Thursday, November 6, 2008

Know Hope

I've been spending a lot of time over the last couple days reading over the various reactions to the election and discussions of the path our new President-Elect will be taking. It's still so hard to put into words how I feel right now. I think it's equal parts hope, pride, and pleasant surprise.

2000 was my first presidential election. I remember so clearly going to vote for the first time and signing my name in the voter roll just above my mom's name. After years of accompanying my parents to the polls, now it was my turn. Over the course of that election cycle, I had watched the debates (and the SNL parodies... "strategery"). I had admired Al Gore since I was in the sixth grade when he was named as Clinton's VP pick and my social studies teacher had described his environmental stances. Now I was a sophomore in college and I stayed up late watching the results until my roommate, a New Hampshire resident who hadn't voted (something I loudly berated her for) asked me to turn off the TV late that night when Florida was still up in the air. It was just as well since when I woke up in the morning we still didn't know who won. That loss made me incredibly sad, not least because my guy hadn't won. It's never fun to be on the losing side, whether it's in kickball or political campaigns.

I still held out hope though. When the new president-elect explained that he would be a uniter, I (naively it turns out) believed that maybe it would happen, especially since there was no mandate for him since a majority of Americans had voted for his rival. I may have joked about moving to Canada like many of those who had voted the way I had, but without any real seriousness. I'll admit, it was a kind of fashionable thing to say at the time.

Then things changed and fairly quickly. I still held out hope that in the incredibly difficult times that were upon us, our President would lead us in a responsible way. I hoped that while we couldn't be made whole again, we could start to heal. Then it was decided that we would go to war. Hardball with Chris Matthews made a stop with their campus tour at Fordham University. The guest was John McCain. I attended the taping in the Fordham Prep auditorium and listened to a man I believed to be honorable talk about the need for war. I was skeptical. The show was disrupted by several protesters who took off their coats and showed t-shirts emblazoned with the words "No War for Oil" in red. They were quickly escorted out, nervous laughter ensued and the interview continued apace. I thought it was a shame that McCain had not defeated President Bush in the primaries, because he seemed like a pretty good, knowledgeable guy. He seemed presidential.

2004 was rough for me. My mom died a couple days before the Iowa caucus and I remember discussing the various Democratic contenders with my friends at her wake. I recall quite vividly talking about John Kerry even before it seemed like he would emerge from that primary caucus as the winner. I thought that of all the candidates, he could defeat President Bush. I mean, he was actually a veteran! He had fought in Vietnam! That year, I donated to my first presidential campaign. I watched with rapt attention as a new political figure addressed the crowds at the Democratic Convention. I cried. This, I thought, is what it feels like to have someone speak to you eloquently, with respect, seeking to inspire and manages to leave you feeling good. This, I thought, is what happens when you're left remembering the message rather than remembering mispronunciations and gaffes. But after that high point, the polls for my guy started to plummet. And again, my guy lost, though thankfully largely without the utter chaos and uncertainty that followed my first election.

And then there was this campaign, which seemed to extend back almost to the time the last election was decided. Early on, I found it difficult to decide who I wanted to support. I respected Hillary a lot. It was her turn, her time. How inspiring to have her in the White House again, but now in this new role! But I remained torn. I hadn't known an election that did not have a Bush or a Clinton on the ballot. Did I want another one? The contrast between Obama and Bush was so striking, so fraught with meaning that I began to think of the symbolism of having him in the office. But could he win? Hillary was probably a much safer pick. So I didn't choose. I didn't vote in the primary because I really just couldn't make up my mind. But deep down I think I knew who I'd support in the end.

I had a Democratic friend who was unmovable. Devoted to Hillary, she simply could not make herself support him. I suspected there was more to her opposition than these feelings that her girl was robbed of what was rightfully hers. I had felt that before and couldn't let myself be laden down by those feelings. Talking to her frustrated me since she seemed so unwilling to change her mind and so willing to believe everything she heard that was bad, regardless of its truth. In the end, she transferred her affections to the least credible candidate to have ever been raised to the ticket of a national party and viewed efforts to expose the inadequacies of this candidate as an attack on her. She turned into one of the people that I simply could not understand.

Now that it's over, I hope that she, like the millions who didn't vote for my guy, will have the same hope that I nourished for the last eight years: that while we may disagree with the President, in the end, he'll make good choices for all of us. He'll represent all of us and speak for all of us (and hopefully, he'll do that with words that are pronounced correctly). I hope that this time, those hopes will be justified and met with words and deeds that make us proud of our President, regardless of our party affiliation or whether we cast our votes for him. I'm looking forward to what's to come.