Another year, another knock-down-drag-out presidential election season. As I write this, Herman Cain’s campaign has caved in following the umpteenth accusation of alleged extramarital shenanigans, the Democrats have created a website (mittvmitt.com) to accentuate Romney’s colossal flip-flops, and Newt Gingrich (Newt Gingrich!) has seized the Republican primary mojo. Add the still stalled economy, two deadly foreign wars, the faltering Euro zone, and a U.S. Congress plagued by gridlock and seemingly run by chimps, and, well, none of this is good news for the president (check the poll numbers). Fasten your seatbelts, folks. As far as 2012 is concerned, it’s going to be a bumpy hayride.
But that’s nothing new. We’ve seen it before. In fact, we—that is, the voting and non-voting public—have been subjected to it for so long it’s hard to remember when it all started. Gail Collins gives us a hint—maybe even more than a hint; let’s call it a strong hunch—that the modern presidential campaign had its origins in the southwestern corner of Ohio due to the willing participation of one of the most overlooked, and to our modern eyes, unlikely officeholders of all time: William Henry Harrison. As a seasoned journalist, author, and native of our very own Green Township, Collins knows of what she speaks. Her upcoming biography of America’s ninth president, which we’ve excerpted in this issue, makes the case that in his willingness to shake the people’s hands, deliver stump speeches, and have his personal history warped to create an almost fictitious (but winning!) political persona, Harrison was ahead of his time. Sure, he may have died of a really bad cold a month after his inauguration, but every presidential candidate since who’s played fast and loose with the facts (and that would be, um, all of them, right?) owes Harrison a mawkish, jingoistic, heartfelt, but still utterly insincere thank you.
How’s that for sincerity?! Honestly, I had all of my optimism and hope removed by Richard Nixon’s Soul Extractor™ in 1974, leaving nothing but the husk of a human form. (Whoops...sorry...my face-plate slipped again...have to...readjust...there.) OK, maybe not all of it. But darn close. I am a child of the Credibility Gap era, and now an adult of same. It’s been a long era. Which makes the thought of another campaign season nearly unbearable. The weird thing is that for those in the eye of the maelstrom—the candidates, the parties, the press corps, the handlers—it almost approaches something resembling fun.
For the rest of us? Eh, not so much.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue.
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