Best of the decade: Eugene Robinson on major domestic events

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Eugene Robinson, Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, December 15, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Dec. 8 to discuss his top ten major domestic events of the decade.

Archive of past discussions.

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Eugene Robinson: Hi, everyone. Today, we're talking about the top ten events of the decade. Lots to choose from, to put it mildly. What would your ranking be? Let's get started.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Hey, Eugene. Don't you think that perhaps the most signal phenomenon of the last nine years (decade ends 2010!) is the continuing rise of the Internet and of dedicated political, niche sites. That sad fact allows those of a certain mind-set (whether Daily Kos-ers or Teabaggies) to find information that confirms their prejudices and short-circuits the chances for informed and rational dialogue? My vote!

Eugene Robinson: I agree that this was a huge, huge phenomenon. But I think it's a phenomenon that we're going to have to learn to live with. If you look at cable news, for example, Fox and MSNBC are doing well while CNN is doing poorly. The idea of one-size-fits-all news, unfortunately, may be giving way.

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Boston: I think your ranking is about right for the moment but I'm guessing that the 2008 financial crisis, recession and, most importantly, a period of deep and sustained unemployment and unemployment will have a deeper impact historically than the 9-11 tragedy. Read the NY Times piece on the financial and emotional toll these high levels of unemployment/underemployent are having on millions of Americans and their families. Our job creation engine is structurally broken and the 2008 financial crisis was like a loud backfire announcing the engine seizure.

Eugene Robinson: I think the financial crisis will, indeed, have a long and perhaps profound impact. But it's hard for me to imagine ranking anything above 9/11 at this point. It literally changed the world, and the reverberations will continue for many, many years.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I like your list. There really is a connection between the events of the last decade. Essentially, the 2000 election; 9/11; Hurricane Katrina; invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; and the 2008 Financial Crisis all contributed to first Speaker Pelosi's elevation and then the election of President Obama. There is some of this in every decade. But it was a very strong backlash in the events at the end of the decade toward the earlier part of the decade.

Eugene Robinson: True. Take Obama's election, for example. The impact of the election of the first African-American president is simply enormous. Hard to overstate. But he established himself as a viable candidate in the primaries with his stance against the Iraq war. And the Iraq war wouldn't have happened without 9/11 (even though, of course, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11).

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Los Angeles: Michael Jackson's death? Really? A year from now you're going to feel silly for having included this.

Eugene Robinson: Maybe. In part, the inclusion of Michael Jackson's death probably stems from my belief that culture really is important -- that it's a big part of our lives, and to pretend otherwise is silly. Jackson was a huge cultural icon, and I'm guessing that we will look back on his life and work as a touchstone that helps define an era. But, of course, I could be wrong.

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Washington, DC: Red Sox winning 2004 World Series is still #1 story of the decade.

Eugene Robinson: In certain zip codes near, what is it, Yawkey Way? I imagine so.

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Los Angeles: A significant if not the biggest political event of the decade is the Supreme Court siding with and enabling Bush to become President in 2000. The Bush Administration -- GW, Rove, Cheney, Condi, Rumsfeld, Gonzo, Libby, et.al. -- came into office under dubious circumstances but with a Federal Budget surplus. They left with the US facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and undercut America's standing in the world with two wars (one unnecessary). So much for the Supremes' political astuteness or lack thereof and perhaps why they covered their decision with the fig leaf statement that it was not precedent setting.

Eugene Robinson: Yes, that was a huge political story. I think Bush v. Gore helped exacerbate the bitterness in politics today -- the anger that we see and hear. History would have been different if Al Gore had been president during 9/11, though we can't know exactly how it would have been different. Imagine what our policy would be right now on climate change.

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Dallas, Tex.: I would have to say Katrina, as it was a complete breakdown in our government. People were asking afterward, " What are we paying taxes for?" John Locke would roll over in his grave after that debacle. It started a process that has the populace feel completely disenfranchised from its government.

Also the dot-com bubble bursting was pretty significant, IMHO.

Eugene Robinson: Politically, Hurricane Katrina was the first really damaging blow to the Bush presidency. Even to independents and Republicans, the Bush administration looked incompetent. You're right -- if our government can't do better than this for American citizens in a natural disaster, what good is it?

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Washington, DC: The adoption of same sex marriage in Massachusetts was the #1 cultural issue of the decade. It changed the game for LGBT rights, and it placed the "cultural wars" front and center for the entire decade. It was a legal landmark, like Brown v. Bd of Education that will be studied for decades.

Eugene Robinson: Certainly a huge step, and you may be right that we'll look back on Massachusetts as a landmark. I think it may be a little early to tell.

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Helena, Mt: The IPOD? I would expect health care reform to rank higher than that. In the unlikely event that we get real, honest reform it will re-invigorate our economy---if we don't, restoration of the economy will be an uphill battle.

