CBS’s Sunday Morning featured a commentary in which New Yorker magazine staff writer Rebecca Mead looked back at the past decade and hailed the “remarkable...election of a certified intellectual as President” before she cited “unforeseen blights of the era,” listing: “Small plates, Sarah Palin, Chinese dry wall, jeggins.” A fine encapsulation how the New York-based media elite’s view the world.
In her opinion piece tied to confusion over what to call the just-completed decade, she also characterized “the cumulative casualties of war and the infringements of civil liberties that took place under President Bush” as “evidence of at least partial victory” for al-Qaeda.
Mead’s CBS commentary delivered a condensed version of a January 4-dated New Yorker article, “What Do You Call It?,” in which she expressed astonishment John Kerry did not beat George W. Bush and fantasized about a Gore presidency. Mead rued how “the decade saw the unimaginable unfolding” of “the depravities of Abu Ghraib, and, even more shocking, their apparent lack of impact on voters in the 2004 Presidential election.” Plus, she imagined in the magazine:
In the alternate decade of fantasy, President Gore, forever slim and with hairline intact, not only reads those intelligence memos in the summer of 2001 but acts upon them; he also ratifies the Kyoto Protocol and invents something even better than the Internet.
Mead’s commentary on the January 3 Sunday Morning on CBS:
In retrospect, it might be recognized as a troubling harbinger that ten years ago no consensus could be reached on what to call the decade upon which we were about to embark.. The O's? The double-O's? The zeros, the zips, the aughts. We still don't have a good collective name for the first decade of the 21st century but perhaps that's appropriate since it turned out to be the decade in which there were no good answers.
It began in overwrought hysteria about the millennium bug. Having readied ourselves for that disaster, the one that actually did materialize came as a surprise. It has been suggested that the appropriate designation for this decade might be the post 9/11 era. Others argue that to give the decade such a name would be letting the terrorists win. As if the cumulative casualties of war and the infringements of civil liberties that took place under President Bush were not already evidence of at least partial victory.
The decade saw the unimaginable unfolding. The depravities of Abu Ghraib and the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. The catastrophic popping of the housing bubble exposing an economy that was not even on sand but fairy dust. The astonishing near collapse of the world financial system and the discovery that the supposedly ironclad laws of the marketplace were only about as reliable as superstition. And after all this, there's still more remarkable. The election of a certified intellectual as President. Not to mention an African-American one.
There was the assent of the digital realm with our happy surrender to the omnipotence of Google. And what of those other unlikely innovations and unforeseen blights of the era: Small plates, Sarah Palin, Chinese dry wall, jeggins?
Given all that has emerged in the past ten years, the failure to invent a satisfactory name for the period seems fitting -- a reflection of our sense that the so-called aughts were not all they ought to have been and were so much less than they promised to be with its intractable conflicts and its irresolvable crises it's astonishing accomplishments and its devastating failures. The decade just gone by remains unnamed and unclaimed. An orphaned era that no one quite wants to own or own up to.