At the end of the last American election, I was living in France. The results were just starting to trickle in as I went to bed. I had a dream that John McCain won. When I woke up in the morning, I rushed to the computer and went to the New York Times site. “Obama” was the one-word headline that sprawled across the whole screen.
It was the first political race that I really gotten interested in. I watched a great deal of the Democratic primaries, especially during weeks when I was home in Ottawa and had cable.
I’m a journalist now and am not supposed to reveal political affiliations, but I will risk being unprofessional and admit that back in 2008 I was really excited about the Obama candidacy. I really believed in his message of change. Now, it seems that I, and many others, were naïve.
Aside from the results of the 2008 race, I’m amazed at the unifying power of elections in general, and also their emotional impact on me. That American election of 2008 seems like a real milestone. Now, here one is again, with Obama yet again in the race, and yet, so much has changed both in my life and in the world. The message of hope and change from 2008 seems unrealistic – and I am no longer a 22-year-old finishing my undergrad, getting interested in my first election.
It’s strange that it’s the American elections that I connect with, it seems, most strongly. It might be just that it’s foreign – I’m always a sucker for being drawn in by something that is a little bit alien. But it’s also just the sheer size of the country, and the patriotism of Americans that I see on screen. The massive, massive crowds of thousands and thousands, and the devotion they have to their flag and their country.
Such a massive country, and yet, a real, vibrant democracy.
When I watch American elections, I just feel like so much is at stake. During a journalism class last year, a political organizer came and spoke to our class, and he explained the difference between a person and an electorate. A person has an opinion, but when you talk about an electorate, you got thousands of opinions that make up a mass. The “view” of the mass can’t be conceptualized the same way that you can conceptualize one person’s view.
But that nonlinear, non-individual mass of opinions is truly great, I think. I often think in terms of a single person’s achievements. I’m often impressed by people’s accomplishments. But when I watch election coverage, and I see the thousands of faces, I really have a sense of what collectivity means. I see the great gears of the machine that is the American electorate, so much bigger than a single person. I get the sense that it really matters.
I got interested in politics late, and maybe in 2015, I’ll find that the next Canadian federal election is just as important a milestone for me. I was blown away by the results in 2011, just like everyone else, with the NDP surge. I was glued to my screen, just like I was tonight. Those results mattered more to me as an individual and they will affect me in my daily life I think, more than the results of the American election. I had informed myself better as well.
But the American election appeals more to my imagination. There’s the sense that the whole world is watching, and that one of the greatest cohesive social achievements is underway. America is just so big.