When Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke at a 1960 campaign stop in Oakland, he stated: "This may be the most important election in our lifetime." He repeated that assertion often during his race against Richard Nixon.
By my unofficial analysis, every presidential nominee irrespective of party since 1960 has proclaimed that particular election to be the most important in their lifetime. This year's election is no different.
But with the passage of time, the phrase "This may be the most important election in our lifetime" has been based largely on the little known fact that the opponent, regardless of party, was Satan's love child.
American politics has never been for the thin-skinned, but there appears to be an unhealthy disregard for the opponent that is increasingly corrosive to the overall political discourse.
It is destructive because it places negative emotion ahead of public policy, where the talking points offered by one's favorite pundit is more important than perceived political self-interest.
I didn't watch the last debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney; it coincided with a certain Game 7 that included my beloved San Francisco Giants. But two individuals on different sides of the political spectrum who did watch it told me it was a re-enactment of Muhammad Ali's eighth-round knockout of George Foreman, with their guy playing the role of Ali.
Really? Were they watching the same event? Or does victory simply mean their candidate said what they wanted to hear -- and what they wanted to hear translates into what's best for America?
But the debates are based on loose and opaque criteria known only to those who subjectively declare winners and losers. Reading body language and determining if smiles were condescending are more important than the policies offered or the accuracy of facts.
It is rather sad that instead of admitting to any embellishment, the preferred modus operandi by candidates is to double-down on the statement in question and then cast doubt on the legitimacy of the fact-checkers.
The irrelevance of what dominates news cycles is also quite telling.
On the right, the president is lambasted for conducting an apology tour that never occurred. Conversely, Romney has been criticized more for using the term "binders full of women" than his failure to directly answer whether he supported equal pay for equal work.
Immediately following the most recent presidential debate, MSNBC's Chris Matthews said, "I think they (Romney supporters) hate Obama. They want him out of the White House more than they want to destroy al-Qaida."
I'm not sure how one quantifies or qualifies Matthews' comments. But before his statements are dismissed outright as hyperbole, we must also acknowledge the paradigm shift created by the presence of the Obama family at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It has led to an irrational exuberance by some to disqualify the president for no other reason than he simply does not look like the other 42 men who have served as commander in chief.
Could it be that the insignificant is the new significant?
During his 1960 acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Kennedy stated:
"There may be those who wish to hear more -- more promises to this group or that, more harsh rhetoric about the men in the Kremlin as a substitute for policy, more assurances of a golden future, where taxes are always low and the subsidies are always high."
The only difference between Kennedy's words and that which dominates our contemporary desires are the harsh words that were once reserved for the men in the Kremlin are now suitable for the opposition candidate.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.