The Lost Decade

WAMC DECEMBER 31 2009
Wamc Audio for The Lost Decade

Dr. Steven A. Leibo is a professor of International History & Politics At the Sage Colleges

O.K. This is bit late but I think I finally have a name for the decade we just lived through. Sure, it took me till the last day — of the last month —– of the last year but I think this will work.

Perhaps I should back up. When you teach courses on modern international history and politics, it becomes obvious that students need some core ideas to organize their studies around. What I mean are the key ideas that to help them get a sense of the larger themes. So they won’t get bogged down in the details. Sure such labels never capture the full sense of an era but they can offer a handle to help understand the larger dimensions of a particular time.

What I am referring to of course are those terms historians use from the Belle Époque to the gilded age, from the horrors of the first age of World War to the era of global depression.

Not forgetting what I often call to the “Devil’s Decade” of the late thirties to the mid 1940s. And who can forget the sixties with their obvious rejection of the most revered conventional attitudes towards everything from sex to race dramatized of course by all those youth revolts from Berkeley to Paris and Mexico City.

Or the Reagan/Thatcher years with their rejection of the post World War II Western drift toward social democracy. And of course those larger time blocks from the Cold War decades to the era of decolonization.

Finally rounding off the 20th century with what started out as that most awkward “Post Cold War” era which eventually morphed ever so logically in the internet charged age of “Globalization.”

But I have never been able to come up with something that quite fits the last ten years. The 2000s, what did one call them? But now with a bit of hindsight I’ve got it. Yes, we’re just finishing up the “lost decade” a decade of lost opportunities from advancing democracy to capitalizing on the scientific advances and warnings.

A decade when the Russians so recently freed from the chains of the Soviet Union walked blindly into the authoritarian arms of Vladimir Putin. While Americans not only allowed a candidate into the White House who had not been chosen by the American people, they failed to even get indignant enough to follow through by getting rid of the albeit constitutional but deeply anti-democratic Electoral College.

Dramatic mistakes which were followed up, of course, by the Bush administration’s incompetent handling of all those obvious and well publicized warnings that a horrific assault was being planned on the United States of America.

Not forgetting the understandably motivated but incompetently implemented move against the terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the even more clumsily handled distraction in Iraq.

All of which handicapped the United States’ need to transition ourselves into the increasingly globalized new century with an embrace of the emerging scientific and engineering accomplishments from stem cells to green energy.

Significant issues all but it’s likely that by the mid 21st century it seems altogether certain that none of those loses are going to matter to the next generation of historians or their students.

No, the true meaning of our just lost decade is more certain to focus on that decade of losers who allowed the major carbon polluters from the United States to China and India to dither while their carbon emissions increasingly unset the delicate global temperature balance.

Even as the UN’s own climate change effort trapped itself in a decision making process that focused more on economic justice rather than actually fighting the catastrophic climatic disasters headed our way.

Resulting in our lost decade rather than ten precious years when we might have made real progress in repairing the damage we have done to our planetary atmospheric system. In fact, I think it is safe to say that by say 2050 most of the planet will be ruefully wishing they could have our recently discarded “lost decade” back

About Steven Leibo

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3 Responses to The Lost Decade

