Every four years, at a minimum, I watch election night returns. Some years are permanently inscribed in my memory, others are only vague recollections.
I remember election night 1992: the first presidential election in which I’d voted (via an absentee ballot to Massachusetts because I was in college in Oregon). However, on that Tuesday evening, I was not in Oregon. I, my girlfriend, and two others had driven up from Portland to Vancouver, B.C., for a U2 concert (Achtung Baby). It was during this concert that Bono announced, for any of us in the crowd who happened to be from down south, that Bill Clinton had won the election.
While I don’t recall 1996, 2000 is seared into my personal history as well as the history of the United States. For those who may have forgotten, that was the year when Bush-2 may or may not have defeated Gore. It was also my first wedding anniversary. I recall jubilation as they first called it for Gore. Then despair as they began to call it for Bush, and then confusion for weeks as they didn’t know who to call it for.
2004, is a bit hazier in my recollection, though I recall being not particularly surprised at Kerry’s loss.
Then came 2008: Obama’s landslide victory. I was at CubeSpace. The country had just entered what many of us suspected would be the worst economic slide since the Great Depression. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq raged. And on that night, the world seemed like a brighter place. Four years later, I read back over my thoughts following that election, and sigh.
Last night, while Obama won again, my feeling was more relief than anything else: it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But all of my hopes that Obama would bring a brighter future, and a different sensibility to Washington DC, those have been crushed by four years of rancorous partisan debate, and an increasing sense that the current two-party system functions only to fuel an increasingly myopic beltway culture.
Feeling disillusioned with an Obama presidency, I wonder if I will ever again be able to bring that sense of hope and expectation to political change, or whether it will take a new generation of voters. Voters who have not had their hopes for progress crushed time after time, as candidates found the political realities far more complex than their campaign slogans made them seem.
And yet, I know, that in another four years, I will again be watching election night returns, awaiting a glimpse of the future direction of our country.