Back in 1999, when everybody from Stephen Jay Gould to Arthur C. Clarke were arguing over whether the 21st Century began in 2000 or 2001, a great deal of discussion was had over what to call the new decade, whichever year kicked it off. But nobody could agree. The Aughts? The Oughts? The Naughts? The Naught-ies? The Zeroes? Personally, I liked the idea of calling it the “ut-oh” decade. I think I have pretty good grounds for claiming that, so far, it’s lived up to that name beyond a progressive’s worst nightmares.
Being a Gouldian in this affair, it’s my view that since we’ve now just about completed 100 months in the parade of “ut-oh” years, we’re not likely ever to get anybody to agree on a name for this decade. But how about a signature reform before the second decade of this century gets underway?
Ever since the railroad scandals of 140 years ago, Americans have been periodically encouraged to believe that one more round of reformist tinkering will shield elected officials from the bankable temptations of high office and make them all more accountable to us hoi polloi. Fruitless as these attempts to marry politicians and ethics have been, we keep trying. Tinker here. Tinker there.
They’re so clever. Reforms this morning? Loopholes by noon. And before you can say Credit Mobilier or The Keating 5 or Enron or Tom DeLay, some cheeky new crusader is spurring yet another sure-fire reform into the political arena.