The Most Important Election Ever. Since the Last One.

One of the benefits of closely observing political campaigns over 25 years is that you get to see how politicians use the same recurring themes, as do political partisans. The right seems particularly fond of declaring every campaign the most important election of their lifetimes, or since some randomly chosen time in the past, or in the entire history of the country. Here’s Dennis Prager taking that platitude out for a spin:

Election Day 2012 will not be a presidential election. It will be a plebiscite.

Americans will not only be voting for a president (and a House and a third of the Senate). They will be participating in a plebiscite on the definition of America.

If Americans re-elect the Democrat, Barack Obama, they will have announced that America should be like Western European countries — governed by left-wing values. Americans will have decided that America’s value system — “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum” — should be replaced.

The election in November is therefore a plebiscite on the American Revolution. The usual description of presidential elections — “the most important in our lifetime” — is true this time. In fact, it may be the most important election since the Civil War, and possibly since America’s founding.

*yawn* Yeah, yeah, yeah. Conor Friedersdorf says it’s time to retire that cliche forever, and he quotes Prager saying the same thing in 2010:

Next Tuesday, November 2, 2010 is not Election Day. It is Referendum Day. It may be commonplace for commentators to announce that every election is “the most important election in our lifetime” or something analogous. But having never said that of a presidential election, let alone an off-year election, this commentator cannot be accused of crying wolf when I say that this off-year election is not simply the most important of my lifetime.

It is the most important since the Civil War.

Just like Limbaugh, who said the same thing about this election, the 2010 elections and the 2000 election. And others:

Bill O’Reilly says 2012 is the most important election of our lifetime. He thought the same thing in 2008.

Michael Barone declares 2012 the most important election in “everyone’s lifetime.” He thought Election 2004 was the most important “in generations” too.

Every election is always the most important one ever. Because that’s not a serious argument, it’s a political marketing slogan. It’s the “Just Do It” of politics, with “it” being vote for the guy they want you to vote for and send them money. Work yourself up into a lather, rinse, repeat.

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  • raven

    I would say this election is far more important than most in my lifetime.

    George Bush wrecked the USA and set us back a generation.

    Romney will most likely do the same thing. Make that two lost generations. Bush wasn’t actually trying to wreck the USA, he was simply very dumb.

    Romney doesn’t care if he wrecks the country. I’ve never seen someone so obviously a pawn of class warfare, the 1% against everyone else. It’s not like they actually have to live here. The vast majority of Romney’s ca. $250 million fortune is offshore, Bermuda, the Caymans, and Switzerland.

    If he and the christofascists win, I’m just going to give up on the USA. I can’t stop 314 million lemmings from running over a cliff. The next task is figuring out how to survive the Romney Catastrophe.

  • jdrs0819

    I don’t see a problem with characterizing virtually every election since 1980 as “the most important election of our lives,” considering that’s when the Religious Right teamed up with the Republicans and took advantage of the fractured coalition the Democrats suffered from in 1968 — a coalition that existed for almost the entirety of the party’s existence.

    The Republicans have continued to get crazier and crazier, now we’re at a possible nadir of the Southern Strategy, and their embrace of a complete dismantlement of the welfare state. We’re essentially at a time of new realignment, but it’s hard to see when, precisely, that will happen when it’s happening in real-time.

    So yes, this is “the most important election of my lifetime,” and will continue to be so until the GOP comes back to being the party of Eisenhower.

    Think of it like in Office Space when Peter says, “Every day is the worst day of my life. Every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it.” That’s the Republicans since 1980: every single batch of Republicans is worse than the one before it.

  • brianthomas

    I will say this though: I am more into this election than any I will have participated in in a long time. Because, for me, if Obama does pull it off, I will feel a lot better about this country. It will tell me that the fear, bigotry and negativity that the tea-baggers and the republicans have been peddling in recent elections just isn’t selling like it used to, and that maybe, just MAYBE, this country is starting to turn in a more progressive and sane direction.

  • If Americans re-elect the Democrat, Barack Obama, they will have announced that America should be like Western European countries — governed by left-wing values. Americans will have decided that America’s value system — “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum” — should be replaced.

    As if us Europeans are so oppressed over here, with no liberty whatsoever. I got to vote for 18 freaking different parties in the most recent parliamentary election. How many parties does Prager get to choose from? Who then has more liberty? The US could do worse than becoming more like Europe.

    And by the way, wasn’t “E Pluribus Unum” replaced long ago? And not by the Democrats, I might add.

  • It’s not entirely crazy to think that there’s a ratcheting effect since the two parties have become more ideologically polarized that makes the stakes of each election a bit higher than the last. Although, there has to be a limit to how high it can go.

    The Republicans have now gone so far off the deep end that if Obama loses they will see it as validation of their dysfunctional belief system, and with characteristic arrogance will double-down and go full wingnut. It will be like the Bush years on steroids.

    If Obama wins and has a successful second term, I expect the 2016 election to have relatively low stakes. This is especially true if the Republicans feel chastised and back off their craziness, but we all know how likely that is.

  • Chiroptera

    I think that the Democrats are justified in thinking each new election is the most important one since the last.

    Each election is increasing a choice between sliding a little further down into the pit vs. jumping head first into the bottomless abyss.

  • Deen@4:

    You’re not fooling anyone. We all know that you in a socialist hellhole where the government puts you in front of death panels if you get a cold. I saw it on Fox so it must be true.

    On the show MASH, Frank Burns once said he wouldn’t mind the UN if it wasn’t “full of foreigners”.

    This is where our right wing is today. What was once seen as a caricature is now the norm. We have an entire party of Frank Burns wannabes.

  • It’s also interesting that every Democratic presidential candidate is “the most far-left Democrat EVER!!!1!”

