Newsflash: The Coming Election Isn’t Necessarily that Important
If there is one thing that unites all media coverage of the current campaign, as well most of our breathless analysis and punditry, it is this: The 2008 election is the most important in a generation, perhaps in history. Every … Read More
If there is one thing that unites all media coverage of the current campaign, as well most of our breathless analysis and punditry, it is this: The 2008 election is the most important in a generation, perhaps in history.
Every election I can remember has been the most important in my lifetime. Either presidential selections are getting more and more important with the passage of time, or a great many of us tend to lose perspective every four years.
All presidential elections are important, of course, and this one is no different. The next occupant of the White House will determine the direction of our foreign and domestic policy…but they all do that. He will choose one or two new Supreme Court justices. But they all do that, too.
Establishing the unique, crucial importance of this election seems particularly important to the McCain campaign message. Elect Obama, we are told, and catastrophe will befall the United States. Al Qaeda will go on a rampage. Putin and Iran will be unstoppable. Your children will be in grave danger (if you love them, you’ll vote McCain!).
McCain appears to think that his only route to victory is making people believe that the fate of the earth lies in the balance. A skeptic might suggest that scaring the bejeebus out of everyone is hardly presidential…but nobody really likes skeptics anyway.
There is good reason to believe that this election might not be as decisive as our candidates and hyperbolic media would have us believe. First of all, from the looks of things, the next president is in real danger of being a one-termer. Rarely do voters look kindly upon presidents who preside over tough economic times (FDR is the lone exception), and all indications are that the next few years will be somewhat grim. The next president is also going to be handed a few very difficult dilemmas by his incompetent predecessor. The violence has gone into remission in Iraq, but the patient is hardly cured; Afghanistan and Pakistan teeter on the edge of chaos; Dancing with the Stars is one of our most popular TV shows. Why anyone would want to be president right now, I have no idea.
And second, the threats facing the United States in 2008 are hardly more dangerous than those from years past. Sure, al Qaeda still exists, and remains a problem. But through good investigative work and international information sharing, our intelligence services have gained the upper hand in our struggle with Osama and the boys. Terrorists will always be able to kill people, but they cannot change our society. Only we can do that.
Both campaigns seem ignorant of one of the most important facts about current world politics: War seems to be disappearing from the planet. As a number of political scientists have been proclaiming for years, the incidence and intensity of all kinds of wars – interstate, civil, ethnic conflicts, etc. – are at historically low levels, and still declining. Entire continents are experiencing their greatest stretch of peaceful relations. Europe, South America, North America, Australia, and most of Asia are virtually war-free. Even in Africa conflict levels are lower than at any time in history. I go into more detail about this in the book.
In such a climate, countries are safe. The strongest is the safest.
So I am not convinced this election is actually that important. The truth is that we don’t know how important any election is until the administration is over. As it turns out, those who told us that Bush vs. Gore was the most important election of our lifetimes were probably right. At the time, though, who knew?