Dysfunction 2012: Historical Perspectives on the American Presidential Election

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - 8:00pm - 9:00pm
Wilson 102
Michael Vorenberg

Both major presidential candidates in 2012 have ended up engaging with the issue of American exceptionalism--that is, what makes the past, present, and future of the United States special or at least distinctive. Their versions of what makes America exceptional differ in key ways, but they have much in common: a true democracy, a place of tremendous economic potential, and a god-given mission to the world.

With such apparent optimism in the rhetoric of both major parties, one might think that electoral politics would be friendly and that Americans would be inspired by the process as much as the rhetoric of elections. Instead, of course, when it comes to electoral politics, especially in the current presidential campaign, Americans tend to be cynical and resentful of what they increasingly see as a dysfunctional process.

Has this contrast between inspirational rhetoric and electoral dysfunction always been part of American history? No. But it's more common than you might think, and precedents can be found reaching all the way back to the earliest elections of the United States.