If you haven’t heard this yet, sometime soon you will. A politician will proclaim this the Most Important Election in your life time.
Or in a generation. Or since World War II. They might say “of the century” but that’s really not much, because the century is only 12 years old, so they’ll probably substitute “of the last hundred years.”
But there will be pronouncements that this year’s election – for the White House, for Congress, for governor, for anything above dog catcher – is the Most Important Election for some time span that will make you sit up and take notice.
One doesn’t have to be the great Karnak to make this prediction. With the Republican National Convention next week and the Democratic National Convention the next, there will be no shortage of hyperbolic superlatives.
The Most Important Election – by which a candidate often means “because you can vote for me” – occurs without fail at a minimum of every four years. At the risk of sounding as old as Methuselah, I can’t recall a presidential election reaching back to 1972 in which at least the candidate of the out-party didn’t make that claim.
So where does 2012 land on the important-ometer of the last 40 years?
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Above George McGovern’s claim that Richard Nixon failed on his promise to end the Vietnam War? Above the need in 1976 to heal the country after Watergate? Above ending the malaise and getting hostages back from Iran in 1980? Above finishing the job of “morning in America” in 1984? Above recovering from Iran Contra and managing the end of the Cold War in 1988? Above dealing with a post Gulf War recession and “the crazy aunt in the attic” as Ross Perot called the deficit, in 1992? Above cleaning out corruption in the White House or staving off government shutdowns in 1996? Above private alternatives for Medicare and Social Security vs. Al Gore’s lock box in 2000? Above the dispute over how to conduct wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the “swift-boating” of John Kerry in 2004? Above a faltering economy and the chance to elect the first African American president in 2008?
These are shorthand descriptions of those races, of course. Other things were important to many people in each cycle. But in each of those years, some presidential candidate stood on a podium or a stage, in front of a camera or a microphone, and proclaimed this to be the Most Important Election in (fill in the blank).
Maybe the way to settle these claims for the presidential race is with MIE bracketology, and a bit of hindsight.
In the incumbents-win division, 1972 loses to 1984, even though both are landslides, because Ronald Reagan actually finished his second term but Richard Nixon did not. 2004 beats the Perot rerun of 1996, and goes on to beat 1984 in the playoff on the excitement factor because challenger Kerry finished closer to incumbent George W. Bush than Bob Dole did to Bill Clinton or Walter Mondale did to Reagan.
In the incumbents-lose division, 1980 beats 1976 because, let’s face it, the winner of 1980 beat the winner of 1976. 1992 would have to face the winner of the play-in from the no-incumbents league, which would be 1988 over 2000 because the sitting vice president won, and that’s relatively rare and the real thrills of ’00 came afterwards in the courts. 1992 beats 1988 because of Perot was in the mix and in his prime, but 1980 has to top that division because, really, no one beats Reagan; for that reason 1980 also beats 2004.
If you can think 2012 beats 1980 – recession beats stagflation, a 10-year war in Afghanistan beats a 444-day hostage crisis in Tehran – maybe it’s the MIE, at least until the next election.
Opinions, of course, may vary.