Tradition dictates that we now play “Name That Decade.” To play the game, we need to list the seminal events of the past decade.
Dominating was the bloody, evil and heinous attack on the World Trade Center, setting Christendom at odds with the Muslim world and causing people all over the world to wonder where and why Islam had gone so wrong.
The decade had begun with an enthusiastic innocence about the United States being the only superpower and under its new president, George W. Bush, becoming a kind of international homebody: no nation-building, foreign adventures or radical changes at home.
The Bush administration was to be about creating an echo of Ronald Reagan. If there were to be bumps, they would be the bumps necessitated by the need, as seen by Bush and his supporters, to eradicate the worst excesses of Clintonism.
Out went treaties — especially the Kyoto Protocol — and in came a kind of arrogance through ideology. To win was simple: Straighten up and think right. If you got the philosophy right, everything else would fall into place.
Oddly, this was the same thinking that bedeviled countries in Europe and Africa after World War II. Successive British Labor governments, starting with the Attlee government of 1945-51, said as much. They believed in the theory of pure heart: Get that right and everything else would work out.
In Britain it meant financial crisis after crisis; and the uncontrolled growth in trade-union power, accompanied by a surge of immigration from former British possessions including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India the Caribbean and Africa. Islam gained a foothold in Britain that looks like a bridgehead today.
Reality met liberalism and trounced it. Having the right philosophy turned out to be more liability than asset when it came to governing.
But philosophy — dogma really — retains its allure for the right as well as the left. The Reagan years left the impression that if you had the right philosophy, you could accomplish big things. If George W. Bush had any far-reaching idea, this was it: Get the philosophy right and the walls of any evil empire will tumble, including militant Islam.
So began one of the decade’s outstanding aspects: the manufacturing of facts to justify actions motivated by, er, philosophy.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair believed so fervently that all people yearned for democracy and only bad leaders kept them from being free in the Western way, that they manufactured facts about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
This led to the real awfulness of this decade: the idea that facts do not matter. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat from New York, said you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.
Alas, the first decade of the new millennium became a place where rhetoric is uncontaminated with facts.
Do you prefer the fact-free or the lying decade? Politicians lied, but they always have.
The decade ended with another seminal event: the election of Barack Obama as president.
Again, there was euphoria. It did not last. The great expectations of the campaign were dampened by realities of governing.
The man who was voted into office to end the American wars in the Middle East found that in Afghanistan, he had facts that required an extension, an escalation. He never revealed these facts. The right clapped with one hand and the left sank into misery.
The mid-term elections in 2010 will pit left-wing facts against right-wing facts. But they are not facts; they are claims posing as facts — about war and peace, energy and climate, immigration, health care and taxation. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate