In any election, politics become extremely personal.
This has been the case for me since 1996, when I cast my first (fake) crayon-colored ballot for then-President Bill Clinton as a first-grader. Later, upon hearing from my parents that he had won the actual election, I felt a victorious pride in what I decided must be a developing political savvy.
In contrast, George W. Bush’s election in 2000 left me feeling dumped, or like my goldfish had died, or in whatever terms a fifth-grader understands election sadness. But after a week, I was reassured that the world was in fact not ending, a relief, since a lot of angry dinner talk between my parents had convinced me it would if Bush took office.
By 2004, I had seen enough incompetence to feel justified in retreating into denial after Bush’s re-election. During this time, I moped around at anti-Bush protests where diehards screamed things like “not in our name!” and insisted Bush was not our president.
So when “Obama is elected president” flashed across the TV screen Tuesday night, it was only logical that I’d let loose a stream of ecstatic babbling, while my McCain-supporting best friend channeled a problem child’s parent (“But I did everything I could! I just don’t understand.”)
The fact that people take politics maybe too personally was especially clear during McCain’s concession speech. At first I felt a malicious victory pride — but then some respect for McCain began to creep up on me as he hit a string of high notes in a genuinely gracious speech, acknowledging Obama’s monumental victory and imploring his supporters to accept their new president-elect.
Despite this, the voters booed.
To my friend’s credit, she saw the booing as shamefully un-American. “He’s still your president!” she screamed at the faceless, nameless rallygoers on the screen.
It was an extremely surreal moment, watching a pro-offshore drilling, pro-Iraqi occupation fiscal conservative defend the liberal Democrat that had defeated her candidate of choice less than a minute ago. I, who felt completely jaded when Bush won, had trouble understanding how she could get over such a huge letdown so quickly. Where was the anguish? Why wasn’t she locking herself in her room and burying herself in conspiracy theories?
Almost every political figure that gives a concession speech hashes on the same ideas — they thank their voters for the support, say it was the best experience of their life and ask their followers to close ranks behind the victor. When Sen. Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech, she did the same. But a vocal portion of her supporters refused to comply, some even transferring their support to the Republicans out of bitterness, with disregard to the Democratic Party, and by some extension to the entire nation.
McCain’s plea is not the same as Hillary’s, of course, but in the face of two wars and the most dire economic conditions since the Great Depression, maybe it’s time for the full electorate to take a stab at this foreign concept of solidarity.
President-elect Obama (isn’t that fun to say?) is a moving speaker and a man of immense personal integrity — and the mere fact that he realizes New Mexico isn’t another country automatically ranks him higher than George W. Bush in terms of credibility. His position as the first victorious presidential candidate of a race that was uniformly denied basic human rights less than half a century ago should be enough to establish him as a genuine agent of change. With that, we can look forward to the fresh start that this nation has been hungering for after the past eight years of stagnation.
As the new leader of America prepares to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, all Americans, regardless of partisan affiliation, must make a good-faith effort to view him with the respect that his office deserves. It would be the height of irony if, after a lengthy period of questioning the patriotism of both Obama and his base, those same detractors denied to acknowledge their new president and the urgency and strength of his vision.
Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.