Shadowy Perspectives in the Time of Politics

The Relative Importance of Past Elections

There is a sense now that this could be the most important presidential election ever for our country. You hear it from this side of the aisle all the time. It is an important time for change, so vote because this election will be the one that changes our path. This election will determine if we can turn a downward socio-economic spiral into a surge upward. This election will get us away from policies based on war and toward policies based on diplomacy. This election is about the future.

But truth hides in shadowy perspectives on the past. I mean, if we go ahead, say, eight years, would we look back on this election with the same kind of intense gravitas which we ascribe to it now? More? Less? Certainly I can point to three presidential elections in my lifetime that seem very important now, though they did not necessarily occur that way at the time.


1968, in fact, was one that was just as important then as it is now. The country was deeply divided over age, over race, over rights and over another unwinnable war. There is no doubt that the intensity of that election and its subsequent result changed the way an entire generation approached politics and public service.


I think that one election to which we were not tuned in all the way was, in hindsight, 1980, Reagan/Carter. Reagan was elected only because he represented a clear difference from our pal Jimmy, who had a very tough administration. Even with a Democratic majority, he kept hitting roadblocks. That and the events in Tehran were Carter’s undoing. Reagan promised to bring us out of what Carter called our “national malaise.

I don’t think anyone foresaw how wildly popular Reagan would become, that he could take the Marines on a little tap dance through Grenada and call it a war, or that he could get away with fighting the Communist backed Sandinista government in Nicaragua by sending weapons to the Contras in exchange for cocaine sold to Americans by the CIA, or that he would be able to send arms to Iran via Israel to get hostages back, or that he could sell arms directly to the Iranians and use some of the money to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.

So 1980 saw the election of someone who we all knew would be difficult for progressive values, but we had no idea he would stay so busy sticking our collective noses where they didn’t belong.


The last, most important election was 2000. As my wife says, we knew we didn’t like him but we didn’t expect that W was actually dangerous. Who really knows what would have happened had the will of the people prevailed? Would a Gore administration have paid closer attention to the warnings before 9/11? We almost certainly would not have invaded and occupied Iraq:

“It is impossible to succeed against terrorism unless we have secured the continuing, sustained cooperation of many nations. And here’s one of my central points; our ability to secure that kind of multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism can be severely damaged in the way we go about undertaking unilateral action against Iraq.”Al Gore, Commonwealth Club, Sept.23, 2002

We probably would not have raided Social Security. There would most likely be no federal deficit. Really, in this case, hindsight reared its head quickly, followed four years later by intense regret.

Now we find ourselves in another “most important election.” Is it? Only time will tell.


3 thoughts on “Shadowy Perspectives in the Time of Politics

  1. I remember those days well. My entire family were “yellow dog” Democrats. They regarded FDR as a savior for rescuing them from the Depression…and, of course, Eisenhower sending troops to Little Rock assured the Dixiecrats of supremacy in the South for a generation. Ike did the right thing despite the political costs because he was a good,decent man and in my humble opinion, his Presidency is generally underestimated in the annals of history. The documentary “Why We Fight” has helped alleviate that misperception by highlighting one my favorite quotes. In his farewell speech after his 2nd term he warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex… Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Too bad the advise fell on deaf ears.But back to the point…Back when Ronald Reagan first ran for the Presidency, I had a cousin who’d defected to the Republicans and had become active in the Reagan campaign by putting up yard signs. One day my grandmother, who hardly ever mentioned politics, confronted him and wagged her crooked,bony finger in his face and declared angrily that “If you elect them Republicans, it’s gonna be Hoover days again!” Turns out Granny Matt knew what she was talking about and it’s come to fruition in the Bush administration…thus W has become what Herbert Hoover was to her generation.


  2. PRP, Really, that’s a big issue for all of us here in Red State, Georgia. I mean, I don’t know if you are old enough to remember, but there was a long time here, until at least 1971, that Dixiecrats turned Democrats ruled this redneck wasteland. Democrats won statewide and national elections because they were, with notable exceptions, states’-rights segregationists. Now all those white guys have either turned Republican or consider themselves Reagan Republicans (but here that’s a euphamism for Newt-ees). I remember noting a C-Span broadcast during the 2006 midterms that featured a New Jersey (congressional?) debate. The Republican in that debate was like a Georgia Democrat in his embracing of populist and progressive social policies. I would consider him for dog catcher.What I think is really interesting is that as the Democrats collect so called “moderates” in Mississippi and Louisiana (who might not get my dog catcher vote), the Republicans fret and the Democratic majority grows. But as long as it’s about having a majority that can sustain at least the idea of progressive values, I think I can put up with a stinker or two. God bless America!-PBG


  3. If the election of 2000 taught us anything it is that every single vote counts! The 2004 election is the one that really puzzles me. I firmly believe had the election been held a few months later, in January rather than November, the result would’ve been different. Almost immedietly after the election W’s poll numbers began going south and haven’t stopped plummeting. It’s almost as if Americans woke up after the election with a hangover wondering what the hell they’d done the night before.I remember an interview Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show” with the journalist Sarah Vowel. She described how she watched W’s second inauguration in tears thinking about dire consequences of a second term but in hindsight she said, “the failure of my pessimistic imagination at that moment boggles my mind.”By any rational measurement W’s Presidency has been an abject failure. To me, and I’m sure millions of others, W is what Herbert Hoover was to a previous generation. After W I wouldn’t vote for a Republican for dog catcher!


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