The greatest post in all our lifetimes

    Some things in life are numbingly predictable. Birds fly south for the winter, celebrities flee into rehab, and politicians declare that the next presidential election will be the most consequential (a) of their lifetimes (b) of the last four or five lifetimes (c) of all lifetimes dating back to the Founding Fathers’ lifetimes.And so now we have Newt Gingrich insisting that 2012 “is the most important election since 1860.” And some in the punditocracy go even further; according to columnist E. J. Dionne, “Everyone agrees that the 2012 election will be a turning point involving one of the most momentous choices in American history.”The problem is, I have yet to observe a presidential election that was not festooned in similar superlatives. Barack Obama said four years ago that 2008 would be “the most important election in my lifetime.” John Kerry said eight years ago that 2004 would be “the most important election of our lifetime.” Bruce Springsteen said at the time that 2004 would be “the most important election of our lifetime.” John McCain also said that 2004 would be “the most important election of our lifetime,” which is amusing because he complained in 2006 that in “every even-numbered year, politicians go around and say ‘This is the most important election in history.'” (Maybe he was thinking of Dick Cheney, who said in 2004 that that election would be “one of the most important, not just in our lives, but in our history.”)But the same stuff was said about the Bush-Gore race in 2000. Congressman Zach Wamp said that 2000 would be “the most important national election of my lifetime.” House Republican powerhouse Tom DeLay billed 2000 as the most important election “since the Civil War.” A Sierra Club spokesman said that 2000 would be “the most important election ever.”Four years earlier, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel billed 1996 as “the most important election year in decades,” but Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed upped the ante, with his prediction that 1996 would feature “the most important election of our lifetime” – which seemed odd even at the time, given that 1996 (Bill Clinton’s re-election, a low turnout affair) was largely a snore.By the way, Clinton said four years earlier that 1992 would be “the most important election in a generation,” George H. W. Bush said eight years earlier that 1988 would be “the most important choice in a generation”…you get the idea.What accounts for all this routinized rhetorical inflation?It’s partly a desire to gin up interest among the voters. It’s partly narcissism, the (often delusional) desire to believe that one is participating in something truly historic (because nobody wants to believe that one’s own times are ordinary). And it’s partly due to cognitive tunnel vision, an inability to accurately measure the present against the past. Which probably explains Joseph Levenson, a Republican leader of yesteryear, who said that the election of 1924 (a peace-and-prosperity snoozer from start to finish) would be “the most important in the history of this country since the Civil War.”Yeah, we’ve got huge problems in 2012. But it wouldn’t hurt to fight the rhetorical inflation by putting life in perspective. An 8.5 percent jobless rate and a mountain of debt don’t belong in the same category with a nation cleaved in half and a minimum 620,000 Americans dead on domestic soil.So when Gingrich, Obama, and Mitt Romney are further tempted to up the ante, they’d be wise not to compete with this trumpet blast: “We have had many important elections, but never one so important as that now approaching.”So said James Lane, a pro-Lincoln military officer, back in 1864. Given the truly dire state of the union in that election year, Lane’s rhetoric can surely be excused. We who live today have no excuse.——-Speaking of history, I wrote here yesterday about the Ronald Reagan alumni who point out that Gingrich, contrary to his claim of having worked with Reagan, was barely a Reagan bit player back in the day. But now a Newt sympathizer has surfaced to rebut the alumni, to set the record straight, to provide some eloquent clarity. I yield the floor to a former half-term governor of Alaska, speaking last night on Fox News: “Enough was enough when I started seeing this rewritten history about Newt Gingrich’s relationship with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan revolution in the ’70’s and in the ’80’s. How he, under Reagan and Reagan’s advisers – their tutelage – how it was able to shape Newt Gingrich….When I saw that rewritten by some in the establishment, I said, for what it’s worth, I’m going to voice my opposition to that false narrative being rewritten.”Well. I’m glad she cleared that up.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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