Few people know much about America’s 8th President (that count starting under the current constitution, as is idiomatic – Cyrus Griffin and Nathaniel Gorham are, as always, absent from discussion). Martin Van Buren was perhaps the first professional politician to hold the office, and was renowned for being exceptionally mediocre. There have been worse presidents. There have been better presidents. But he set us down this path of lowered expectations we have today – it’s okay to vote for someone mediocre. It’s okay to vote for a career politician. It’s okay to vote for someone who doesn’t understand you, or someone who does not have outstanding moral character.
In many ways, my dismay at the current election cycle is centered on the rise of rhetoric about tactical voting. Voting for someone you don’t want to be president because you really, really want to make sure someone else isn’t president… seems to be the line of thinking that’s led to two of the most hated major party candidates in history. They’ll still get a lot of votes, because people feel they are the only two options, and we’ve designed a system to make sure they’re mostly right.
In an age where torture, extra-judicial execution, and mass surveillance are amazingly unpopular, the major party candidates cheerfully support the programs – or will oppose them publicly and expand them in office.
Today, we know our democratic shame, the votes we have cast as a country that have led us here. Our compromise-candidates and satisfactory-statesmen who have driven us, inevitably, to a world full of practices we find disgusting. We saw the dominoes when they started falling, and I thought I’d make a tool for that first domino to look back, see what he has wrought, and take in its majestic terror.
Have some fun with the bookmarklet, or just see it in action: Peek-a-Buren.