The Decade in American Politics The Decade in American Politics

The Decade in American Politics

by Brian Beutler

December 25, 2009

Ten years of conflict and economic chicanery (and a fragile promise of change).The first decade of the third 21st century may not go down as the most consequential, or suckiest decade in the history of the United States. But it was pretty consequential and pretty sucky. Thousands dead on American soil. Two wars. A city demolished. Global economic crisis. The election of the (inspirational) first black president. And the realization that he's not, in fact, all things to all people, or incapable of failure. Here's how it all happened.2000Having emerged from a scandalous affair, and a kabuki impeachment, a still-popular President Clinton seeks to help his number two, Al Gore, win a punishing election. Gore wants no part of it.After a series of snafus and scandals, Florida's vote for president is deemed too close to call. Bush's team-which for all intents and purposes included his brother Jeb, the governor of Florida-fights hard and dirty during the recount. Gore and Lieberman...not so much.2001With no mandate to govern and no love from Congress, Bush's first several months in office are a joke. His main achievement: resisting the temptation to touch off an international incident with China, after a Chinese military pilot is killed in a mid-air collision with an American spy plane. And tax cuts.With the country's intelligence efforts focused away from international terrorism, September 11, 2001 happens.In October, Congress hurriedly passes the PATRIOT Act. Bush finds his mandate.Just two months later, America invades Afghanistan.Osama bin Laden escapes U.S. forces in Tora Bora.2002Afghanistan quickly becomes an afterthought as the public rush to war with Iraq begins in earnest.The ranks of Guantanamo Bay swell.So do the ranks of Republicans in Congress, in a rare mid-term election victory for the party already in power.2003In his State of the Union address, Bush utters the "16 words": "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."Colin Powell makes an error-plagued presentation to the United Nations Security Council.With the support of the country and the Congress-including most Democrats-Bush invades Iraq.May: More tax cuts.By bravely running against the war in a toxic, jingoistic climate, Howard Dean becomes an apparent phenomenon.American forces capture Saddam Hussein in a hole on a sheep farm in Iraq.2004Reports emerge of prisoner abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers in the prison at Abu Ghraib.Howard Dean comes in third in Iowa.Howard Dean screams awkwardly.The Democratic party nominates John Kerry as its presidential candidate, Kerry picks John Edwards as his running mate. A man named Barack Obama wows the nation with a stemwinder of a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.John Kerry makes a fool of George Bush at the debates. Karl Rove makes a fool of John Kerry everywhere else.Bush retains the presidency, with 50.7 percent of the popular vote, bringing greater majorities with him to Congress. That Obama guy wins a Senate seat.2005The President launches a fierce, but ultimately failed, push to "partially privatize" Social Security.August: Hurricane Katrina picks up a head of steam in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite ample warning, the Bush administration remains blithely unconcerned.Katrina strikes New Orleans. Levees fail. The 9th Ward floods. Nearly 2,000 people die. Heckuva job, Brownie.The Wall Street Journal breaks the Abramoff story.The New York Times breaks the warrantless wiretapping story.2006It's midterm season. Iraq is a quagmire, the case for the war is debunked, and the Republican party is embroiled in scandal. The Democrats' platform: We're not Republicans.The Congressional page scandal breaks. Congressman Mark Foley resigns from Congress. Republicans who shielded him are further disgraced.Democrats maul Republicans at the polls, retaking both the House and, surprisingly, the Senate. Bush calls it a "thumpin'."Bush fires Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.2007January: The U.S. Attorney scandal hits a tipping point. Democrats, now with subpoena power, go full throttle.Barack Obama-the guy from the speech?-launches his presidential campaign. He's widely expected to lose the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.Within months, after myriad officials leave the administration in disgrace, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigns.2008Obama shocks the nation, and wins the Iowa caucuses.John McCain becomes the presumptive nominee to be the GOP's presidential candidate.Obama and Hillary tussle for the Democratic nod. In June, Obama clinches it.September: Lehman brothers declares bankruptcy. Congress scrambles to pass a bailout package for the financial sector. The U.S. economy enters a precipitous decline. Unemployment skyrockets and panic ensues.Barack Obama wins the presidential election in a landslide.2009Over one million people descend upon an icy Washington D.C. to witness Obama's historic inauguration.February: After seizing control of the stimulus package, and trimming it of essential billions of dollars, centrist senators allow a bill to pass and be signed into law.The (political) tea bagging phenomenon goes viral.Arlen Specter switches parties, becoming the Democrats' 60th vote in the Senate.With 60 votes-the number needed to overcome a filibuster-Democrats hope to pass a historic health care bill before August. Complications within their own party prevent it. Tea partiers sense weakness and orchestrated town hall shout downs begin.In November, the House of Representatives passes major health care legislation. Obama's popularity has slipped notably since January.On December 1, Obama announces a plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose.Obama will not sign a health care bill before the end of the year. Republicans are energized. Democrats are not.
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The Decade in American Politics