The Democratic primary season is upon us, so that means the field of 2020 (not the year, but the number of presidential candidates) will try to endear themselves to the electorate. This year’s crop of politicians – young and old – will employ a series of clichés that their predecessors did, making observers who have covered these contests every four years roll their eyes, cringe, and consume a glass of scotch.
Former President Barack Obama decided to take a break from hanging out with billionaires and celebrities to help his fellow Democrats during the contentious midterms. Campaigning in ultra-competitive districts across the country, he proclaimed to voters in attendance that this is “the most important election of our lifetimes.” Was it really? Or was it just another election?
2020: Vote or Die
Now that the 2018 midterms are in the history books, it is time to look ahead to what inevitably will be considered the most important election of our lifetime: 2020.
As sure as someone will compare President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler in the primaries, politicians will boldly spout that the contest will not only elect a president but also will be a plebiscite on American values. They may go as far as comparing it to America’s foundation, the Civil War, the D-Day bombing, the civil rights movement, and the Boston Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series.
One side says it because it wants to hold on to power, accusing opponents of dismantling everything it has achieved so far. The other side tries to convince voters of the election’s historic proportions because then it can regain control and implement its vision for the nation.
…repeated ad infinitum, the phrase is void of meaning.
However, repeated ad infinitum, the phrase is void of meaning. It has become cliché to declare that [insert year] is critical and dire. But it must still be working if politicians and the press regularly use this tactic. In politics, everything is calculated and planned, never spontaneous and genuine. Is it because voters are famous for having short memories? Or is it because these politicians have little substance or new ideas?
This isn’t a new phenomenon, either.
As Old as the Republic
Hop in your time machine and travel to the mid-19th century to read hyperbolic election material.
In 1856, Sen. Stephen Douglas (D-IL) said the three-way James Buchanan-Millard Fillmore-John Fremont race was the most significant since 1800. In 1924, Joseph Levenson, a New York Republican, believed the Calvin Coolidge-John Davis battle was “the most important in the history of this country since the Civil War.” Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford explained that his fight with Jimmy Carter was “one of the most vital in the history of America.” Former Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) described several election years as the most important ever.
Of course, media outlets and personalities are not immune from this cliché.
In 1888, when Sen. Benjamin Harrison (R-IN) and President Grover Cleveland went head to head, The New York Times opined, “The Republic is approaching what is to be one of the most important elections in its history.” Radio host Rush Limbaugh invoked this line to describe 2000, 2010, and 2012. The Brookings Institution wrote in 2016 that there had never been a more crucial democratic event since 1932. The Hill penned this headline: “Why 2016 may actually be the most important election of our lifetime.” The New Republic chimed in with this title: “This Really Might Be the Most Important Election Ever.”
It never ends.
Should President Trump’s vision of conquering the stars be realized, we could see headlines in the year 2300 from The Space Times: “Milky Way-Andromeda Election Is Most Important in Universe’s 14 Billion-Year History!”
Retire the Phrase
Everyone has his or her own idea as to when the most important election ever took place. It could have been in 1912 and 1932, when two men, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, overhauled the fabric of the nation. It may have been in 1964, when political mudslinging hit the airwaves. Was it in 2008, when a black man received keys to the White House?
Whatever the case, one issue that can unite all Americans, who seemingly can’t agree on anything these days, is that it’s time to retire this worn-out phrase. Perhaps a constitutional amendment is in order! Or maybe a referendum that proposes to abolish this cliché. Or reform the election process by eliminating one electoral college vote every time a candidate makes this claim.
That way, we will never need to hear another presidential candidate spout these eye-rolling words again. Make America Cliché-Free Again!