Is 2008 Really an Unusual Election?

We hear much about this being a unique election, and no doubt it is. But aside from historically noting that for the first time in over half a century, neither candidate has ties to the prior administration, most of the "revolutionary" aspects deal with race and gender.

While that is undoubtedly noteworthy, what else in this election is truly unique? The technology? Sure, it keeps improving. The outdoor acceptance speeches with Greek columns? Perhaps. But overall, we still have a Democrat and Republican, regurgitating talking points, speaking in vague words about the economy, and a media harping on non-essential issues (Bridge to Nowhere? Banned Books? Houses Owned?) and acting irresponsibly.

Despite one candidate being unproven and the other being the first true war hero to run in a half century, overall the many themes, and much of the rhetoric is strikingly similar to years gone by. Even the media's bias is typically left, though surely more so -- and more ferociously -- than ever.

Looking back, during his campaign stops in the fall of 1956, President Eisenhower was fond of a story involving a laborer who told him he would again vote for Ike's 1952 opponent, Adlai Stevenson because, "I voted for him last time  and everything has been great since." This bit of irony was telling then, but 2008 is not Ike's 1956 landslide. Nor is it LBJ's '64, Nixon's '72, Reagan's '84 or even Clinton's '96. Due to choices made, money earned, residences selected, priorities established and pundits respected or disrespected, America is as divided as ever. Many are reluctant to admit there are two Americas, but watching the news, reading editorials or standing outside a Wal-Mart versus a Whole Foods, there clearly is -- and that's okay, so long as we realize it's not John Edwards's two Americas. It's also thus established that, for the near future, presidential elections will be close contests.

In elections going back centuries, candidates impugned one another the same way as today. Lincoln was called an "irresponsible warmonger" by Democrat politicians in all states during the 1862 midterm election. Liberals said America had "forgotten about the little guy" ("Who has a right to call someone that -- we're all equal," Ike once said), "big business" was "taking over mom and pop," and the liberal pundits, be it 1936, 1956, 1976 or today, worried about anti-Americanism in England and France. Meanwhile, the GOP attacked the Democrats on taxes, patriotism and big government. Incumbents like Eisenhower in 1956, persistently touted self-reliance by harkening back to the Lincolnian dictum of "Government should do all those things which an individual cannot."  After reading up on the 2008 Democratic nominee's economic plans, one wonders how Obama -- or his fans -- can claim he is anything like the 16th president.

Speaking in some of the most halcyon and prosperous days in American history, where our foreign policy decisions began and ended with secondary issues like the Suez Canal and Yugoslavia, the former five-star World War II General also warned about keeping our guards up:

"Weakness invites aggression; strength stops it," he noted in a mid 1950s press briefing "We cannot negotiate from a position of weakness." This was and still should be common sense. But with the covert and unfair discontinuation of Military History and Military Science -- not to mention ROTC -- from our universities, high schools and cities by pusillanimous professors, pacifist groups and school boards, such is hardly the case, I'd bet. In fact, as someone who has a wife in graduate school, I have that on good authority.

Here in 2008, many Democrats I know feel their party has moved left, just as many Republicans feel the same -- though that's toward the center. The party of Franklin Roosevelt and Truman is on the precipice of losing 8 of 11 general elections, often due to unelectable candidates: lawyers, as Victor Davis Hanson notes, elitists, inexperienced radicals and peaceniks. A Democratic newspaper columnist prior to the Civil War that felt frustrated about divisions in his party once decried, "I rather hope Lincoln is elected as it may have the affect to learn some sense." Many liberals I speak to will privately admit the same.

No one doubts the 2008 general election is historic in nature. But mostly that is racial and gender-based. Yes, we are at war, the public is impatient and polls tell us the president, despite recent "surges," is unpopular, but these are not new things. And we won't see Reagan/Mondale or Nixon/McGovern results on 11/4, as the country IS divided.

Division is not new in American history either. Sectional and cultural strife -- now called red and blue states, I suppose -- was rampant. Antebellum saw parties like the nativist Know Nothings, Constitutional Unions, Whig remnants, Southern Democrats, Northern Democrats and GOP. The former two parties especially, like many Americans today, were concerned with foreign immigration. Only back then they worried "negroes" and Irish Catholics would take US jobs. It's unclear whether they also were concerned, as many are today, with crimes being committed by new residents or other fiscal matters, social welfare programs and the like. Given that these 1860 immigrants and "minorities" were here legally, working to put bread on the table, probably  not.

During his disastrous presidential campaign of 1984, Walter Mondale spoke of America 's "eroding moral authority." While he thus spoke similarly to today's Democrats in terms of our international affairs, like most national post-Vietnam candidates from his party, that's about as far as he'd go into "moral issues." Long before Pat Buchanan's 1992 culture speech or the rise of evangelicals as a political force, or even Roe, the GOP has confidently led the discussion on moral and religious matters.

I perused half a dozen 1984 Reagan speeches one day in the public library, and all were canned and used multiple times before internet and 24 hour cable news; but they sounded a lot like conservatives today. 

At a tour stop late in the 1984 campaign in Pennsylvania, Reagan claimed, "I was a Democrat for the bigger part of my life. But in those days, its leaders weren't part of the "Blame America First" group. They did not reserve their indignation for America."

