One of the best things about most of America’s past Presidential elections is that they have really decided so little. A remarkably centrist cultural and social consensus has dictated that, despite all of the vehement campaign rhetoric, both major parties have usually agreed on a wide range of fundamental issues. This national consensus has often made for dull elections, as Paul Boller, Jr. admits in Presidential Campaigns (Oxford University Press; New York), a collection of rather superficial capsule histories of Presidential elections, enlivened by the inclusion of many campaign anecdotes. But dull yet free elections are greatly desirable, since they signal national harmony. Radical disharmony makes elections less dull, but far more ominous.
But 12 years ago, a coalition of extremist factions turned George McGovern’s campaign into an assault upon middle America. Voters over whelmingly voiced their disapproval. But rather than accepting this verdict, radicals simply moved key social issues beyond the reach of the ballot and into activist courts, tendentious bureaucracies, and the irresponsible media. Ironically, many of those who loudly blamed Reagan’s election in 1980 on insufficient voter participation were the very people making voting seem like a waste of time to many thoughtful citizens. Certainly, one suspects that many who once supported Reagan because of their commitment to traditional values will not bother this year after watching his largely ineffectual struggle against unelected judges, bureaucrats, and newsmen on such issues as abortion, tax subsidized contraceptives, and school reform. This effective disenfranchisement of Americans, not voter apathy, is perhaps the most troubling recent development in national politics.