The previous crises are, in order:
- 1800, the first truly competitive
election, in which the idea of sedition as a crime was rejected and
Thomas Jefferson created the early form of the Democratic Party
based on the ideal of rural life.
1828, when Andrew Jackson created
the modern Democratic Party based on a balance of regional interests
and the Myth of the West.
1860, when Abraham Lincoln was
elected and the nation exploded into Civil War.
The 1890s, the birth of Populism
and Progressivism, resulting in the rise to power of Theodore
1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was
chosen to fight the Depression and the idea of affirmative
government was born.
1968, when Richard Nixon brought
the Thesis of Conflict, anti-communist, and anti-elite, into power.
Once again we have an Administration trying to
criminalize sedition, and failing. Once again we have populist and
progressive policies contending for power. Once again the role of
affirmative government is up for debate, and the Thesis of Conflict
is being deployed.
The crisis this comes closest to is the
1890s crisis. It was centered on the election of 1896, in which the
populist William Jennings Bryan lost to regular Republican William
McKinley. That crisis was defined, however, by the rise of Theodore
Roosevelt, who fought in the imperialist Spanish-American War, was
elected Governor New York later in 1898, was nominated as Vice
President “to get rid of him,” and succeeded to the Presidency
when McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
This was the only crisis where the
incumbent party came out stronger than when it went in. It came out
stronger because Roosevelt governed as a progressive, constantly at
war with the regular Republicans who had given him power, succeeded
in fact by a regular of his choosing, William Howard Taft, against
whom he ran as a Bull Moose in 1912. (He finished second. Taft ran
third.) TR defined the era. And it was his memory that Richard Nixon
deliberately evoked when he resigned, on August 9, 1974. “Always
in the arena, tempestuous, strong, sometimes wrong, sometimes right,
but he was a man."
It is this role John McCain
wishes to take, in historical terms. In his mind, McCain is TR. In
the media’s mind, he is also TR. But the McKinley of that time – if
Bush is McKinley – is not dead. And McCain is not his Vice
The fact is that history never repeats,
precisely. The patterns repeat, because the pattern of youth, vigor,
aging and death is universal. So long as America remains a democracy,
and retains the ability to define its own history, this pattern will
So what happens now? Don’t ask,
The history of our time is yet to be written. Write carefully, write
well. It’s in your hands.
So, by the way, is the 2006 election.
No matter what the polls tell you, no matter what I tell you, the
height and importance of a Democratic victory remains yours to
define. Given the suspicion of Republican theft, no height is too
high, no victory too massive. Don’t feel sorry for the other side,
and don’t consider joining them to make things interesting. Vote your
conscience. Let that be your guide.