Do you ever get the feeling that politically, the United States peaked too early? Is it possible that the greatest political minds and leaders vied for the Presidency shortly after the founding of the nation--and that we have seen a long litany of progressively worse and worse candidates seeking the position?
Consider that in the first Presidential election of 1788, voters had to choose between George Washington and John Adams. It was a contest between the leader of the Revolutionary Army--who was laying down his arms and asking to be democratically elected to lead the country--and one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived. The two met again in 1792 as well.
The elections of 1796 and 1800 featured contests between Adams and Thomas Jefferson--perhaps the man most responsible for shaping the nation that we have become. And their campaigns--done mostly through writing and hardly any face to face debate--focused on what role the Federal Government would play in our lives--and what duties were to be conducted by the state governments.
The election of 1808 saw the last two framers of the Constitution battle it out--with James Madison defeating James Monroe. And in 1820, Monroe defeated John Quincy Adams in the first election where the potential abolition of slavery was a campaign issue. All elections with profound impact on what the United State of America was going to be going forward--with arguments presented on all sides by educated people.
It must have been more difficult for voters to feel their decisions were as important when the races involved Rutherford B Hayes and Samuel Tilden in 1876. Or Warren G Harding and James Cox in 1920. Or even George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis in 1988--because none of those candidates challenged our thinking about what it means to be American. And quite honestly, things were a little boring at those times. Sure, we've had some bright lights occupy the White House--but none of them were challenged in the election process by those of equal mind and stature.
Now consider the contest before us next month and the absurd discourse that we need to have about these two candidates. How many Americans in 1788 went to the polls thinking "Well, Washington is the lesser of two evils"? Was the election of 1808 decided on comments about female body parts? From the new depths that we reached in last night's debate--it's becoming almost impossible to see the amazing heights we scaled on the start of our American Journey.