As I mentioned previously, I cried like a baby on Election Night when Barack Obama was announced as the next president of the United States of America. Until that moment, I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen.
This may seem strange, because the polls had been calling the election in his favor for weeks. But still I worried, and fretted, and disallowed myself to celebrate in my mind or to count on his victory until it was absolutely unequivocal. I know there were a lot of other people like myself who were equally nervous about the whole thing—particularly those who perhaps felt, as I did, that the last election was a crushing blow to their faith in our political system.
I can still remember my anguish at watching the Electoral College gradually creep up in W’s favor during the last Presidential Election. My shock and disbelief grew as it become more and more likely that Bush was going to win a second term. I went to bed in an angry, drunken stupor before the winner was announced, and woke up not wanting to hear the truth because I knew it already, even though I didn’t want to believe it.
The last Presidential election coincided with a rocky period in my life, coming only a few months after I moved back to the East Coast from Honolulu. I went from living in a sunny, breezy paradise that seemed far removed from the highly-charged political climate of the rest of the world, to living in cold, conservative, election-obsessed Cape Cod. The Cape is a beautiful place in the fall, but there is something unpleasantly morbid about the chill in the air and the constant scrape-y rustle of dead leaves at all hours of the day and night. George Bush’s re-election, though it was a marginal victory, made me want to move again, out of the country this time, rather than just off the continent.
There are probably many Democrats who also remember the election before that, Bush v. Gore, as a horrifying, wrenching spectacle of agony and incompetence. In all honesty, at the time of that election I was a jubilant 21-year-old college student who worried more about my crushes than the candidates. Also, in those days we didn’t know all that much about George Bush’s leadership skills, or lack thereof. He was a question mark in a cowboy hat, a jaunty, shoot from the hip kind of guy who might be fun to have a beer with. And Al Gore was so stiff and robotic. For those of us who missed Clinton, he was no Bill Clinton. Why not take a chance on this fun-loving Texan? I recall reading more than one New York Times editorial (whose authors likely lived to rue the days they editorialized) about how there was something strangely seductive about the idea of George W. Bush as our swaggering President. Really, what could be the harm?
By 2004, we knew what the harm could be, and had been, and would continue to be. So when W was re-elected, I began to think that Presidential Elections were destined to be staggeringly disappointing events for me. My candidate had lost in 2000. And had been defeated in 2004. By 2008 I was on eggshells. I didn’t want to think too much about the outcome either way. I supported Obama, I donated to Obama, I made phone calls on his behalf, I engaged in vigorous debate with McCain supporters, I hated on Sarah Palin with all my shriveled, twisted heart, but through it all I tried to quiet the voices in my head that whispered, ‘you are getting your hopes up for nothing.’ So I was not counting on victory for Obama. I hadn’t let myself seriously consider the idea of his presidency right up until Tuesday evening.
So when he won, and I cried, and watched everyone on TV cry, and called my parents and cried, and listened to the news the next day and cried, I think part of what I was crying for was the realization of how much faith I had lost in my country. I hadn’t even realized how hopeless I had felt about America, until I was suddenly able to begin to hope again.
Even still, watching the President-Elect give his victory speech, I felt a twinge of fear. This new President already has so many Americans counting on him to do the right thing and make life better for them. Is that something that any one person has the power to do? Are the standards we have set for him even within the realm of possibility for anyone to live up to?
It is scary, to have this much hope now. But I guess I am learning that it is better than the shame and despair I have lived with since 2001. Nothing is scarier than absence of hope.