On the last day of 2009, The Washington Post revisited the decade from its own narrow liberal persective. Style section writer Dan Zak found "we cheered the inauguration of a black man" and suggested the "we" was appropriate because 93 percent of D.C. voters cast a ballot for Obama. That’s probably a lower percentage than the Washington Post staff. Zak offered Time magazine’s decade-from-Hell mantra as the declaration of Everyone:
Everyone says this decade was the decade from hell, the lost decade , but also the decade of tantalizing evolution . The capital was the crucible for this paradox. Living the Aughts in the District was like magic realism, like heightened reality, a fever dream the rest of the world was having.
The plane that plowed into the Pentagon carried some of the area's brightest and incinerated some of its bravest, sending our neighbors into battle. In this decade, we built a grand memorial to the Greatest Generation but didn't properly care for the current generation at Walter Reed. We cheered the inauguration of a black man as leader of the free world, even as the capital's HIV rates hovered higher than West Africa's.
After a somber paragraph or two on 9/11 and the Beltway Snipers, there was that dark gash on the globe known as Bush’s war to liberate Iraq:
It all seemed to build toward March 2003, when George W. Bush announced Operation Iraqi Freedom from the Oval Office. His tie was red. Outside the draperied windows, twilight had given way to darkness. Students stopped at TVs in college dorms, nodded or cursed or zoned out, then moved on to their night classes in lieu of joining scattershot protests ("Hey hey, ho ho, we won't kill for Texaco!").
For those of us not connected to the military, what else was there to do those following years except grow numb to the procession of spouses who clutched folded American flags at the edges of graves, to the stream of young soldiers with lost limbs and lost minds?
The city was the engine of war, the repository for its consequences. It bore the symbolic blame for much of the decade's catastrophes (near and far) because whom do we blame if not the government? For the first half of the decade, the city felt industrial, desperate, cold, as clenched as a widow's fist.
That’s a perfect Post summary. There is no noble cause, no battlefield bravery, no tyrant deposed, no democracy born. There is only insanity and death. Earth to the Post: not "Everyone" felt that way. Not "everyone" warmed to the sight and sound of Socialist Workers claiming the war was for Texaco or Halliburton.
Then Zak recalled the supposedly universal joy at the election of Barack Obama:
There is no "hope" that The Washington Post would represent itself as something other than the official newspaper of inside-the-Beltway liberalism. They rejoice as the city suddenly escapes a stale trap of Bushism and stand side by side with the "mobs" jeering at Bush to evacuate. But they would present themselves as a force for civility and dignity and nonpartisan independence in national discourse.
The scene at 14th and U streets was sensational by anyone's measure. To that point, the decade's mass gatherings had been bilious protests or solemn candlelight vigils for murder victims in the Trinidad neighborhood and for teenage crash victims in the suburbs. If your experience with the District was limited to the Aughts -- if, in fact, 9/11 was your 18th birthday and the start of your first semester of college -- you'd never seen anything like this.
The city exhaled. There was joy in the streets at the epicenter of the 1968 race riots. Something felt completed, tied up in a bow, the polar opposite of the loneliness along Pennsylvania Avenue on 9/11. After all, in this hopelessly Democratic city, 93 percent of voters got their way.
The mobs went to the White House and shouted at it: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye." Two months later they shuffled their way onto the Mall for the inauguration. Young boys climbed bare trees to get a look. The mood was jubilant. The air was frigid, like someone had lifted the bell jar off the city.
The economy continued to crumble, and even Washington wasn't immune (scholarships started drying up in this college town, Virginia's unemployment program borrowed $89 million from the federal government). The squabble over health-care legislation dampened Democrats' expectation of change. Hope has only so much patience.