Like most of the country, I feel like I was holding my breath for (at least) the last year. Wednesday morning, I was able to finally, release that breath in relief.
This election was long, but not nearly as long as the 2000 election felt to me. 2000 was the first year I paid any attention to politics, forced in large part due to a job I had digitally archiving newscasts. And for weeks after I would come into the office and ask my coworkers, "Do we have a president yet?" That was the start of eight years of lunacy, greed and daily terror—both real and manufactured.
In 2004, I received a jolt of sheer disbelief when the Democrats, who'd bemoaned G.W. Bush for the previous trio of years, put up the near-lifeless automaton John Kerry as their best candidate. I didn't like him, but I didn't have much of a choice—Kerry or Nader come election day, so I cast my vote for Kerry, hoping somewhere in there was a St. George who could slay the Washington hydra currently occupying the White House—no longer 'the People's House' as it was originally called. Kerry failed. It wasn't the Swift Boaters who killed his chances; he never had a chance. 2004 was an election that didn't have to be stolen. The Neocons knew that the dime store cigar Indian didn't have a chance. Still, Democrats seized power in Congress and I took some solace in that, knowing full well that nothing was going to change; it was the perception of change I was looking for.
Of course, things did change. Through greed and ineptitude and guards sleeping at their post (or even shamelessly bartering with the enemy), our economy collapsed, the world continued to hate us, more Americans were killed in the name of King and Country and the blame was placed on gay marriages, illegal immigrants and, of course, the previous Democratic administration. Gas prices skyrocketed—because of "speculators" and more back room deals with our "allies" who were already holding us economically hostage—the same ones we smuggled out of the country when we were attacked in 2001. Our administration had given up their lame sleight of hand. No more were they saying "Look at this hand! Don't look here where the trick is going on! Honest, it's a trick." They were saying "Look where you want. We don't give a shit about you."
"Mr. Cheney, this war is very unpopular with the American people."
I can remember, at the start of the new election cycle, thinking and saying that if Hillary and John McCain wound up running against each other that I'd literally have to flip a coin at the polls. That's the faith I had in Mr. McCain, though I never really related to "The Right" or "The Conservatives" or whatever you wanted to call "the other side of the center". In 2000 and beyond, I saw him as a good, honest man who truly believed in the United States of America, brave enough to stand up to the Neocons when he thought they were wrong. But just before he threw his hat into the election ring, just before the obsequious Rudy Juliani and the heinous Mitt Romney were seen as the Republican messiahs, something happened to John McCain aboard his "Straight Talk Express". He fell asleep and was taken over by an outer space seed pod. Or perhaps the Midwich Cuckoos ordered him behind the brick wall. Whatever the cause, the McCain I saw on television since the beginning of the year was not the John McCain I'd fallen in love with. I felt like a cuckolded husband, I really did. Every time he spoke the words "My friends" a chill shot through me and I thought, "they got to him".
And I confess that I was pulling for Hillary simply because she was a woman. I rarely liked anything that came out of her mouth—it was her tone, or her body language, something implied that the stick up her ass was larger than we could imagine and most of it was located in the fifth dimension. I desperately wanted to see a woman president; just not that woman. But it didn't matter, really, what I wanted. As a registered independent, I couldn't vote in the primaries. For any party. Which makes the term "independent" as isolated in politics as it is in the movie industry.
When the fine Irish gentleman Barak Obama was declared the nation's left-leaning candidate, the run-up agonies continued, focused with laser-beam intensity on the faults of the two candidates. McCain continued to illicit alien behavior, not to mention cynicism rivaling my own with the choice of Sarah "Death to all wildlife" Palin as his ill-conceived running mate. "They want a woman, let's give 'em a woman!" he seemed to say. I didn't want this woman either. She came off as hypocritical, condescending and, in a lot of ways, as vapid and empty as something that came out of Dr. Goldfoot's Bikini Machine. And I was just as certain that she would explode at some point. She had the same obsequious Dick Cheney manner—"I won't answer your questions because I don't feel like it and I know what's best for you. Now shut up and eat your bowl of offal."
Watching a clip of her on The Daily Show, for the first time in my life, I confronted my own inner misogyny—something I didn't know I had—when the acronym "MILFU" popped into my head: "Mom I'd Like To Fuck Up." Yeah, I hated her that much. And the vast bucket that held my respect for McCain, now riddled with holes, looked more like a tea strainer, in both size and perforation.
And "Barry Obama", as my conservative co-workers referred to him? He seemed, if it's a word, 'leaderful'. I liked the fact that he didn't get rattled by McCain's confrontations. And I loved the fact that he wasn't just another old rich white guy. He was, in fact, a young-ish rich sorta-black guy. The fact that he didn't look like a photocopy of the past candidates—more a photo negative—motivated me to pay more attention to him. Does that make me as shallow as the African Americans who planned to vote for him simply because he was black? Probably. But I paid attention to what he had to say. And the more he talked, the more convinced I was that he was the right man for the job.
