By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
This election season is drawing to its inevitable conclusion, wherein the American people collectively decide which candidate they want to lead the country for the next four years. Over the next few weeks we’re sure to be bombarded not only with increasingly vitriolic ads lambasting each side for various sins perceived and real, but with a quadrennial message from the pundits – that is, that this election is The Most Important One In American History and You Must Vote! (for their candidate).
Here’s a news flash for you: every presidential election is the most important one ever.
Think about it. The man in the White House isn’t just the leader of our country. He’s the public face of America on the international stage. His conduct in and out of office affects the way our allies and adversaries think of us. And when, since the end of World War II, has there ever been an election that wasn’t as important internationally as it was domestically?
I’m old, at least compared to most of my classmates. The first presidential election I can remember is the Carter/Ford contest in 1976. The nation was just emerging from the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, and people were ready for a change. Ford represented for many the corruption of the Nixon years, and he got swept aside in favor of the amiable peanut farmer from Georgia.
Now, the Carter administration is remembered as being kind of a disaster, mostly for the OPEC oil embargo and the Iran hostage crisis. But Carter did have some pretty impressive successes that rarely get mentioned. He negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel. He brought Russia to the bargaining table and got the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties passed. Not bad for a failure, but it wasn’t good enough to get him re-elected.
Carter lost to Reagan, who projected strength and resolve to a country longing for both. Reagan’s first term wasn’t too bad; the hostages were released, the economy got moving again, and things started looking up. He proposed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, later ratified by his vice president and successor George H. W. Bush, that dramatically cut the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the US and USSR. But he also presided over a massive increase in military spending that ballooned the deficit and national debt. And when he laid off the Air Traffic Controllers’ Union, that act became the first shot in the war on labor unions and workers’ rights. Since the 1980’s, middle income wages have stayed mostly stagnant while upper incomes have risen to stratospheric levels. Much of our economic woes today have their roots in the Reagan years.
After that we had the first Bush administration, who gave us a tax cut, a recession and the first Gulf War, and the seemingly endless (as well as expensive and largely pointless) twelve-year occupation of Iraqi skies that followed. He also completed the START negotiations with the Soviet Union and entered into a strategic partnership with Russia, ending the Cold War.
After twelve years of Republican rule, the American people had had enough and elected Bill Clinton to the presidency. He raised the top marginal tax rate by three percentage points, prompting cries of alarm from the right. Instead of the predicted economic crash, Clinton presided over a period of record growth and prosperity. Internationally, he engaged in a variety of military actions against terror groups overseas and led an international coalition against the dictators brutalizing the former Yugoslavia. He became the first president to visit Vietnam since the end of that war, and normalized trade relations with China. By the end of his presidency, Clinton had turned record deficits his predecessor had left him into net surpluses.
Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, turned that around and through domestic policy that basically amounted to tax cuts and little else, produced an almost immediate recession and rising deficit spending. Then came the events of Sept 11, 2001 and the wars that followed. The wars were paid for “off the books,” that is, by borrowing the money via continuing resolutions and other budgetary tricks. That allowed Bush to keep the real costs effectively hidden from the American people while maintaining the illusion of fiscal responsibility. The projection of American power was at an all-time high since World War II, but internationally our reputation was in the toilet.
Why the history lesson? Because this foreign policy stuff is important. The President of the United States isn’t just the leader of one nation; he (or she) is the de facto leader of the free world. Other countries still look to us for leadership and guidance. We’re the go-to guys when it comes to negotiating treaties, because despite everything, we still have the military and economic power to get the job done.
Seems like every four years we hear from some yutz about how it’s our election, and other countries’ opinions don’t matter. Hogwash. Five minutes of analysis and research disprove that notion.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote. That’s your decision. I just hope you’ll vote wisely, and use facts and analysis to make your decision. Because our reputation depends on it.