I was up til 3am reading polls, scouring the news and being generally obsessive about today. My stomach is doing flip flops and there's still 11 hours before the first polls close. I cannot concentrate. It's like a bad crush that I know could either break my heart or make me eternally happy.
I was living in Slovenia for the '04 election and remember watching CNN all night, sleeping in bursts on the sofa, watching everything spiral into another Bush win. I remember going to the Election Breakfast the US Embassy was sponsoring at 6am, seeing distinctive groups of people - one group grim, the other with smug smiles, and the poor diplomats wandering around trying to figure out the energy of the room. I went to work for an hour and then went home. My gut hurt for a week. I felt like I'd been through a breakup of something with so much potential.
I read an interesting piece in the Guardian recently that has resonated with me. It's an assessment of the Bush legacy by numerous US authors, and Tobias Wolff's entry was especially poignant. He begins by saying that he still hasn't gotten over the two Bush wins - frankly, I haven't either. I get stick from my GOP friends about this, but they don't have to live in another country and deal with the repercussions of Bush's decisions. I don't know why Europeans think it's their right to ask me about my government, but it happens all the time. I have no excuses for Bush. I didn't vote for him, either time. I find him an embarrassment. But I don't take responsibility because I didn't put him there. (And I left 7 months after he was sworn in.)
Towards the end of his piece, Wolff states It has made me embarrassed, as of some public foolishness by one's family, and it has made me vindictive. When I see someone being rude to a waiter, or blocking the road in a Ford Expedition, or yakking loudly on a cell phone in a crowded elevator, I naturally assume they voted for George W Bush. I've done that. I've bitten my tongue listening to Americans without volume control who speak s-l-o-w-l-y to ensure a waiter from another country can understand them - even a Scottish waiter. I've wanted to smack backpackers who say 'like' all the time and talk about using Daddy's AmEx to buy booze. I've hidden from overweight, shorts-and-bright-white-tennis-shoes-clad Americans who are denied entry to a cathedral and then try to argue with the guards. And I've assumed all of them voted for GWB. Every rude, or nasty, or cruel, or ignorant American obviously voted for the guy, and it is, thus, all their fault.
I know this makes little sense, but seeing it in print made me feel a tiny bit better about my own behavior.
If one thing has come of this election, it is the exposure of the vast divisions in America. This is a good thing. This might make people (including me) remember that part of the beauty of America is the spectrum of opinion. Yes, it's the NY Times on one side and Fox News on the other, but it seems the international press are finally focusing on the millions of perspectives in between. Even if McCain wins tonight, thoughts on the people who make up America may have shifted; we're not all Bush cronies, we don't all want war, we're not all bullies, we're not all flag-wavers who think the world wants to be us. Millions of us donated time and money to Obama's campaign, and this collective voice was heard.
President Obama has such a nice ring to it.