I had been following the American election closely this year. This is not really out of the ordinary for me: I normally follow American politics even I still pay attention to the landscape here in Canada (the next federal riding over from where I live has a really awesome MP, but that’s another post). America is so close to us, and has such a big impact on what happens to Canada, that I couldn’t help but watch closely.
Despite the Huffington Post and Nate Silver both showing fairly optimistic projections, I was worried. Mitt Romney had benefited greatly from Barack Obama blowing the first debate and giving him a pass while he donned the moderate costume for this leg of the journey. I knew the hope and promise of four years ago gave way to gridlock as the country still tries to dig its way out of . I knew there would people who would rather vote for Charles Manson than for Obama.
The night was tense. A lot of the states that closed early in the nights were ones that would have gone red anyway, and some of the states that eventually flipped to blue were still showing Republican leads from the early returns. I kept reassuring myself that these were the rural counties, that the real Democratic strongholds hadn’t been counted yet. I kept hitting refresh, waiting for a change in the standings. I kept trying to distract myself with dishes, anything to keep me from watching the pot that wasn’t boiling.
Even when the more Dem-heavy states came alive on the boards, there were still enough question marks in the swing states. Sure, things were starting to look good for Obama, but I kept expecting Romney to close the gap. There was always a chance there would be a replay of 2000 or 2004, where nothing would be decided by the time I had to get to bed.
When the election was finally called for Obama, I felt relieved. Then giddy.
The last few years were hell. There was a sense that people were out for revenge. A lot of reports of downright racist displays involving Obama. Even the right’s support for a chicken sandwich chain’s religious stance felt tinged with a greater sense of “let’s stick it to the gays” than “first amendment”. After years of bitter vitriol and obstructionism, it was such a comfort to know that the bad behavior wasn’t getting rewarded. It wasn’t just the financial advantage that seemed to worry me; the fact that Mitt Romney seemed to shed and grow different skins to suit whoever he was pandering to was a big issue. For all the talk about how he was a values candidate, a business candidate, he really didn’t seem to stand for anything other than his own entitlement to the presidency. There was also a cold cruelty about him (and his wife) that really got to me. Mitt Romney scared me in a way I hadn’t been scared by a presidential candidate in years. Bush stood for things I didn’t like, but he didn’t seem to have the thinly-veiled nastiness and aggression that seemed to come out every time Romney was challenged.
One reason I’m glad about an Obama victory is that his winning a second term made his first term seem more real to me. Had Romney walked away with the election, the Obama administration might have been a brief four-year abberation in between two periods where power in America had lurched decisively to the right, with whatever Obama had achieved in his first term being swiftly undone by a Republican administration, and the gains of the past 50 (or more years) erased by Supreme Court Justices along the lines of Scalia and Thomas (who for all intents and purposes might as well be the same person).
Obama has not been a perfect president, and there are things that still concern me about a second term, so I wasn’t expecting for it to be as emotional as November 4, 2008, with that history-making decision. But I still felt emotional anyway: especially when I was checking out the House and Senate races and the ballot measures. The amazing and strong Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown in Massachussetts. Voters decided that candidates who made insensitive comments about rape did not speak for them. George “Macaca” Allen tried to get his Senate seat back and failed. It looks like Allen West is going to lose too.
Most emotional for me was that it was a decisive sea change for LGBT people at the polls. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay U.S. senator. Following year after year where voters were putting the kibosh on gay marriage in their states, four states broke the trend: Maine, Maryland and Washington approved of same sex marriage, while Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban. But the real change seems to be on its way: America has the first pro-gay marriage administration, one that has already done so much for LGBT people already. It really is getting better. Maybe soon, America will catch up to Canada.