After an interminably long election season which had become quite boring, frankly, the big day has finally arrived. In the past couple days I've even regained my sense of excitement. This was compounded by my first-ever opportunity to vote in a presidential election, which I did on Saturday by standing in line for 3.5 hours at the Arlington, VA courthouse.
Not only was this my first time being old enough to vote for president (missed '04 by a month), this year I also happened to be a swing state voter owing to my new Virginia residency! And for several months this year I was undecided between two candidates who I really liked. Back in December 2007, right at the outset of what turned out to be an enthralling primary season, I voiced my support for Barack Obama on the Democratic side and John McCain on the Republican side. (I also stated my "hopes...that [Joe Biden]'d be a VP candidate". Score!)
In my December post, I laid out the reasons for why I genuinely admired both men who would go on to win their party's nominations. Unfortunately, the potentially transformative general campaign that I and others imagined possible with these two candidates never transpired--I really wish Obama had taken up McCain on his offer to tour the country together and conduct joint town halls. I remained undecided for several months, until around early August (which was probably just as well, since it just preceded much of both campaigns' last-ditch ridiculous pandering and outrageous promises).
I had been drawing closer to Obama because of the need for generational change (that whole 21st century world thing), and as the campaign went on, his unflappable demeanor seemed to me to speak volumes more about his leadership ability in a crisis than the criticism of his lack of executive experience.
I still have an enormous fondness for John McCain and consider him a great senator and American hero. Unfortunately, the McCain of the 2008 general election was NOT (except in brief spots) the exciting McCain of 2000, or even the promising McCain of 2007. Yes, he was already at a disadvantage running against President Bush's unfavorable legacy. But this isn't just a case of McCain being beaten by Bush twice (the first time being 2000). McCain was also hurt by the diminished importance of him being right about the surge in Iraq given how the security situation in that country has improved. (And he should be glad he was right!) Most importantly, however, I think McCain was the victim of a poorly-run campaign.
Given the status of the economy, this year was not the year for a "culture war" campaign. I detest forms of close-mindedness: xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and the disregard of the importance of the world outside our borders. Luckily, I believe that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, do not subscribe to those views. And to McCain's credit, he did not go into that personally, and I like how he refused to make Rev. Jeremiah Wright an issue and how he (sometimes) tried to stop his party's uglier lines of attack. McCain comes out of this election still an honorable man.
But he did make mistakes. I never understood why he tried to play a Bush-like "anti-media, anti-elite" game, when this is a guy who used to affectionately call the press "his base". I still don't understand, after I withheld judgment for a long time, how he could pick Sarah Palin as his VP and why he would tolerate her anti-intellectualism, divisiveness, and petty attacks (thereby alienating independent voters, like myself).
I voted for Barack Obama. I'm not sitting here starry-eyed expecting him to usher in a wonderful era of bipartisanship and substantial transformation, but I do believe that he will be the smart, sober, serious leader that this country needs. I have also seen first-hand the effect he has had on inspiring people, especially many who had never cared about politics previously. Among the many official duties of the President of the United States, there is also his unofficial status as a symbol of this country. Barack Obama is a man Americans can be proud of to have as a president, and his only-in-America story is the perfect face to present to the rest of the world.