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Opinion: When again will the good times roll?

It has been a dreary decade dominated by George Bush and book-ended by 9/11 and the financial collapse. The Twin Towers fell, dragging hope down with them.

The paint peels off a mural depicting New York City's Twin Towers in flames at the Madison School in Youngstown, Ohio, Nov. 21, 2009. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

BOSTON — Decades, those arbitrary spans of 10 years by which we measure the progress of our lives, seldom conform exactly to the rigors of the calendar. But the present decade, to which we are about to bid farewell, was marked by the bookends of 9/11 and the greatest financial meltdown since 1929.

Each decade has a personality of its own, and Time Magazine recently branded this one as “The Decade From Hell.” The Magazine had other names for it too, “the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.”

The decade was dominated by George W. Bush, and I am willing to bet that future historians will brand his reaction to 9/11 as the greatest over-reaction in history. That 19 suicide bombers could spend only half a million dollars and provoke such havoc, involving the United States in two wars that will continue on well into the next decade, seems incredible. We have made it the most successful act of terrorism in history.

In what should have been considered an international criminal conspiracy to be combated by good intelligence and better police work, Bush sent armies crashing into Muslims countries in an over-reaction that will most certainly add more recruits to terrorism than it has eliminated, or ever can.

A hundred years ago, in the last century’s first decade, America fell in love with Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive Republican who, as Samuel Eliot Morison wrote: “accepted the new industrial order … but wished to probe its more scabrous excrescencies [and] bring it under government regulation.” President Obama will be lucky to be only half as successful in that effort. Roosevelt’s imperialistic urges, however, would later be much admired by neo-conservatives.

That century’s second decade fell under the long shadow of Woodrow Wilson. After the guns of World War I had been silenced, the United States stood at the pinnacle of its power — even more so than after World War II. Wilson’s 14 points presented at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 were the hope of the world, or its despair, depending on what you had to lose or gain from Wilsonianism.

What followed is remembered in song and story — a decade that began at the end of the World War and, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “leaped to a spectacular death” with the crash of 1929.

Fitzgerald summed up the decade as “a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure,” new music, new art, new mores and new prosperity,  "an age of miracles … an age of excess,” born aloft on a wave of forbidden speakeasy alcohol." But then “somebody blundered,” Fitzgerald wrote, “and the most expensive orgy in history was over.”