’twas the night before Election Day and all through the country, every creature was stirring.
Tomorrow, everything changes — or at least I hope it does, because I don’t think this country would be able to handle a repeat of 2000 (the only year in its history, incidentally, that the AP hasn’t made a call on election night). I know that there will be shenanigans and there will be great things and there will be straight-up voter suppression tomorrow, and that at the end of this hideous and uncomfortable process, we will have elected someone — I’m guessing, and hoping, that the call will be made early, even though I’m normally super resentful about the fact that elections are sometimes called before polls on the West Coast close (let alone in Alaska and Hawaii). We will certainly be making history one way or the other, and not just in the general sense that a change in presidential administrations is usually subject to historic note, because the identity of the person measuring the drapes in the Oval Office is going to have a profound effect on the history of the United States and our role in the world. This could be the moment historians point to as the fall of empire, or…something else.
I’m always a little giddy and hopped up on the eve of election night, though not as much as the candidates, I imagine. Ever since I was old enough to understand, I was fascinated by elections, and I wanted everything to do with them, from following my father into the voting booth to watching the poll workers to selling pies out front (I am a true child of capitalism). Unlike many things I waxed enthusiastic over during childhood and got bored with when I became an adult, elections remain perennially exciting for me, so filled with potential, and I am inevitably a nervous wreck on Election Day, leaving the radio on, unable to work, baking endless batches of cookies, waiting for people to come over, printing out maps of the US for us to use like colouring books as the results roll in even though we’re all too busy frantically refreshing our laptops to remember to fill them out.
Elections to me are the smell of pasta sauce and fresh inky ballots and early sunsets and crowding around the table to listen as state by state is called. They are the whoops of excitement and groans of disappointment. They are waiting impatiently for ballots to go over the hill, for them to be counted, to find out how the county voted. They are poring through the newspapers as though they will hold some sort of clue to the future, like this is a reality show, some things may have been edited but they won’t affect the ending. For at least one candidate, I suppose this election really is like a reality show.
People like to say that my generation is apathetic and uninvolved, and like anyone I have a bit of a self-selecting bubble, but that’s not what I see. I see a generation engaging and active in so many different ways, a generation building and creating and sustaining movements. I see a generation passionate about voting, I see conversations erupting in the grocery store over the avocados and in the pasta aisle. I see people dreaming and making and doing things, I see potential — I see that day before the election jitters and anxiousness and hope and determination and I see people channeling it into things. Sometimes it feels naive and quaint, but at other times, it’s still something vitally important: People have found something, they believe in it, they are doing it. That’s not apathetic, even if it’s sometimes sort of sadly misguided.
I know that a lot of people are jittery and anxious and filled with a thing they can’t quite describe tonight. Not just politicians and their retinues, not just pollsters and political scientists and the professionals of Washington and beyond, but children watching a world that is about to become very interesting, kids who have watched a truly bizarre and often nonsensical election campaign spin out around them. There are little kids like I once was, but unlike me, they have grown up with a completely different set of precedents and assumptions when it comes to who can be in office.
I look at images of President Obama from when he took office, and again today, and I see a man ravaged by a grueling and demanding office — a man with a more lined face, with hair fading to white, with something tired and kind of sad about him that only lifts in rare moments. One thing I’ve always noticed about the president is that he’s a man who seems to truly love children, not as a politician is supposed to, but as someone who genuinely gets a kick out of being around kids, and finding out who they are, and communicating with them on their level. It is in those moments, of chasing kids around the Oval Office and making faces at babies, that I get a glimpse of the person behind the office, the person who maybe was obsessed with politics and the potential of the future as a child just like me. The president’s time in office is counted in days now, White House staffers already packing up their desks and securing new positions.
When I was little, I thought that was where I wanted to be — it never occurred to me that someone like me couldn’t be president — but the last eight years have proved that I made the right choice when I decided that a career in politics wasn’t for me.
Sometimes I wonder if President Obama regrets it.
Image: Election, Tyler Law, Flickr