I haven't said much about the presidential election in this blog, but it has obviously been on my mind every single day I have spent here. The level of awareness and knowledgability about the election among my non-American friends and classmates has been amazing, and I have been startled by how much everyone feels is at stake for themselves and their countries. They have watched the Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin SNL clips, editorialized in student newspapers, and followed this fall's debates. Even before I left the States, I knew that the outcome of this election would have an enormous impact on how non-Americans would react to me. The last six weeks have proven that I was not only right, but underestimated the impact.
Yesterday and today, I have been getting high fives and congratulations everywhere I have gone. For the first time in my adult life, there's some serious cachet in being an American in Europe. And I don't think the enthusiasm is excessive. People here are realistic, as I believe I am, about what Obama's election means. Nobody believes he is a messiah, or that he won't make mistakes or always take the course that will make him popular abroad. America's image has gotten so bad under the Bush administration that merely the repudiation of the last eight years is itself a huge relief. There's a recognition, voiced by Americans and non-Americans alike, that President Obama will have very little to work with given the poor economy, the debt, and our military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But above all, I think people are just impressed with who Obama is. I don't think the phrase "American dream" will be used in an ironic way here anytime soon.
I spent election day in a weird state, full of nervous energy but mentally in a fog. It was the first time I can remember since high school when I worked out twice in the same day, with a swim in the morning and a run in the afternoon. Most polls on the East coast didn't close until 1 a.m. GMT, but luckily I had some evening entertainment to keep me distracted: a James Bond "Casino Royale"-themed formal dinner at Christ's College, to which Emma's MCR was given an allotment of tickets. After that it was back home to change out of my tux and then to the college, where I was hosting the election night party in the MCR.
I stayed up until 6 a.m. with a small but hardy band of Emma folks who wanted to hold out for the speeches. I thought John McCain was incredibly gracious. He could have dodged the momentousness of the election, but he embraced it. Unfortunately, his supporters were ugly, and I think it bodes ill for the Republicans if this is what's left of their rank-and-file. I also thought President-elect Obama's speech was great. I expected I might cry, and I did tear up at one point... I'm a little embarassed to admit it, but it was when he told his daughters that they could have a puppy in the White House. I guess it was a combination of the overwhelming significance of our first black president, my sense that the "moral values" that I subscribe to finally carried the day, and a tender moment that tapped into my own ambitions for fatherhood.
The news wasn't all good-- the loss for marriage equality in California and the congressional races in Alaska put a damper on my glee. But on the most important battle, for the first time since I gained the right to vote, I feel like the good guys won. I am proud and thankful to be an American every day, but today there's just a little bit of extra relish.