How This Feels

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

For those of us who came of political age in the Bush era, it can be hard to get our heads around the fact that Barack Obama is winning. Our formative electoral experience was 2000, when Al Gore may well have won, but George Bush became president anyway. Then, after four years of incompetence and with a misguided war going badly, we got our hopes up in 2004 — only to see them buried under election returns from Ohio that, in retrospect, seem to have had an inevitability about them. Personally, I've reached a point where I can't really imagine John McCain giving a concession speech (especially when you factor in his inherent stubbornness, and the groundwork his campaign has been laying to dispute results). I feel like I've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end happily.

<div style="text-align: left; margin-right: 10px;"><p class="drop_cap">For those of us who came of political age in the Bush era, it can be hard to get our heads around the fact that Barack Obama is winning. Our formative electoral experience was 2000, when Al Gore may well have won, but George Bush became president anyway. Then, after four years of incompetence and with a misguided war going badly, we got our hopes up in 2004 &#8212; only to see them buried under election returns from Ohio that, in retrospect, seem to have had an inevitability about them. Personally, I've reached a point where I can't really imagine John McCain giving a concession speech (especially when you factor in his inherent stubbornness, and the groundwork his campaign has been laying to dispute results). I feel like I've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end happily.

But then, I can't really imagine McCain <i>winning</i>. Why? Basically, I think, because I can't imagine things getting that bad. I've seen no precedent for that in my lifetime, either.

It gets said about a lot of presidential elections that they're extremely important. Partially this is because presidential elections are generally extremely important. But this one feels truly more so &#8212; it feels like a historical crossroads. Let's be honest: The United States of America is right now a nation in decline. We don't need to enumerate the ways. You watch the news, and, more to the point, you live here. You understand how we're paying the price for thoughtless consumption, careless aggression, and for the hubris of thinking we could elect a troubled and mediocre man &#8212; whose appeal was basically in being a mannequin of a certain cultural "type" &#8212; without major consequence. What happens in this election may determine whether we continue this decline, or gather ourselves and start out anew.

Given this context, the candidates seem almost like caricatures. In one corner we have a man who, to a frightening degree, represents decline, not because he's old (OK, a little because he's old), but because of his commitment to ideas and policies that brought us here, and because of the desperate, gasping nature of his campaign &#8212; the irrelevant attacks, the hail-mary vice presidential choice. (<i>The Daily Show</i> did a bit not long ago about George Bush being the "last" American president, and it was funny, but really it's McCain who seems to not care what happens after he's gone. So long as he gets to wear the crown.)

In the other corner you have a man who, like every politician, based his campaign on a platform of hope and change, but unlike every politician, has managed to actually inspire hope in a meaningful number of disillusioned people, and is so good at his job &#8212; giving speeches, shaking hands, fighting political battles, just <i>being a politician</i> &#8212; that he might actually be able to bring about change in things like foreign policy, energy policy and economic policy.

And again, intellectually, it's clear that the good guy is winning. Which might be why the predominant emotion I'm associating with the election now is fear. Because without the nail-biting tension of the last two elections, the only concern left to occupy my mind is this paranoia I've developed that a progressive can't win the presidency, because this country can't get over the racial/cultural/too-proud-to-change-course psychosis that has defined it for my adult political life.

If the people who think that war is bad and the economy needs regulation can't win in the midst of a bad war and during the collapse of an under-regulated economy, that paranoia will claim confirmation. I'll still understand the arguments against it &#8212; that demographic change alone will likely make America a more progressive place, eventually, and hey, a moderate Democrat won an election just 12 years ago. But I will fear that America, which always to me seemed like a flawed country with a great knack for self-improvement, will turn out to have been fundamentally flawed, and that, with four more years of war, four more years of inequality, four more years of cultural antagonism, the worst of those flaws will be realized.

Honestly, I'm not sure that our election issue has a theme this time. Really these are just a few things we thought were left to say about the election that are interesting, like Tom Namako's story about <a target="_blank" href="http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/10/30/the-cantvoters">people who give a shit, but can't vote</a> and our list of ways you <a target="_blank" href="http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/10/30/the-other-issues">haven't realized the election matters.</a> If there is a thread holding some of these pieces (and our cover art) together, it's probably "hope" &#8212; but not the kind you think. We're not talking here about the dignified, majestic hope Obama has been invoking on the campaign trail. We're talking about the frantic, fingers-crossed hope of <i>hoping</i> something happens. We <i>hope</i> Isaiah Thompson is right, and the people in Fishtown who are <a target="_blank" href="http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/10/30/the-fishtown-effect">saying racist things to the press are going to vote Obama anyway.</a> We <i>hope</i> we get to hear the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/10/30/my-concession-speech">McCain concession speech Patrick Rapa has drafted up</a> &#8212; or at least some version of it.

Most of all, we hope that when the results come in on Tuesday, we'll find our best suspicions about our country confirmed, instead of our worst ones, and that when we look back on this day, we'll be able to say <i>of course</i> America got it together &#8212; she always does. Of all the questions implicit on this year's ballot, perhaps the biggest is one about who America is. We hope she's good. </div></p>

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