If you believe a midterm election in a time of relative peace and economic prosperity is the most important in history, or even the most important in your incredibly fortunate lifetime, you’re either oblivious to basic history or you don’t have a single non-partisan synapse firing in your skull. We might ask people to please stop being so melodramatic and conceited, but then, it’s 2018.
“We have had many important elections, but never one so important as that now approaching,” a New York Times editorial claimed during the 1864 presidential race between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan, which took place during the Civil War. As others have noted, this probably the last time that the words “most,” “important,” “election,” and “lifetime” should have been stuck together.
Yet it’s now become standard for partisans to claim every presidential election is the most important. Since many people view the president as an emperor, with all the false expectations that go along with that perception, perhaps they believe it. That’s one thing. But now we have people whose religious denomination is partisanship, foisting this insufferable cliché on us for House elections that happen every two years in every single district.
The 2018 election is “the most important election of our lives,” writes a hysterical David Corn at Mother Jones. “This is the most important election since Moby Dick was a guppy,” the prognosticator Charlie Cook explains. “[T]he most important election of your life,” tweets Donald Trump’s spurned bestie Joe Scarborough. “[T]he most important election any of us have voted in so far,” declares Joe Biden, who notes that “everything” is at stake in 2018.
“The most important election of our lifetime,” says Sen. Cory Booker. “[T]he most important election of our lifetime,” says Tom Perez. “It’s the most important election of my lifetime” says Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “[T]his November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime,” claims former president Barack Obama.
As anyone who’s been paying attention already knows, this is utter nonsense, since 2016 was the most important election ever.
“I believe this may be the most important election of our lifetimes,” Hillary Clinton told us. “The most important election of our lifetime,” Mike Pence assured America. “Why 2016 may actually be the most important election of our lifetime,” The Hill posited. “Why 2016 May Be the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime,” wrote Bloomberg Businessweek. “This may be the most important election of our lives,” The Nation claimed. “2016: The most important election since 1932,” declared the esteemed Brookings Institution. “The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime,” reads a Franklin Graham headline. “This Really Might Be the Most Important Election Ever,” The New Republic noted.
It really might be. That is to say, not as important as the 2012 election, which was “the most important election of our lifetime,” according to Mitt Romney. His running mate, Paul Ryan, agreed, telling a crowd that the 2012 vote was “the most important election of your lifetime.” “The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes,” Jon Huntsman noted. “The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime,” then-highest-rated cable news personality in America Bill O’Reilly explained. This is “the most important election since 1860,” Newt Gingrich added.
It seems that “the most important election in the history of the galaxy” is a notion that is mostly, although not exclusively, embraced by those out of power. Take 2008.
“This is certainly the most important election in my lifetime — not just because I’m running,” said an unconvincing Barack Obama (again). “So when people say ‘this is the single most important election in my lifetime,’ they’re exactly right,” explained Biden, who’s in the running for all-time cliché hits leader. This was the “most important election in our lifetimes,” agreed Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. “I do believe this is the most important election since I was a child,” Caroline Kennedy told us. Then again, Republican Rudy Giuliani also warned that “2008 is the most important election in our lifetime. And we’d better get it right.”
“My fellow Americans, this is the most important election of our lifetime,” John Kerry intoned in 2004. “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” his running mate John Edwards agreed. “This! Is! The most important election of our lives!” exclaimed Rep. John Lewis. “The most important election in their lives,” 74 percent of Americans said in an ABC News poll. Bruce Springsteen agreed.
Then the National Rifle Association’s then-president Charlton Heston described the 2000 George W. Bush vs. Al Gore contest as “the most important election since the Civil War.” House Majority Whip Tom DeLay also thought it was the most important “since the Civil War.” Rush Limbaugh did them one better: “No question about it. This is the most important election in our history.”
Ralph Reed, a powerhouse in conservative politics through the 1990s, believed stopping Bill Clinton in 1996 meant that America was “on the brink of the most important election of our lifetime.” Clinton, on the other hand, explained four years earlier that 1992 was “the most important election in a generation.” Robert C. Byrd, at the time still cheering for Democrats in 1988, said it “may be the most important election of this century.”
Walter Mondale told a crowd in 1984 that his contest was “the most important election of our lives.” Ronald Reagan agreed, saying that Americans were facing the “most important election in this nation in 50 years.” Nancy Reagan, though, who lived through two world wars and a couple of other major conflicts, thought the 1980 election was “the most important election of my life.”
As elections go, 1976 was “one of the most vital in the history of America,” explained Gerald Ford. Both Richard Nixon and John Kennedy believed the 1960 contest was the most important. “I believe, my friends, that we are faced with the most important election in the history of the country,” said Harry Truman in 1952. New York Republicans thought the race between Calvin Coolidge and John Davis was “most important in the history of this country since the Civil War.”
In the 1888 election between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland, The New York Times (again) claimed, “The Republic is approaching what is to be one of the most important elections in its history.” In 1856, Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas declared the nation was facing the most important election since 1800. And maybe he was right.
But this midterm is certainly not the most important election in history, or your lifetime. Unless, that is, you’re two years old.