Just think what health care for all U.S. citizens at a cost of around 10% of GDP (just like other industrialized countries) would do for our country's future.

Eugene Robinson: Health care reform isn't done yet, unfortunately. Will we have a final bill, signed by the president, by New Year's? Doesn't look like it.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm good with 1 through 3; but 4 and 5 should be reversed -- and Pelosi as speaker dropped to #10 (although still a significant story). Frankly, there is a case for making a tie between 9/11 and the 2008 financial meltdown -- both have been devastating to this country.

Eugene Robinson: Here's why I think you have to rank 9/11 at the top: Even though we knew we lived in an interconnected world, we in the United States still enjoyed a certain sense of invulnerability. To have an enemy cause such devastation and loss of life on American soil was traumatic in ways that I don't think we fully understand, even now, more than eight years later. Think about how different life is the next time you go to the airport and catch a flight.

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Croton-On-Hudson: Having been there (all be it in Lafayette) and seen it firsthand. I think Katrina should have helped shape our domestic policy to a larger degree than I feel it has. I feel it should only be overshadowed by the degree to which 9/11 has shaped our foreign policy. Can I get you to comment?

Eugene Robinson: I agree, in that one of the things Katrina did was to shine a light on the poverty and dysfunction that had existed in New Orleans long before the storm, and that exists in cities around the country today. We, as a nation, told ourselves that we were shocked and that we were going to do something about it. We haven't.

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Richmond, Va.: The collapse of California into "failed state" status as a national harbinger?

Eugene Robinson: That's a good one, in that I think you could argue that at the beginning of the decade, the California Dream was still alive. Is it today? (Although you could argue that the precipitating event happened much earlier, with the passage of Proposition 13.)

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Helena, MT: Eugene- What about the melting polar icecaps, glaciers, etc (i.e. global warming)? Doesn't that qualify as an "event", or is it just an ongoing problem?

Eugene Robinson: When the final numbers are in, this is likely to have been the warmest decade on record. So, yes, that can qualify as an event.

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Washington, DC: "Imagine what our policy would be right now on Climate Change." Ha, come on Mr. Robinson, Kyoto was introduced in 1997 when he was VP...and they didn't do anything.

I think something that isn't in your list is Fannie and Freddie. We know Rham was on the board and encouraged all the horrible lending that almost broke us. We know Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and the "Friends of Angelo" refused Bush's attempt to regulate Fannie and Freddie.

We know Frank used to date one of the heads of the company, and we know Dodd mad millions from AIG.

This isn't even on your list?

Eugene Robinson: "Financial crisis" is an umbrella item covering a multitude of sins.

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Immigration?: Given every US generation since the late 1700s has addressed "immigration", I find it surprising that it doesn't appear on your list. Nothing like mentioning "immigration" to get the party started. Who's in? Who's out? Why? Benefits? Jobs? Just a thought.

Eugene Robinson: As a long-term trend with great impact on our society, yes, immigration was a huge story. As an issue, it flared hot at times but then cooled off (except on Lou Dobbs' show).

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The long view: Recalling these lists from the century just passed (two world wars, worldwide depression, use of the atomic bomb, fall of USSR), the only two events of the past decade that might make the final century list are the Obama election and the economic collapse--depending on how both of them play out in the end.

Eugene Robinson: I'm not as bold as you are in beginning to sort out the century list so early in the game. But if I were, I think I might put climate change on the "watch" list.

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Centreville, Va.: "9/11 changed the world"

I would disagree. 9/11 was certainly a traumatic and shocking event. However, Bush/Cheney's reaction to it is what changed the world. An illegal war, torture, illegal wiretapping, loss of respect on the world stage, wholesale expansion of executive privilege, the list goes on and on...

Plenty of other countries deal with Terror attacks all the time. The scale and method were new, but still 'just' a terror attack. How about the Madrid train bombings? Given the amount of rail travel in Europe this affects quite a few people. The London Underground attacks? Many of the past administration's claims of "We haven't been attacked since 9/11" only work for very small definitions of 'we'.

Eugene Robinson: I have to disagree. The scale, coordination and devastation of the 9/11 attacks were of a different order of magnitude, in my opinion. I think we'd still be living in a fundamentally different world, even if Bush and Cheney had not been in office.

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washingtonpost.com: Make sure to vote in round two of our most influential person of the decade bracket.

Eugene Robinson: A note from our sponsor:

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Mexico City: Could you please elaborate on the Pelosi entry of your list?

Eugene Robinson: For a woman to become Speaker of the House is a big step along the road to equal rights. She is a pioneer, and we don't give her accomplishment enough credit.

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Jersey City, NJ: Your list fills me with such sadness. To me this past decade is the worst since WWII (which I am too young to remember). I sure hope we can get better after this string of disasters.

Eugene Robinson: I hope so, too. Here's to a better decade.

Literally, we could talk about this all day, folks. But my time is up. Thanks so much for participating, and I'll see you again next week.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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