Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Most Important Election of My Lifetime

Every four years, the same tired claim is made:  "This is the most important election of our lifetimes -- maybe even the most important in American history!"  It is a very annoying claim -- firstly because it is obviously not the case that each election is more important than all the elections that came before it, and secondly because it should be enough that this is the only election we can affect now.

It does make me wonder, though:  What actually is the most important election in which I have been able to vote? 

It seems reasonable confine the question to presidential elections, and to base my answer on several considerations.
  • Was there a particularly important issue at stake?
  • Was there a difference between the stances of the two candidates?
    • Was the difference real, or merely rhetorical?
    • Was the issue really a priority to the two candidates, or was it at the bottom of their wish lists?
  •  Did the issue regard something that a president can actually have an important effect?
Let's go through a list of likely distinctions, then.  Abortion is a hugely important issue, but it is (a) largely outside a president's control, and (b) clearly not an actual priority of Republican presidents, however much they might hype it to certain crowds during fund-raisers and campaign rallies.  The whole "gay marriage" / transgender bathrooms / whatever spectrum of issues is likewise important, but, again, (a) it seems to be driven by cultural forces largely beyond a president's control, and (b) these issues have not featured prominently in the campaigns of Republicans this fall, in spite of the rapid and dramatic changes that have recently taken place.  How about the response to the terrorist attacks of September 11?  I think a US war in Afghanistan was an inevitable response from any president.  Also, although I could not have actually voted for Gore due to his positions on issues like abortion and family issues, he probably would not have invaded Iraq, and the Republican-controlled congress would probably not have given him the exaggerated powers that they granted George W. Bush.  So far, none of these elections are looking that important.

My best guess, then, is that the most important election I have voted in was my very first election, the one that elected George H. W. Bush.  The issue was the US behavior during the collapse of first East Germany, then the Warsaw Pact, then the Soviet Union itself -- and since nuclear war was a very real possibility, the stakes were amazingly high and the role of the president was absolutely essential.  I cannot be sure how Dukakis might have been different, but Bush had much more international experience, and the Soviet Union might have been more reluctant to react by lashing out with Ronald Reagan's protégé in office.  One way or another, that was a dangerous stretch of history, and it is something of a miracle that we got through it with no more violence than what happened in Romania, so I would not be willing to change anything about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment