It is the most important election of our lives. Or is it?
“We’re nearly one month away from the most important election of our lifetime.”
So said Democratic candidate for governor Janet Mills, via email, on Oct. 1.
One day prior, 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree sent an email saying, “We’re only a few weeks away from the most important midterm elections in our lifetimes, and the stakes have truly never been higher.”
The day before that, I had an email in my inbox from Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California’s 22nd District. In it, he said that this year was “the most consequential midterm elections in recent memory.”
The emails have only increased in frequency and manic desperation since then. Just Tuesday, I got another email from Pingree saying, once again, that we were living through “the most important midterm elections in a generation.”
Look, I get it. Politics is full of exaggerations and hyperbole. It is hard to motivate people to go vote for you if you are a reasonable candidate who doesn’t believe the world is ending, but simply thinks they would do a marginally better job than their opponent.
Still, it is difficult for me to understand how this kind of rhetoric continues to work, and why voters continue to buy into it.
Granted, I’m an engaged voter and I have worked in politics for nearly 20 years. Granted, I pay attention. Granted, I am a political junkie. But I have heard the words “this is the most important election of our lifetime” every single election cycle going back to at least the year 2000, and it can’t possibly have actually been the most important election of our lives each time.
Yet still I hear it. Every year is the most important election in history, and if we don’t act right now to make sure we win, our opponents will destroy the country. Rinse, wash and repeat.
The boy who cried wolf manipulated the people of his village by lying to them, over and over again. Each time he did so, he used fear to motivate them into action for his own amusement and benefit. Each time it worked.
Until it didn’t. They stopped believing him, because eventually it was nakedly obvious that he was manipulating them. Then, of course, the wolf really came and nobody believed him anymore.
In politics, for some reason, we never stop believing the boy about there being a wolf, though it seems that every year we need to be told that the wolf is larger and more dangerous to shake us from our apathy into action.
In the beginning of my political awareness, I was told that it was the most important election of my life because it was a unique opportunity to accomplish some long sought-after goals.
Then I was told that it was the most important election of my life because of the war on terrorism, and that if we didn’t make the right decision, the country would be weakened and the terrorists emboldened.
Then I was told it was the most important election of my life because if we elected the wrong people, we would be forced to endure an economic depression. Then I was told those people who got elected to save us from depression needed to be tossed because they were spending the nation into bankruptcy, probably on purpose.
We had to act, or the republic would crumble.
You get the point. Every year the stakes get not only more intense, but also more personal.
Every step along the way, the voters respond by behaving more irrationally, with more urgency, and with a borderline sense of panic. Extremism increases. Now we have people threatening the most moderate member of the U.S. Senate with ricin, after others called her office threatening her staff with rape. All because she voted to confirm a judge to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Is it any wonder this is where we are? After all, this is the most important election of our lifetime, and if we don’t vote the right people in, the world may actually come to an end.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.