A Glorious Mess

Who needs Six Flags?  This election is the best ride I’ve had in years.

The clocks ticked, the polls closed, the votes poured in and the pundits struggled to make sense of it all.

Huckabee, long presumed dead, was born again in the South.  McCain surged, but not quite enough.  Romney hemorrhaged.  Was McCain conservative enough?  Would Romney go on?  What about Huck as veep?

On the blue side, Obama had momentum, but maybe not enough.  Clinton was on a roll, but maybe that wasn’t enough, either.

Who did white women want?  Older women, younger women?  Was there a generation gap, a gender gap, a color gap?  Was the economy a factor?  The war?  Character?  Urban versus rural, north versus south, west and east?  What about independents, conservatives, born-again Christians?

Who had enough money and who didn’t?  If they didn’t, could they get some, like, fast?

Projections catapulted across the screen, speeches were made, supporters screamed and chanted, commentators scrambled to find the meaning behind it all, operatives spun defeats and victories and dead heats.

Millions of votes, scores of percentages, projections, checkmarks, smiling politicians (even when there was nothing to be smiling about), grinning or catatonic or almost invisible spouses, and commentators who had opinions on everything from the weather to the socioeconomic composition of every city block in Missouri to the relative nastiness of this year’s campaign (which, Paul Begala hinted on CNN, had been as sweet and polite as a potluck church supper so far, but just you wait, it’s going to get ugly). 

At midnight, my husband finally went to bed, pleading fatigue.  I couldn’t believe it.  We didn’t even know who’d won Missouri!

I continued watching the returns, but stopped listening closely.  I was tired of the constant efforts to Explain It All, to tease out trends and explanations, to separate strands of voters identified by their gender, their race, their age, their neighborhood, their income.

At some point, I just wanted to sit back and relax and drink in the sheer craziness and color and cacophony of the night and appreciate the great passions and engagement and drama of it all.  In the midst of a recession and a never-ending, unwinnable war and bitter ideological divisions, something profound was still working.

Conventional wisdom had been repeatedly trashed and maybe the candidates with the deepest pockets didn’t always win.  Super Tuesday was better than the Super Bowl.  Hell, it was as good as Vince Young scampering for the winning touchdown in the Rose Bowl.

What did Lou Dobbs call the whole, long night and the upcoming nomination fights?  A glorious mess, I think.  He was right.  I’d forgotten how good it was to feel hopeful about this country. 

Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker

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