Fair or not, similar enough to 2008? You be the judge.
We hear much about this being a unique election, and no doubt it is. But aside from historically noting that for the first time in over half a century, neither candidate has ties to the prior administration, most of the "revolutionary" aspects deal with race and gender.

While that is undoubtedly noteworthy, what else in this election is truly unique? The technology? Sure, it keeps improving. The outdoor acceptance speeches with Greek columns? Perhaps. But overall, we still have a Democrat and Republican, regurgitating talking points, speaking in vague words about the economy, and a media harping on non-essential issues (Bridge to Nowhere? Banned Books? Houses Owned?) and acting irresponsibly.

Despite one candidate being unproven and the other being the first true war hero to run in a half century, overall the many themes, and much of the rhetoric is strikingly similar to years gone by. Even the media's bias is typically left, though surely more so -- and more ferociously -- than ever.

Looking back, during his campaign stops in the fall of 1956, President Eisenhower was fond of a story involving a laborer who told him he would again vote for Ike's 1952 opponent, Adlai Stevenson because, "I voted for him last time  and everything has been great since." This bit of irony was telling then, but 2008 is not Ike's 1956 landslide. Nor is it LBJ's '64, Nixon's '72, Reagan's '84 or even Clinton's '96. Due to choices made, money earned, residences selected, priorities established and pundits respected or disrespected, America is as divided as ever. Many are reluctant to admit there are two Americas, but watching the news, reading editorials or standing outside a Wal-Mart versus a Whole Foods, there clearly is -- and that's okay, so long as we realize it's not John Edwards's two Americas. It's also thus established that, for the near future, presidential elections will be close contests.

In elections going back centuries, candidates impugned one another the same way as today. Lincoln was called an "irresponsible warmonger" by Democrat politicians in all states during the 1862 midterm election. Liberals said America had "forgotten about the little guy" ("Who has a right to call someone that -- we're all equal," Ike once said), "big business" was "taking over mom and pop," and the liberal pundits, be it 1936, 1956, 1976 or today, worried about anti-Americanism in England and France. Meanwhile, the GOP attacked the Democrats on taxes, patriotism and big government. Incumbents like Eisenhower in 1956, persistently touted self-reliance by harkening back to the Lincolnian dictum of "Government should do all those things which an individual cannot."  After reading up on the 2008 Democratic nominee's economic plans, one wonders how Obama -- or his fans -- can claim he is anything like the 16th president.

Speaking in some of the most halcyon and prosperous days in American history, where our foreign policy decisions began and ended with secondary issues like the Suez Canal and Yugoslavia, the former five-star World War II General also warned about keeping our guards up:

"Weakness invites aggression; strength stops it," he noted in a mid 1950s press briefing "We cannot negotiate from a position of weakness." This was and still should be common sense. But with the covert and unfair discontinuation of Military History and Military Science -- not to mention ROTC -- from our universities, high schools and cities by pusillanimous professors, pacifist groups and school boards, such is hardly the case, I'd bet. In fact, as someone who has a wife in graduate school, I have that on good authority.

Here in 2008, many Democrats I know feel their party has moved left, just as many Republicans feel the same -- though that's toward the center. The party of Franklin Roosevelt and Truman is on the precipice of losing 8 of 11 general elections, often due to unelectable candidates: lawyers, as Victor Davis Hanson notes, elitists, inexperienced radicals and peaceniks. A Democratic newspaper columnist prior to the Civil War that felt frustrated about divisions in his party once decried, "I rather hope Lincoln is elected as it may have the affect to learn some sense." Many liberals I speak to will privately admit the same.

No one doubts the 2008 general election is historic in nature. But mostly that is racial and gender-based. Yes, we are at war, the public is impatient and polls tell us the president, despite recent "surges," is unpopular, but these are not new things. And we won't see Reagan/Mondale or Nixon/McGovern results on 11/4, as the country IS divided.

Division is not new in American history either. Sectional and cultural strife -- now called red and blue states, I suppose -- was rampant. Antebellum saw parties like the nativist Know Nothings, Constitutional Unions, Whig remnants, Southern Democrats, Northern Democrats and GOP. The former two parties especially, like many Americans today, were concerned with foreign immigration. Only back then they worried "negroes" and Irish Catholics would take US jobs. It's unclear whether they also were concerned, as many are today, with crimes being committed by new residents or other fiscal matters, social welfare programs and the like. Given that these 1860 immigrants and "minorities" were here legally, working to put bread on the table, probably  not.

During his disastrous presidential campaign of 1984, Walter Mondale spoke of America 's "eroding moral authority." While he thus spoke similarly to today's Democrats in terms of our international affairs, like most national post-Vietnam candidates from his party, that's about as far as he'd go into "moral issues." Long before Pat Buchanan's 1992 culture speech or the rise of evangelicals as a political force, or even Roe, the GOP has confidently led the discussion on moral and religious matters.

I perused half a dozen 1984 Reagan speeches one day in the public library, and all were canned and used multiple times before internet and 24 hour cable news; but they sounded a lot like conservatives today. 

At a tour stop late in the 1984 campaign in Pennsylvania, Reagan claimed, "I was a Democrat for the bigger part of my life. But in those days, its leaders weren't part of the "Blame America First" group. They did not reserve their indignation for America."

Fair or not, similar enough to 2008? You be the judge.