I never bought the fact that a McCain presidency would be "Four More Years of George W. Bush". The inner child in me was rooting for McCain to stand up on television and rip off the mask he was wearing and reveal the McCain of 2000 or 2004. But then he kept referring to himself as a 'Maverick', something a real maverick would never do. Then Palin started it up too. "I'm a maverick too! Look how mavericky I am! I shoot wolves from a helicopter! I take money from the government and then tell them we don't need their money but I don't give it back! Tee hee! Oh, and Alaska is now part of Russia, that's how mavericky I am!"
At work and in downtown Waynesburg (one street and two grocery chains), I heard the words "socialism" and "Muslim" and "nigger" bandied about so often, my own brain started beeping them out like an FCC seven-second delay. And I couldn't wait for this wretched election to be over. For the record, I was also tired of the words "hope" and "change". They were two words that ceased to have any meaning for me. For a while I wondered, "What kind of change? The kind we've been living with? Higher gas and higher unemployment? What was this? The Lady and the Tiger?" Which isn't to say that I haven't been enjoying the schadenfreude I've experienced at my conservative chums' expense.
Finally, Tuesday, Amy and I cast our ballots. We watched Comedy Central that night as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart—the only two people in politics I actually trust—followed the results across the country. Obama was winning, by a big margin, but anything could change. Gore was winning in 2000 and look how that wound up.
In the morning, I learned the truth: America had its first black president. There was celebration throughout the country and McCain ceded graciously. The mood in my largely-conservative office was one of suicide. "The retards have spoken," one said to me. A comeback didn't seem worth the effort.
For the rest of Wednesday, I monitored the newspapers and the 'net. "Change" was the watchword again. The world has to/is going to/will change. Peace on Earth will reign as soon as that lousy Bush and his cronies are out of the White House—provided he doesn't start WWIII before January 20. How progressive we are! We voted for a black president and he won! Racism is over!
But were we progressive? More people voted than ever but was it for Obama or against McCain. An analogy seems, to me, to be that we've been eating rat pie for eight years. Now here's your choice: you can have this pie, which has slightly less rat in it, or this can of Chef Boyardee that's expired, the label has peeled off and don't know what's in it, but it's not rat pie. Is that really progressive?
Is not wanting rat pie really the end of racism?
Which isn't to say that I didn't firmly believe in Barak Obama when I entered my vote. I did and I do. At the very least, he changed the face of politics, even if he didn't—or won't—reinvent the game. I believe he'll do an excellent job and that the U.S. will get onto a healing path, if only because the American people think that change is, indeed, coming. At least it's not rat pie.
As for the end of racism… Proposition 8 passed in California. Narrowly, but it still passed. If you don't live in CA and don't know what Prop 8 is, it was a referendum to ban gay marriage in that state, just months after the state made gay marriage legal. According to the state of California, as well as many other states in the union, "marriage" is restricted to the definition of one man and one woman. A big chunk of the majority that made up that vote consisted of African Americans and Latinos.
The same cross sections that cry out against discrimination. The same cross section that declares that they are oppressed minorities. Equal rights for all!
Unless you're gay.
Of course, they say, it's not the same thing. Skin color prejudice is not the same thing as bias towards sexual preference because…
Oh, yeah, the Bible. See, mixing races is okay because the parts of the Bible that say that's wrong, see, those are outdated and meaningless to today's society and God didn't really mean that anyway. And slavery, too, that's wrong. Even though there are parts of the Bible that espouse that practice but, see, that was written a long time ago, okay? So shut the fuck up and just agree with us that homosexuality is wrong!
Thirty years ago, it was "wrong"—or, at least, controversial—to show a black man kissing a white woman. Vice versa was "a little okay", but still wrong. Forty years ago—forty years ago!—mixed marriages were illegal in many states.
But two men or two women marrying, being treated equally, like everyone else, having the same opportunity to make their love legal in the eyes of the country… that's just fucking wrong.
So "change" just means "change you can see" or, maybe, "change for us but not you".
We'll always go back and forth on the subject of abortion. Catholics were outraged that Obama is pro-Choice. And I'll make the same argument that if you're for capital punishment and anti gun control and pro euthanasia, guess what: you are not Pro Life. In fact, you're Pro Death. Cram abortion right in there with those other attitudes, friends, because you're in favor of death. And it's hypocritical to say otherwise. "But they're babies, they're innocent!" Lots of innocent people are put to death and gunned down by criminals. Or shot by family members by accident. What's the difference? "They're babies!" It's the same argument as why we eat cows and not puppies. One is cute, the other is meat.
But, then again, we're a hypocritical society, aren't we?
On Wednesday, I expected to wake up in Toon Town, surrounded by brighter colors and woodland creatures that would help me dress and brush my teeth. I wanted to feel this change we've been hoping for all year. That Obama won is, indeed, remarkable, ratless pie or not. And I think—I hope—again, that he will do good things for this country. I also hope that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are visited by three ghosts this Christmas who then proceed to kick the shit out of them.
But as far as change goes, I think we have a ways to go. Still, on Wednesday morning, I allowed myself to exhale. Shoop shoop.