Politics is a game of clichés. Our leaders vow to “reach across the aisle” so they can do “what the American people want.” But undoubtedly the biggest cliché of them all is that this is a “historic election,” the “most important in our lifetimes.”
The folks who say these things (and they say them every year) are always very earnest. Maybe they actually believe what they’re saying.
Here’s an example, from the Oct. 11 Raleigh News & Observer. “A few years ago I would have shunned political activity,” writes Denis Dubay of Cary, N.C. “But something changed.” He goes on to cite several common liberal complaints: Iraq “had no connection to the terrorists that attacked us,” Americans “unleashed a hell on earth,” and so forth.
Dubay sees this election as holding the very keys to civilization. “We continue to poison our planet by burning oil and coal,” he writes. “The exotic gases have immediate effects on our health, and the excess carbon dioxide promises scary impacts on the future health of our only home in the universe.”
Is there anyone who really believes that in the next four years humans are going to stop burning oil and coal? That we’ll manage to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by any measurable level? You’re really basing your presidential vote on those goals?
Of course, Dubay was just following the lead of his candidate, Sen. Barack Obama. Back in June, when he became the presumptive Democratic nominee, Obama told a cheering crowd that they were witnessing history. “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” he intoned. “This was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.”
It’s good to set audacious goals. But maybe the senator from Illinois went just a bit overboard there. After all, while (in his own words) Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills,” he probably would get a bill of his own if he succeeded (in four years) with all those goals.
Still, if we’re going to claim that the 2008 election is the most important one in our nation’s history, maybe we ought to act as if we actually believe our words. Maybe we’d even want to allow American service members to vote this year.
More than 1 million people serve in the U.S. military, and their courage and sacrifice makes our way of life possible. But for those stationed overseas at election time, there’s little chance they’ll be allowed to participate in the democracy they’re deployed to protect.
In the 2006 election (another historic one, you may recall) the Federal Election Assistance Commission says only about 30 percent of overseas military absentee ballots were counted.