  1. Bob Walquist says:

    I know you can be partisan, but please! I agree with you that 2000-2009 could be identified as a lost decade. However, the blame should be significantly shared among all in leadership. To lay the majority of blame square at the feet of conservatives or former President Bush is misguided and untrue. It is true that the former President was unwilling to comprise and work both the Democrats, and the rest of world. But it also true that Democrats had no willingness to work with the President as well. The tone he set for the country was not also a positive one, but there were many other forces that contributed to the problems of the decade. Let’s be clear: The Bush Administration is not responsible for 9-11. To say that, then you must also say, that the real blame lies with former President Clinton who refused even more warnings and did almost nothing. Liberals all of a sudden have go on the train to eliminate the electoral college. Why is this? Is it only because Al Gore lost? I think so. What would have happened if Bush would have lost this way? Would Liberals have cried foul on this as well? I have not decided whether or not we should go to popular vote or not. There are pros and cons, however none of them are partisan. We don’t know what kind of President AL Gore would have been? Would he have worked with Conservatives? Surely he would have moved Climate Change forward, but what about our wars abroad? May have been the same? The political issue with Climate Change is not all in the Executive Branch, it lies in the Congress as well, with both parties. How about the U.N. This is a great concept, and they can do a lot of positive things for the world, but they have no credibility. Why should I, and other Americans trust the U.N.? The members have been corrupt, lined their pockets from the “Oil for Food” campaign and not held accountable. How can they reconcile putting countries like Cuba on the Human Rights commission with their record. I would agree that the U.S. has not gone far enough to work with the U.N., but it is the U.N.’s lack of control over it’s members, and it’s refusal to set standards that have caused Americans to be skeptical about the U.N.’s effectiveness. Bottom line is that lack of success in the first decade of this century is completely due to the unwillingness of people and countries to compromise and work together. Both major political parties seek absolute power, and when acheiving it, they seek to shut the other party out of any of the decision making. This happened in the beginning of the decade with the Republicans, and it is ending the decade with the Democrats. Maybe President Obama will change this culture, but so far I haven’t seen it. There is to much money and to much interest behind these parties for them to change. Here is a novel idea: People who are not beholden to any special interest group work together, find middle ground, and do what is right for all. Pure Conservatives are wrong that the individual can solve all problems, liberty is all we need. Pure Liberals are wrong that they know what is best for all, and the state is all we need. The truth is that both are correct. We must preserve individual liberty while understanding we must also rely on others (like Govt) to accomplish what we want, while ensuring that we protect individual rights and enforce personal responsibility. Once we can all unhook the baggage of our partisan or nationalistic differences, we will start to move forward.

  2. Steven Leibo says:

    wow, lots of good comments but are you also working on you know what!

    Leibo good hearing from you again.

    Steven A. Leibo Ph.D. Professor of International History & Politics Russell Sage College International Affairs Commentator WAMC Northeast Public Radio District Manager Upstate New York & Vermont The Climate Project http: http://theclimateproject.org/ Leibo’s World Watch Blog https://sagethoughts.wordpress.com/

  3. Steven Leibo says:

    Bob: Thanks for you thoughts on my New Year’s commentary. First, yes of course such efforts are “partisan.” They are supposed to be though I don’t make a distinction between partisan and professional. My opinions do come from almost sixty years of studying international politics. But interestingly, I don’t think the particular issues you mentioned are very partisan.

    About what happened in 2000. Yes, of course because I have spent a lot of time around Al Gore I have a real sense of what we lost but my thing with the electoral college is not about him. I am a “popular sovereignty” man i.e. one man one vote and don’t give a rat’s ass that our constitution was put together just a few years before the idea of “popular sovereignty” was fully in place. I think anything other than having the biggest vote winner “win” undermines contemporary American democracy. It really is that simple and any argument about the importance of ‘States Rights” in choosing presidents leaves me cold. This is about the American people pure and simple.

    On climate change, I don’t really see that as partisan either. Since this is a global issue we must see it that context and across the world conservatives quite well understand the threat of man made climate change. The maker of the modern conservative movement and of course leader of the oldest conservative party in the Anglo world was of Margaret Thatcher of the British Tories who as a trained chemist understood the threat of climate change and acted on it. Today’s German conservative leader Angela Merkle (a trained physicist) understands the science and is very involved in the struggle to confront this greatest of all challenges. Indeed the Australian conservative Rupert Murdoch has spoken out very strongly on the challenge (despite what his own network says to keep their audience) as has the Pope.. who most would also consider a “conservative.” Within the United States plenty of conservatives (until the recent nonsense) understood and acted on the threat. But those people around George W. Bush did what they could to stop the world from confronting the challenge and for that I believe the future generations will blame them deeply.. but not necessarily as “conservatives.”

    thanks for writing.

    Steven A. Leibo Ph.D. Professor of International History & Politics Russell Sage College International Affairs Commentator WAMC Northeast Public Radio District Manager Upstate New York & Vermont The Climate Project http: http://theclimateproject.org/ Leibo’s World Watch Blog https://sagethoughts.wordpress.com/

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