A Bloody Decade of Fear and Vaunting
by Anthony Gregory
On September 10, 2001, many who thirsted for liberty smelled hope in the air. The Clinton era was over and the new Bush era showed signs of being less eventful, even more peaceful. The Republican had won on a platform of a humbler foreign policy than Clinton-Gore’s, and had by late 2001 pushed through his tax cut. More to the point, he already seemed an impotent president, having just barely won after one of the most contentious rounds of recounts and court challenges in electoral history. The Senate was split down the middle. Much of Bush’s domestic policy, itself an unconvincing continuation of Clintonian moderation, seemed doomed, and on foreign policy – such as in his handling of the China spy plane affair – he was refreshingly calm compared to the more hawkish elements of his party.
Clinton hadn’t even been that bad, even considering the steady expansion of regulations, a horribly unjust war (though not one as terrible as Operation Desert Storm), and the largest single federal law enforcement atrocity in living memory. But he was not the LBJ or FDR he wanted to be, and yet he helped awaken a new distrust in government, especially on the right, that had been asleep throughout the Reagan-Bush wrap-up of the Cold War years. For people to hate even Clinton’s generally milquetoast tyranny so much was a wonderful thing to witness. All in all, throughout the 1990s, government had grown at a manageable pace compared to the economy, there was even a nominal surplus in 1998, and the growing Internet pointed to new opportunities for technology and freedom. U.S. foreign policy had been steadily aggressive, especially in the Middle East, but this did not pose the direct threat to liberty at home that would come to distinguish the years that followed.
On September 10, 2001, I was a 20-year-old American history student in my junior year at UC Berkeley, hopeful that the next decade would be as relatively placid as the Clinton years. My friends and I sat and watched This Is Spinal Tap that night, embodying that pre-9/11 mentality that has been so viciously derided ever since.
A phone call from my dad woke me up the next morning. A few of my roommates were already watching the news. Talking heads on Fox, which I had preferred to the statist liberals on CNN, were calling for blood, saying it was time to let loose “the dogs of war.” It was the beginning of a nightmare that has so far lasted ten years.