I Sing of Fizzy Fluid Retention

The decline of spinsters? Smoke-free living? Drawing on a vast new statistical compendium, our commentator unearths, examines, and extrapolates the hidden challenges to America.

The real reason Americans grew to the size of mastodons between the willowy days of Pat Nixon and the XXXL-thong Lewinsky years is to be found in tables Bd584 and Bd585. Annual consumption of bottled water and carbonated beverages went from 32 gallons per person in 1976 to 62.8 gallons in 1995. We’re not fat. But we are about to burst due to fluid retention. And since 51.2 of those 62.8 gallons of liquid are the fizzy stuff, it’s very important never to shake or drop an American or poke one with a sharp object. The result would be a mess worse than Watergate and the Clinton impeachment put together.

Speaking of which, do you know what causes low voter turnout in America? It’s the result of having the fate of our nation at stake. This began with the bitter presidential election of 1828, which pitted the education, cultivation, and puritan constraint of John Quincy Adams against the yahoo populism of Andrew Jackson, thereby deciding permanently whether America would become a shining city upon a hill or an overlighted strip mall along a highway. Voter turnout that year was 55.2 percent. A dozen years later, a small and unctuous incumbent, Martin Van Buren, the first professional politician to occupy the White House, ran against the vacuous William Henry Harrison, who would die from the pneumonia he contracted by giving an overlong inauguration speech in the freezing rain. Harrison’s platform consisted entirely of the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Van Buren’s platform was even less substantive. There were no issues of note. And voter turnout was 77.5 percent.

In 1860, when a vote for or against Abraham Lincoln meant deciding whether to fight a civil war, 72.1 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. In 1876, when a vote for or against Rutherford B. Hayes meant bubkes, 82.9 percent of eligible voters showed up.

In 1932, with Republicans and Democrats offering radically different political and economic responses to the Great Depression, voter turnout was 56.8 percent. In 1940, with the reelection of FDR a foregone conclusion, turnout was 62.9 percent.

Another way to guarantee that a lower percentage of eligible voters will exercise the right to their franchise is to guarantee their franchise rights. Voter turnout in the presidential election of 1916 was 61.9 percent. Then, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving the vote to women. Voter turnout in that year’s presidential election was 49.2 percent. The Voting Rights Act, ensuring access to the polls for blacks, was passed in 1965. Voter turnout went from 63.3 percent in 1964 to 62.5 percent in 1968. And after the voting age was lowered to 18, in 1971, voter turnout took a further dip, to 56.4 percent in the 1972 presidential election.

Presented by

P. J. O'Rourke

P. J. O’Rourke is a correspondent for The Atlantic . His most recent book is On the Wealth of Nations (2007).

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