November 6, 2008

Thoughts on an election

I am, by nature, a cynic.

My general beliefs are that...
  • there aren't ghosts
  • we have less control over our world than we would like to believe
  • dramatic changes are amazingly rare
  • that game you just saw that is the best ever probably is just the best recently
  • most politicians are trying to do their best but in a huge system that has amazing inertia
  • as much as you'd like to believe otherwise, your team probably isn't going to win because there are a lot more non-winners than winners every season
  • there isn't a higher power than science
  • all your cheering and lucky shirts have almost no effect on the outcome of the big game
And because of that inherent cynicism, I find it increasingly hard to get excited about much of anything. I watch almost every sports contest without much of a rooting interest and certainly without cheering or booing at the screen because I know that what will happen will happen whether I'm getting all worked up about it or not. And I tend to watch the news with a general level of dispassion.

But every now and then...

Every so often...

Something comes along that feels different.

That just might be significant.

I have heard people say in the days leading up to Tuesday's election that this election would be the defining moment of our times, our generation, our country. That things would somehow be different now. That history was being made.

My default position on most of those things was that we rarely know when defining moments happen until far after they've happened, that we don't usually know when history is being made because we can't predict the hundreds of millions of ripples that our every action will make upon our global pond.

In light of all this, it's tough for me to admit that the election of Barack Obama...excites isn't the right word...fills me with hope is too hokey...inspires isn't quite right. I wish that I were a speaker of German so I could make up a new word that mean fills me with a sense of hopefulness and joy tinged with a fear that this hopefulness will come to nothing if the source of the excitement turns out to be nothing but empty talk, because that's much closer to the feeling that Obama's election has brought me.

On Tuesday I voted for a president for the first time.

I'd voted in presidential elections before - which, by the way, major shout out to TL who fought for her vote much more than I did and got to cast her first vote in a big one - but I'd never voted for a candidate before.

Al Gore inspired me so little that I voted for Ralph Nader. John Kerry didn't inspire me. Nor did Bill Clinton, even, in my first presidential election.

I voted in all of those elections for the candidate that I preferred, but I didn't vote for those candidates as much as I voted for the candidate that I disliked less or least.

But I voted for Barack Obama because his words, his speeches, his campaign inspired me. He didn't run the default Democratic campaign even though many of his positions would have fit it well. He ran a campaign built on defining himself as a candidate of hope, of change (as cliched as that became in the course of this campaign), and of inclusion.

He offered to help and challenged us to set aside our differences to help each other. He warned us of sacrifices that would be necessary in his administration for us to help others - through health care, through charity, through taxes. And I didn't mind. Quite the opposite, I relished the honest turn in which a candidate didn't tell me that he could hang the moon and the stars without asking to stand on my shoulders.

And, damn, it's scary to think that I've put myself so far out there, allowed my cynicism to peel away even a bit and hope for once. I feel almost the way I would if I'd just written the words I love you to a girl in a letter and sent that letter out into the ether not knowing what would ever come of the admission, whether she would turn out to be worth the hope and the risk.

And we won't know for a long time whether this girl worth the risk.


Opinions related to the election that I've particularly enjoyed and/or sympathized with...


Shaan Mehta said...

I'm no fan of Obama. If the economy was not in the tanks, then I feel McCain would have been elected. A lot of angry people who had watched their stock porfolios half in a matter of days felt they should blame Bush and the republican party. Well deregulation of the stock market has been around since Reagan and continued through Clinton to Bush. The economy was the deciding factor in the election and it favored Obama and since he has been elected the stock market has quietly dropped more than 800 points in two days.
At 72, McCain is an accomplished man who has more patriotism than anyone I know. People say his movements a stiff and he's not the best speaker but let's see any other 72 year old endure the rigorous 16 hour day campain schedule. McCain was tortued longer in a POW camp to save his fellow American soldiers longer than Obama been in the senate. He has served ouer nation for over 55 years. People talk about how Obama's such a great speaker but a great speaking ability doesn't qualify you to run the United States. Overall, I feel that Obam has been elected for the wrong reasons and we'll all have to live with it. But what's happened, happened and I wish Obama luck for the four years.

joey said...

I'm with you, wonder what the German call it... maybe I'll just refer to that as my wv from this comment: chotosec

TL said...

I'm jealous... I didn't really vote FOR "my" candidate. I want to be inspired, even if it is tinged with a little trepidation as yours is. Sadly, with my confused politics, I'll probably never be totally FOR any candidate unless an outstanding moderate with libertarian home policies steps up to the plate, and I doubt a character like that would whip up enough excitement from a majority.

It DID feel special, even if my candidate didn't win and I knew it when I cast my vote. I was moved and delighted to be a part of something huge and I knew I'd still be proud to look upon the face of our first ever African-American president, even if I disagree with some of his politics. It's bigger than just one man and it's bigger than just me.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised, and I'm perfectly willing to be. That's how I roll. I'm easy like that.

PS: Germans are fascinating people. To have a word like "schadenfreude" is just cool. Sadistic buggers :)

coachsullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
achilles3 said...

I can't believe the fact that I predicted the landslide back in JUNE didn't make the link list;-)

PHSChemGuy said...

All sorts of people predict all sorts of things, Lakes. Check it, 'cause Sully had things two years ago.

TL - one of my favorite phrases is actually from French l'esprit de l'escalier. The Germans have nothing on that one.

Shaan - I don't know that I would say that the economy was the deciding factor in the election. I would argue that the election of Barack Obama hinged on a number of things...

- There is, admittedly, a general feeling of distrust toward the current administration, and John McCain shares a significant label (that he chose for himself) in being a Republican. He gets all of the good and ill that goes with that choice. This time, the ill far outweighed the good.

- Barack Obama is inspiring. He tapped into a wish/hope/desire/need within many of us to make things better, to believe that tomorrow will be better than today.

- Admittedly, John McCain's age and infirmity didn't help him. A number of people - me included - felt that McCain's ill health (good for a 72-year old isn't good) was a detriment to his candidacy, especially when he selected a vastly more inexperienced running mate as his possible replacement.

- John McCain often seemed to want to appear a common man - hanging with Joe the Plumber, painting Obama as elite - and I don't want a neighbor as president. I want a leader, and Barack Obama never appeared anything other than presidential.

I very much agree with you that John McCain served our country as a soldier and a legislator. He deserves our thanks for that. That service alone, however, does not mean that he is the best choice for the job he was seeking. My grandfather served in the military for twenty years and did great philanthropy work, but I didn't ever think "darn, if only Grandpa was president."

The choice of Obama vs McCain reminded me of our choice at PHS of principal last year. A number of people counted Mr Sprankles' inexperience as a detriment to his hiring. I have never felt that inexperience alone is a deciding factor. I would much rather have young, talented, and good-hearted than experienced but no good.

John McCain isn't necessarily "no good", but I certainly didn't feel that Obama's inexperience was a knock against him.

Thanks, by the way, for reading and voicing your opinions - and especially for doing them in a cordial manner. With thoughtful responses like yours, you'll be welcome any time.

Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel better, I've only voted for the winning candidate in 2 of 5 presidential contests.