The Election

Obama at Democratic ConventionI try to stay out of politics on this site, since it’s mostly related to my work and a lot of readers are my students. I want a variety of people to feel welcome in my classroom.

But — I am also aware that I have readers around the country and even around the world. And we have just been through an historic election for many reasons — not just the election of a black man.

NYTimes Electoral Vote mapTuesday night, I invited a neighbor over to watch election returns. Like many people, I felt that this was an event that had to be shared. ( When I voted mid-morning (to avoid crowds), I was disappointed that, while people were coming and going, there was no line, and thus no crowd.)  We switched back and forth between the shouting panels of analysts on CNN and the measured discussion on PBS, with the CNN election map in front of us on my laptop.

On the stroke of 8 pm, as the California polls closed, CNN projected Obama as the winner — a result that had been clear for a while, but this made it official. I was tempted to run around the corner to my polling place, to see what the reaction was there.  (Anyone in line by 8 pm can still vote, and we had a critical state proposition on same-sex marriage on the ballot, so I suspected there would still be voters as well as staff.)

Twice after McCain’s gracious concession speech and before Obama’s speech, there were spontaneous parades (in the dark) down our residential street — something I’ve never, ever seen after an election. The first was tiny, a woman from up the street and her two kids. The second was larger and louder, around 30 kids and adults (mostly kids), with a drum, some percussion instruments, and pots and pans, chanting “O-ba-MA!” Several of my neighbors joined the procession. My friend and I stood on the porch and applauded.

In contrast, Obama was sober, even somber. When Biden came out beaming, the contrast was especially clear. Talking about it at a dinner party later in the week, my friends interpreted his subdued affect as awareness of the burden he has taken on.

The day after the election, once again I was at the county courthouse; once again I walked down the tunnel between buildings and past the Registrar of Voters. Monday, the narrow tunnel filled with hundreds of people cheerfully waiting to vote, squeezing past dozens of portable voting booths. At the Registrar’s office, eight or ten service windows were busy. Wednesday, the tunnel was empty, the voting booths gone, the windows closed, and absolutely no sign of activity.

The excitement was over. Time to get on with it.

This is the first time I remember being so excited about the outcome — thought tempered with caution. Obama can’t possibly live up to all the expectations heaped on him. The first election I remember was JFK’s — I had a poster of him in my bedroom. He was exciting for many reasons, including his being a Catholic (like my family). But we lived in a heavily Republican state, so there wasn’t a lot of collective happiness. As a college student, I walked precincts in 1968, getting out the Democratic vote, and then stood around the dark, quiet, depressing official Democratic election party, Nixon clearly winning. I know I was relieved when Johnson beat Goldwater, and was happy when Clinton won. And of course we all remember the prolonged agony, and the outrage, of the Gore-Bush election.

I’m relieved that we have someone who will make a major change in many areas. People have quoted Obama as saying that the advantage to taking over in a time of crisis is the openness to change. I’ve been relieved to see him consulting widely on the economy. But — the excitement is over. It’s time to get on with it.

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