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Friday, August 19, 2016
The Most Important Election...Again
Every presidential election in the last fifty years has been called, in the heat of the campaign, the "Most Important Election of Our Lifetime," or something like that. We live so much in the ephemeral moment, the endless cascade of "important news," which is neither important nor news, that it is easy for us to believe that this election really, really matters.
Who honestly can say that if Romney or McCain beat Obama or that if Kerry or Gore beat Bush or that if Dole beat Clinton or Ford beat Carter or Humphrey beat Nixon, that our world – especially the messes in our world – would be very different from how they are today? JFK, had he not been killed, would have likely lost in 1964 and would today be as inconsequential as Herbert Hoover in our view of American history.
The vast majority of presidential elections have been modestly important but never really important, except for Reagan in 1980 and, to a lesser extent, Reagan's 1984 re-election. The next elections that matter were Lincoln's election and reelection in 1860 and 1864, although the legacy of Lincoln, though important, is also mixed (especially the usurpation of supreme power by Washington).
FDR did dreadful things…but Hoover planned to do many of those dreadful things himself in a second term, and Hoover had begun many of the long reaches of federal executive power as secretary of commerce and then as president. Both men were captives of their time, when all the smart people were talking about the need for planning and intervention and increasing federalizing programs.
Alf Landon was a "progressive" Republican, and Wendell Wilkie had been a Democrat before joining the Republican Party to win its nomination. Dewey, Taft, Stevenson...the also-rans in the subsequent elections during and after the war were decent men who would probably not have changed the FDR policies much more than Truman and Eisenhower did.
I will surely vote for Trump, and I think all good Americans should as well, but no matter which major party candidate wins, the changes in policy will be more rhetorical than real and the rhetoric itself will be guided more to the next polling cycle than any grand dream for America.
Hillary would be stupider, more incompetent, and more corrupt than Trump, but neither would solve the real problem of our time: the constant erosion of the power of individuals and the power of state governments because of the constant and steady pull of everything to Washington. The man who solves this will restore the wholesome self-regulation that is competition among states and the liberation of the individual, which is also intimately connected to restoring the genuine sovereignty of the states.
Reagan did what he could in that area, but his principal concern, rightly, was to bloodlessly win a global war against Soviet totalitarianism and produce the manifold blessings of that victory – dramatically reducing the threat of nuclear war, reunifying Germany and Europe, and producing a "Peace Dividend" that allowed a significant reduction in defense spending with no harm to national security.
While it is a bit too snarky to write of "Hillary Trump and Donald Clinton," when it comes to the vitally important issue of bringing back the federalism of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment, it is very hard to see how either one even plans to do much good about this most important issue. In fairness, though, no major party nominee since Reagan has done more than pay lip service to this question. It is much, much, much easier to talk about what a candidate will do, through the exercise of federal power, when he is elected. That feeds egos and wins votes...and keeps the comfortable cabal of lobbyists, bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, legislators, judges, and the like just as fat and rich and safe and powerful as they were in Washington under the prior administration. This election will be seen in four years as unimportant, just as we see (or ought to see) Romney's loss in 2012 and Kerry's loss in 2004.
America, especially that majority of Flyover America as revolted in 2016 by harsh and powerful Washington rulers as the Irish were by haughty and indifferent London rulers in 1916, is waiting for a truly important presidential election, a transformative election that will make our land again a republic with limited federal powers and limited federal actions. When that happens, we will have truly "The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime."