By Jay Hansen
It’s amazing how much the media, and our own citizens, have been obsessing over 2016. We just had a damn presidential election, keep your pants on! That’s still nearly four years away! I’ve been contemplating why this is (which I had plenty of time to do this past week), and I think it’s much more than just the usual American obsession with horserace politics. When it gets down to it, 2016 has the potential to be our first real presidential election in a long, long time. What do I mean by real? And how long has it been? Allow me to elaborate.
2012 – Obama vs. Romney
Despite what the bubble of self-delusion created by the right-wing propaganda machine told the American people, 2012 was largely a no-contest election. The actual numbers were overwhelmingly in Obama’s favor pretty much from day one of campaigning for the general election. Plus, the Republican Party was just in shambles. Their list of candidates consisted of guys like Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and out of all of them the one that emerged as the “strongest” was… Mitt Romney? The plastic man from Massachusetts that’s lost almost every election he’s ever been in? The guy who was passed over for Vice President in 2008 for Sarah Palin? He was the best the party could do? There was a lot of drummed-up panic over the 2012 horserace between these two guys, but for the most part it was a no contest, and any election that is a no contest does not meet the requirements of a real Presidential election in my book.
2008 – Obama vs. McCain
2008 was an even bigger no contest than 2012. We were just coming out of the Bush administration, which had approval ratings in the 20% range at its lowest. Knowing how the typical, uninformed American voter thinks, it wouldn’t have mattered who was on either side of the ticket in this election; the Republicans were going to lose. Dwight Eisenhower could have come back from the dead to run against Mickey Mouse and he still would have lost because he was a Republican. This was made ever more clear when Obama won this election with a staggering 365 electoral votes and nearly 53% of the popular vote.
2004 – Kerry vs. Bush
While 2004 certainly wasn’t a “no contest,” it was also not a real election because both candidates were so abysmally horrible. Seriously, these two made Obama and Romney look like Clinton and Reagan, or the two Roosevelts running against one another. Many people who hadn’t already started to lose faith in government during and immediately after this election had now because 2004 was such an unfair decision. It also didn’t help that this was an incumbency election, which are always less exciting because the incumbent almost always has the upper hand. Bush didn’t necessarily have a strong one in 2004, but that wasn’t because of his high quality; it was because of an equally poor quality in both candidates.
2000 – Gore vs. Bush
This is the most recent presidential election that could even be considered “real,” at least in terms of the campaign. For most Americans, the decision was quite tough because most American voters are brainless. We were just coming out of the Clinton administration, which had done wonders for the economy, created a budgetary surplus, and ushered in a new golden age for America (which George W. Bush managed to wreck almost instantly). But, then again, Clinton cheated on his wife in office… and that in the minds of most Americans was apparently an unforgivable sin. So in terms of campaigning, the nation was really split, and this was similarly made clear on election day. Most people reading this likely remember the counting, re-counting, and re-counting again debacle that followed the 2000 election because the race was so mind-bogglingly close. The final “official” results awarded George W. Bush 271 electoral votes, which is literally the bare minimum a candidate can get and become President, and he inarguably lost in the popular vote with only 47.9%. This was only the fourth time in US history a candidate won the presidency without winning the popular vote. Of course, most people know that, but what most don’t know is that according to re-counts of the individual county-by-county votes in Florida, Al Gore won Florida, not Bush, meaning the 25 electoral votes would have been awarded to him and not Bush, giving Gore the victory in 2000 with 291 electoral votes over Bush’s 246. The problem is the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to block this last recount of the votes, awarding the presidency to Bush. It’s also noteworthy that at the time, seven of the Supreme Court Justices were Republican-appointed.
Ultimately, one could make the case that 2000 was a very real presidential election given how tough and divisive the campaign was, but when it comes to the actual election, 2000 was the closest thing to a fraudulent election the United States has ever had in modern history.
1996 – Clinton vs. Dole
Poor Bob Dole… poor, poor Bob Dole. You thought 2008 was a no contest? Like I said, Clinton was building the newest golden age for America and presiding over a massive economic boom. Bob Dole was no more the Republican candidate than sacrificial lamb; his party had to run someone against Clinton, but who could they get to commit that act of political suicide? The answer; Bob Dole, who lost to Bill Clinton’s mind-blowing 379 electoral votes. To be honest, I barely remember this election; it’s the first presidential election in my memory. Even as a kid though, I remembered how bad Dole was suffering. I specifically remembered this one SNL sketch where Bob Dole had a nightmare about the disastrous debates he was having with Clinton in which he was debating President Thomas J. Whitmore, the president played by Bill Pullman in the 1996 movie Independence Day.
So 1996 was no contest, and thus not a real election. That means we have to go back EVEN FURTHER to…
1992 – Clinton vs. Bush
Now this was an interesting election. George H.W. Bush was the incumbent, meaning there was an unspoken advantage attached to his name, albeit a weak one. At the same time though, Bush had suffered a terrible fall because of an economic recession, breaking a promise to not raise taxes, and the increasing irrelevance of his foreign policy skills. However, at the same time the Republicans had won the past three presidential elections in landslides… Then along comes Bill “Bubba” Clinton from hillbilly Arkansas with the social and political skills to appeal to both liberals and conservatives.
The sad part is though… I have no memory of this election at all. I was five when the campaigning started. I’m only basing my judgment of this election as a “real” one based on what I can read in history, and even then it’s questionable given the massive landslide by which Clinton won. I wish I could have been around to see this election because it must have been an interesting one. Heck, now that I think about it, given that I was only nine when the 1996 election came around, there hasn’t been a presidential election in my lifetime without the 24-hour news circuit.
Considering all of that, it’s been twenty years since we’ve seen a real presidential election, which is pretty much my entire memorable life. Now though, Americans are starting to wake up and realize how full of crap the Democrats and Republicans are based on the disturbing similarities between Obama and his predecessor George Bush. Obama has only prevented things from getting worse, while doing little to improve them in the long-term. Obama’s failures to be an actual progressive could harm the Democrats in 2016 the same way Bush’s incompetence harmed Republicans in 2008, but it couldn’t possibly be to the same degree unless there’s a catastrophic financial collapse before November, 2016… which is totally possible given that Obama has only continued Bush’s policies on derivatives and the banks.
Right now for candidates we’re looking at Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Hilary Clinton, and Joe Biden. Surely more will be thrown in over the next few years, as I’ve already predicted, but one thing is for sure; assuming Obama continues his same game of “extend and pretend” successfully, and Republicans… you know, actually try with legitimate, non-crazy candidates, 2016 will prove to be a truly interesting presidential election.