US history – for better or for worse.

Now, comes one charismatic young man named Barrack Obama, representing change and hope at a time when both are desperately needed. Smart children everywhere now know that they, too, can someday be president.

For people my age, Obama is the first president who seems like one of us, someone we would have stayed up late hanging out with in college -- drinking “Pepsis” and debating politics while The Smiths blared from a boom box in the corner of the dorm room.

For America, whose not so distant legacy includes lynch mobbings and governors in University doorways barring "coloreds" from entering in, Obama's win is in and of itself a sign of change and hope, even before he ever sets foot in the Oval Office.

What we know about President-elect Obama is that he's intelligent, articulate, inspiring, charming and energetic. What we don't know yet is whether the policies he sets forth in the coming months to fix dozens of messes inherited from his predecessor will be effective. But we should have some idea by the time the decade is over. If he can successfully lead us out of this economic quagmire, restore some respect and credibility in the international community, and begin to impact some of the tremendous problems on the home front, then the decade will end on a positive note and the next one will start off with great promise.

But that’s a tall order. If he can accomplish just half of what he’s outlined during his tenure, then there should be a big rock in South Dakota reserved for his likeness.

For me, this decade has been equally eventful. On October 25, 2000, I showed up at the doorstep of a beautiful young woman who rocked my world. We got married, had two beautiful children together, moved to California (and back). We bought a house near San Francisco during a seller’s market and tried to sell it just as the housing market collapsed. Note: anyone interested in a beautifully remodeled art deco home halfway between SF and Napa Valley, please give me a call.

Also this decade: my father died, I started a couple nonprofits, changed jobs more time than I’d like to admit, took trips to both Alaska and Hawaii for my fortieth birthday and then wrote a book about taking a trip to the moon with my oldest daughter. This year, I’ll be working on launching an exciting new children’s law center in Raleigh. Whew. I crammed in a lot in ten little years.

To be honest, I’m ready to dig in. Get settled. Relax a little.

As for the country, I’m hoping for nothing more than a return to normalcy. I’d settle for another decade like the 90’s, which seems downright boring in comparison.

Then, I'd like some help figuring out a way to stop the earth from spinning so fast!