What to call this decade that comes to a close at the end of this week? Saying "the eighties" or "the nineties" is easy. And each term conjures up images appropriate to the decade. Some decades got more than just a number, like the Roaring Twenties. Just saying "the 60s" (and not the 60's of Mad Men) says a mouthful and leads to thoughts of riots, free love, hippies, tie dye and bell bottoms. For this decade that is soon to be history in its own right, some have suggested the "Aughts." Others, the "Oh-Ohs." Now more than ever, it seems, we need some way to name the decade, one that saw two historic presidential elections (one contested), a devastating terrorist attack, tens of thousands killed and maimed in two wars, a city destroyed by a hurricane, millions losing their homes to foreclosure, and the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression. All of these phenomena make the decade momentous. Given all of these extraordinary events, it is hard to turn around without someone saying that "now more than ever" tough times call for tough measures. Indeed, the last ten years were laden with opportunities for many to use and abuse the Now More Than Ever mantra. Perhaps, then, that should be the name for the period: the "Now More Than Evers," or, the NMTEs, for short.
Now More Than Ever is a term used to sell cars, promote big box stores, and lead investors to choose brokerage houses. The phrase seemed to first enjoy wide use in the immediate wake of 9/11, as people expressed their love for New York, then more than ever. It made its way into presidential speeches and the mouths of talking heads, pronouncing the need to combat terrorism, promote homeownership and cut regulations. George W. Bush turned to the phrase often to sell his wars and to convince the nation of his convictions. His use of it also reflected his deep and self-congratulatory sense of his perceived place in history. And it is that sense, that profound exceptionalism, that is probably what the phrase symbolizes more than anything else: a belief that the times are special, pivotal, important.
Interestingly, it was not George W. Bush who introduced the phrase to the political discourse. In fact, it was another Republican President, Richard Nixon, who used the NMTE phrase in his re-election effort in1972. In that campaign, Nixon played on people's fears and used the phrase to reassure the voting public that he was a steady and trustworthy hand at the rudder during turbulent times. And we all know how that turned out.
Today, a Democratic president, one who campaigned on hope and change, has picked up the NMTE mantra. He used the phrase at a DNC fundraiser in October of this year. He also invoked it liberally on the campaign trail in October 2008, using it in a speech on national security in Virginia, as well as speeches in Florida and Colorado that same month.
Since the NMTE phrase has clearly entered the lexicon of the times, the perception is that these last ten years presented daunting challenges. But chest thumping and threats of "bring it on" did not serve us so well this decade. Saying "now more than ever" is consistent with a particular attitude. Its use is an attempt to convey that one knows the challenges of the times and possesses the thoughtful responses needed to meet them. This last decade seemed to have a lot of the first, but too little of the second. It's time to turn the page: Now More Than Ever, of course.