    Well, somebody better get a sword over to Dennis Prager’s house STAT, because his panties have got to be twisted tighter than the Gordian Knot.

  • Michael Heath

    I concede such pronouncements are highly subjective. But I do find value having the argument because it’s one of the few times we get partisans to talk about strategic issues vs. day-to-day topics of the moment.

    In hindsight, but not during the electoral season in 1980, I think the 1980 election was the most important election since I became politically aware in 1976 (though I wasn’t old enough to vote in presidential election until 1980). It solidified that conservatives would dominate the Republican party, fostered a transformation of the conservative mind to a far more anti-intellectual mindset, and was the first big cut to killing off Republican moderates and centrism in general.

    1980 moderates and independents weren’t voting for the conservatism that followed, but instead for a successful large-state governor over a president who was perceived at the time to have failed. I also find far too much blame or credit is given to President Reagan for this phenomena though he obviously contributed to it; especially with his rhetoric along with some though not all of his policies, and his nomination of Antonin Scalia to the SCOTUS. I think the 2000 election runs a close second with no close thirds.

    If I was as sufficiently informed in 2000 as I currently am than I think one can make the case during the 2000 election campaign that election one could determine that was the most important since 1976. A lot of voters at that time thought there wasn’t much difference between the Republicans and Democrats in 2000, Bush sure changed that perspective upon becoming president.

    Given what a reasonably informed voter should have known during a given election season, I think 2004 was easily the most important election. That’s because of what we learned about President Bush as he presided, i.e., his reckless fiscal policies, and his climate change mitigation obstruction as president. That key factor is coupled to our fully grasping the control conservative Christians had on the GOP along with how they both thought and practiced politics. (See Thomas Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, as a good perspective for what we know about conservatives at that time, where they’ve only descended further into hatred and lunacy since then).

    2004 was perhaps our last gasp at starting to effectively mitigate the threat to climate change so the results won’t be catastrophic in terms of GDP and the lives of poor people in susceptible regions of the world); certainly not after 2004 though perhaps our last chance was prior to 2004. So I find this 2012 election trivial to 2000 and 2004 because the big dies are already cast. Unfortunately that’s because I believe:

    a) there is no hope of short- or intermediate-term reform for the Republican party after they won in 2004 and,

    b) Republicans will succeed at obstructing any optimal reforms of our budgetary process and climate change mitigation over the next four years.

    So I see the 2000 election as critical for two reasons:

    1) It led to President Bush enabling the GOP to monolithically deny global warming or addressing the threat.

    2) It solidified conservative Christians becoming the base of the party with no competing #2 or #3; they’re it when it comes to a large group of voters. In 2000 their share of the GOP was about 56% IIRC, it’s up to about 72% now though that’s largely due to the number of people who self-identify as either Republicans or leaners declining as a share of the population. As illustrated by:

    a) the voting level – people like me leaving the evening of the 2008 GOP convention when the delegates unanimously approved Sarah Palin as their VP candidate or a higher level,

    b) at the leadership level Olympia Snowe retiring from the Senate, and

    c) leaders like ex-NJ Gov. Christine Whitman getting ostracized because she’s a moderate.

  • istilldream

    If we define “most important” as “largest policy gap between the candidates,” then there’s nothing wrong with that reasoning. There’s a great new book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein (from Brookings and Heritage respectively) called It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which looks at the current state of the American political system and concludes that the reason it’s working so poorly is that because our constitutional system and legislative rules give so much power to the minority party, they are incompatible with sharply polarized adversarial parties.

    At any rate, they crunch the numbers on the votes and policy positions, and they conclude that the gap between the Democrats and the Republicans has been steadily widening over the last 10 years, and that it is now the widest it has been in modern American history. They explicitly point out that this is due exclusively to the move towards extremism by the Republicans (the Dems have actually moved right), but the fact remains that the gap is large and widening.

    Thus, if every election presents a more polarized set of policies than the one before, then each election really will the most important one thusfar, because it will have the largest potential policy impact.

  • cry4turtles

    As far as women’s rights, this is the most important election since I’ve been voting. We simply must bury the teapublicans or I may have to move to Sweden, or Belize, or France, etc.

  • Jordan Genso

    My period of political awareness is relatively short, so I wouldn’t want to compare this election to other years when I wasn’t paying attention, but comparing this year to 2008, I think I give the edge to the 2008 election being more important.

    If McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate led him to victory in Nov 2008, I think Area Man’s point @5 would apply to that year as well:

    The Republicans have now gone so far off the deep end that if Obama loses they will see it as validation of their dysfunctional belief system, and with characteristic arrogance will double-down and go full wingnut. It will be like the Bush years on steroids.

    And if they had won in 2008, based on the nonsense that Sarah Palin was promoting, then the Republicans would’ve been in power as we were in the middle of a downward spiral, and they would’ve possibly accelerated the descent. If Romney wins this year, I think the worst-case economic scenario is that he once again sends us into that downward spiral.

    Also, if McCain had won in 2008, rather than Sotomayor and Kagan on the Supreme Court, we’d have two more conservative justices. If Romney wins this year, I don’t think he’d get to replace two liberal justices.

    Other than the argument that the Tea Party Republicans have become more extreme, I’m not seeing any other argument that shows this election is more important than 2008*.

    *Given that the urgency we face with climate change will probably not be addressed sufficiently regardless of who wins 🙁

  • It would be interesting to talk to Prager and see what he actually thinks is going on in Europe. I suspect it has little to no connectiion to reality.

  • tingueguen@13:

    Why should Prager’s view of Europe be any more accurate than his view of what’s going on in America?

  • anaximanchild

    Well, it could be the case that the elections just keep getting more important. In that case, they would all be the “most important” at the time. 😉