Trying to keep myself awake while doing some paperwork late last night at The Last Chance Democracy Café, I popped an oldie but goodie into the CD player — a recording of Billy Joel’s New Year’s Eve 2000 concert at Madison Square Garden.
Fairly early in the performance, Joel introduced the song I’ve Loved These Days, a number he said they hadn’t preformed publicly since 1976. He thought it was an appropriate song for the occasion, he said, because things were going pretty well for us then — you know, he continued, there are good times, bad times — and these were pretty good times for America.
The audience shouted out their agreement.
Man that seems like a million years ago — back when the World Trade Center was still standing, the United States retained the moral authority to criticize other nations for abusing civil liberties without looking like a country of complete hypocrites and the Supreme Court had never stolen a presidential election.
The economy was buzzing, jobs were plentiful, wages were on the rise after years of stagnation, America was more or less at peace, the federal budget was in surplus, New Orleans was still the original Big Easy, a city like no other and the United States was at least reasonably popular in most parts of the world.
And despite endless investigations, the only crime the President of the United States was seriously accused of committing involved a blow job.
Jesus, how did we fall so far so fast?
It’s actually a little humbling, when you reflect on it. I don’t think even most liberals back in late 2000/early 2001 thought it could get this bad this fast: A totally unnecessary war, corruption running deep into the very soul of our government, the United States all but openly embracing torture, suspects seized and held in secret without due process, deep divisions within the nation being deliberately aggravated and exploited rather than healed, massive budget deficits, reckless tax cuts mostly benefiting the wealthy, efforts to protect the environment and preserve wilderness areas radically scaled back, the worst terrorist attack in American history used repeatedly for partisan political advantage.
And perhaps worst of all, the United States, the onetime beacon of liberty to the world, now by far the most hated nation on the face of the planet.
Looking back, it strikes me that many of us who thought we’d rejected the boastfulness of the more extreme proponents of American exceptionalism, had actually been taken in, after all, at least a little. I know I was. As pessimistic as I felt about Bush’s upcoming presidency, I never believed at the gut level that the United States, the most powerful nation the world had ever known, could be so grievously and irrevocably harmed by just one bad president (even with the help of a bad Congress). Sure, I expected Bush to do harm, probably a lot of harm; but nothing like this.
It’s been a humbling experience at many levels, realizing just how vulnerable we are — how much our national destiny depends on the wisdom of the choices we make at the polls. Elections, as they say, really do matter, and this is true regardless of whether they’re ultimately decided by the will of the voters, through successful vote suppression and fraud or by the power of five Supreme Court justices.
There has lately been a lot of talk in the major media, as a result of the Yearly Kos convention, about how desperate the Democratic netroots are to find a way to win. No shit Sherlock.
We’ve seen the alternative.