Next week the gravity and severity of casting a ballot will have a lasting impact on our very survival. Again.
It has become such a trite dose of messaging anymore that you have to think all but the neophyte voters ignore the plea. Yet, with Tuesday’s national midterm elections taking place, we are inundated with the all-too-familiar insistence that we need to get out and vote because never before have we been facing whatever challenge will permanently alter our existence. Yes, once again this is The most important election of our lifetime.
It is with an amazing dose of regularity that an impending vote is regarded as carrying historic, never-before-seen import. By my rough estimate, this makes it the most important election – ever – for the 116th time in a row. We cannot take this too lightly, folks!
It cannot even be regarded as a scare tactic anymore, as this plea has become so cliched that you seriously have to question anyone possibly swayed by the insistence. But it is not the voters I am looking at, but the sources delivering this claim. Salon, of course, goes the route that we need to preserve democracy (I love that a democratic vote might imperil our ability to vote democratically). Daily Kos provides evidence of the historical threat – and of course, it is Donald Trump.
You have to love those who recognize the trivial hysterics of the comment and then go on to justify the accuracy of this recidivist maxim. Joe Biden even dropped this tired phrase recently, but honestly, he might believe it – based on his sprawling incoherence on display in Florida, he might think this was the first time he has voted. But what makes this throwaway claim so amusing is that it is not a contemporary serving of exaggeration; the most important in our lifetime predates our own lifetime.
One of the few times you might objectively see a variation of this phrase employed without exaggeration would have been in 1864. Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection as the Civil War plodded forward, so implying there would be deep historic significance to voting would be a proper summation. But even that far back this polling platitude was already a tired phrase.
Back in 1805 the newspaper the Philadelphia Aurora was issuing its measurement of the governor of the state, Thomas McKean. In a lengthy takedown of the incumbent, who the paper clearly opposed in that it described his supporters as a “mongrel faction”, the writer went on to implore the readers to bear in mind the weighty aspects of their vote.
“Today will be held the most important election you have ever been called upon to attend.”
Now, we might excuse a bit of melodrama here as the nation was still young-ish, and many a prospective ballot caster might have had a truncated voting history at that stage. Still, some recent votes of the era carried more heft. You could say the initial vote for George Washington was historically important (yes, even as he ran unopposed.) Also, the election of Thomas Jefferson had significance, as it was the first time a party switch occurred. So maybe the choice of a standing governor at the time did not quite rise to the “lifetime” level.
What makes this early campaign move to compel all the more surprising is that despite the harsh intonation on the severity of the vote, Thomas still won reelection. Yet, somehow, the failure of the phrase to sway the electorate saw that it became a rote utterance still employed generations later. It did not work on the new voters of Pennsylvania well over two centuries ago, but it is still being trotted out every election cycle, for some reason.
Just take some comfort that the hysteria behind this claim is in perfect alignment with the original dramatics in play when it was first experimented with back then. Consider there is little difference between the politically-charged accusations of a mongrel faction in the days of yore and the contemporary use of fascists who want to destroy our democracy. The good news to take away is that next Tuesday it will likely lead to the same disappointing result for those who use the musty claim today.