Good riddance to one very bad decade

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If you have ever read a book to a child, it is possible you may have read Judith Viorst's classic story, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

It is about a little boy -- the aforementioned Alexander -- who wakes up grumpy and stays that way all day through a series of misadventures and disappointments.

He trips on his skateboard, drops his sweater in the sink, finds no treat in his breakfast cereal box, doesn't like his car pool ride, can't impress his teacher, finds no dessert in his lunch bag, goes to the dentist after school, et cetera and et cetera and so on, all confirming the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Oh, and he wants to move to Australia (me, too!). When the terrible (et cetera, et cetera and et cetera) day finally draws to a close and he goes to bed, he recalls his mom saying that some days are like that. Even in Australia.

It occurs to me that we, the American people, are Alexander -- only our day has been a little longer. Collectively, we have had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decade.

A word about this decade business. There are those who insist that the decade ends a year from now, not at the end of 2009. These are the same pesky pedants who insisted a new millennium did not start in the year 2000. Being technically correct, they insist on showing how smart they are.

Good luck to them. Why, we should wish them well as we ignore their argument and the evidence of their smartness. That is because they are good at math but have no feeling for poetry -- and what is the ending of a decade but a moment made for poetry?

So let us proceed to discuss the past decade as we the people understand it. To abbreviate Alexander's long lament, the past decade was not a good one.

This judgment is not mine alone, although I would make a wonderful authority, if I say so myself. In the week before Christmas, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released polling data that showed relatively few Americans have positive things to say about "the worst decade in 50 years."

"By roughly two-to-one, more say they have a generally negative (50 percent) rather than a generally positive (27 percent) impression of the past 10 years. This stands in stark contrast to the public's recollection of other decades in the past half-century. When asked to look back on the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, positive feelings outweigh negative in all cases," the Pew report said.

And you should have heard what people said about it. "The single most common word or phrase used to characterize the past 10 years is downhill, and other bleak terms such as poor, decline, chaotic, disaster, scary, and depressing are common."

It seems to me we have heard all this before -- from Alexander, as it happens.

Of course, comparisons with other generations are problematic. It is easy to understand why people in the '60s might have felt upbeat -- they were all stoned; well, not everybody, some did not inhale. And there's no trusting any judgment about the '70s, when folks were swinging to the disco beat and wearing polyester leisure suits, surely the final proof they had lost their minds.

Taken with the material girls of the '80s and the dot-com bubble of the '90s, distracted people did not have time to be full of woe. And then came the decade of the aughts to turn us all into Alexander the Great Whiner.

It was, of course, not without terrible, horrible, no good, very bad features. In the spirit of the season, I shall keep this catalogue of troubles general and not point fingers at any one president because it seems to me we have all been spoiled brats together and are all complicit in the juvenile behavior we call the political culture.

After the fake alarms of Y2K, we woke up Alexander-like from our false sense of security, dropped our guard to those who would sink us, found no weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's box, didn't like others who would not ride with us, couldn't impress the world, found nothing sweet in our political bag, went to the poor house at the end of the day, et cetera and et cetera and so on, all confirming this as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad decade.

But so what? As our moms might say, some decades are like that. Even in Australia. So I say, Happy New Year and a terrific, hopeful, good, not bad, new decade!


Reg Henry can be reached at rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668. Read his blog "Reg on Wry" at post-gazette.com/forum.


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