"This is the most important election of our lifetime," intoned space zoologist Newt Gingrich, dozens of time this year. Many of the delegates gathered in Charlotte certainly agree. And they may be right. No one knows for sure which elections are consequential until we're bombing some difficult to pronounce city into fine dust, making it important to vote even when the stakes don't seem so high.
But remember that for this election to be the most important in "our" lifetime, they have to be more than these most important elections…
Washington Post, October 25, 1980:
Nancy Reagan doesn't make speeches. She says that with the well-modulated, trained voice of an actress bearing no traces of regional accent. But here in Syracuse, she is suddenly on stage, making a speech. Spontaneously. "The most important election in my lifetime," she is saying, meaning 57 years at least.
The New York Times, November 5, 1984:
"It's not too late! It's not too late! This is the most important election of our lifetime," said a speaker in West Virginia, referring to coming Supreme Court appointments. "And next Tuesday, we're going to beat their brains out."
Sen. Robert Byrd as quoted in The New York Times, October 22, 1988:
"It may be the most important election of this century."
The Washington Times, July 14, 1992:
"I feel strongly that this is the most important election in my lifetime," Miss Steenburgen says. "I feel qualified to be a delegate because not only have I known the Clintons since the late 1970s, but I've also been very involved with issues like civil rights and pro-choice."
Ralph Reed in the Tulsa World, April 14, 1996:
"It's the most important election of our lifetime."
The New York Times, November 7, 2000:
"This is probably the most important election people will see in their lifetimes, and the closest one," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which is supporting Vice President Al Gore.
John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
"My fellow Americans, this is the most important election of our lifetime."
(The sampling of 2008 quotes crashes my computer, but I know you remember!)
The only way all of these elections were the most important in a "lifetime" is if the only life that mattered were that of the winning candidate.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images