Thursday, November 15, 2012

I've got the post-election blues

"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion." ~ Molly Ivins

For most people, the end of a presidential election is cause for jubilation: your candidate either won or lost, your phone is no longer inundated with robocalls, and, if you happen to live in a swing state, your television set is no longer an assault vehicle for attack ads.  You can, in effect, return to your regularly scheduled life.  

I am not most people.  

Those of you who know me well know my passion for elections -- a passion that transects all aspects of this most mundane of activities, which barely engages half the population every four years and annoys the remaining half into oblivious apathy.  This year, my post-election depression is especially acute.  Being away from the United States during a presidential election is about as terrible as my life gets, which arguably places it somewhere around 0 on the grand scale of life horrors, just above "not getting the Porsche I wanted for my birthday" and slightly below "realizing you accidentally put toilet cleaner in your hair."  As a self-described political nerd, the post-election season is like an extended version of the holiday limbo between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  As a reporter, I never had to worry: another election was never too far on the horizon, even if was just a local primary with one contested race. In post-journalism civilian life, I replaced cold newsroom pizza and frantic calls to town clerks on their dinner breaks in between counting ballots with working at the polls as an election inspector.  (That's right -- I got up at 5 a.m. as a graduate student to work an 18-hour shift with a bunch of retirees.  Judge away).  This year, I have neither to fall back. 

In some ways, the journalism/political science nerd in me was ecstatic at the opportunity to observe firsthand how the American presidential election would play in a part of the world where elections are, how can I put this diplomatically, far less significant in shaping the course of the country.  Post-Soviet Kazakhstan holds regular elections, but the country has yet to witness a transfer of power at the highest level in its two decades of independence.  So, how would Kazakhstanis relate to -- or react to -- both the obsessive hype over the presidential election and the partisan bickering that accompanies it, I wondered?  

On Election Day, which was early Wednesday morning here, we held an elections results viewing party at the university for students and faculty, complete with coffee, breakfast and, of course, a dapper Wolf Blitzer wearing hipster glasses on the projector.  Throughout the morning, students filtered in and out of the room, asking questions as they tried to grasp the elusive logic (and arguably the archaic oddity) of the electoral college as CNN projected winners of various states.  In the week after the election, I've had some people, including some neighbors, ask me how I felt about Obama's victory in passing conversations.  Given that most Americans can't even place Kazakhstan on a map, let alone name its leader, I appreciate the curiosity and interest I saw both from students and other non-Americans I've talked to.  While there is always a worldwide interest in the American election, thanks to our better-or-for-worse global reach, I can't help but wonder if people see the pomp and circumstance of the presidential election as yet another example of quaint Americanism, much like our bizarre rejection of the Metric system.  Naturally, our presidential system, not to mention the outrageously extended campaign season, lends itself to such ostentation, but is that such a bad thing?  

What I have been trying to tell those people who ask me how I felt about the election is a fair statement on why I care: it's not just that the person I supported won, but this election -- and every election -- is an indication that the system, no matter how flawed or deluged by money, works on some fundamental level.  Though I am careful not to sound like one of those flag-waving democracy-spreading types who flooded this part of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I am not ashamed to admit the odd feeling of pride in this fact.  My future father-in-law ran for State Assembly as a Democrat in a largely conservative district in northeastern Wisconsin this Fall -- and while his incumbent opponent outspent him, he still got 40 percent of the vote on Election Day.  A cynic would say it was a pointless exercise to run as a political outsider against a well-established incumbent with deep pockets and party-backing, that the system is "rigged" against the unknown and unfinanced candidate.  But, as an idealistic small-d democrat, whose interest in the most trivial aspects of elections stems from a deeply held belief that we have to work to improve the system because it is worth improving, I see the fact that he could have won as a small victory in itself.  While I am fully aware of the cracks in the system -- the entrenchment of partisanship in the two-party system, the shocking insurgence of stupidity among candidates and voters, and the appallingly blatant influence of money -- and believe these cracks weaken the power of ordinary people, I am nevertheless reassured by a process that is governed by uncertainty and that ensures a peaceful transfer of power each and every time.  

I think watching the presidential election unfold from the outside has reminded me that my passion for elections is connected to a deeper strain of personal idealism that often gets buried by my outwardly cynical worldview.  Though my post-election blues may take a bit longer to get over this year, I think I can survive until the next election at least knowing that.  


  1. Great read - glad I could get this one! Your last one wouldn't let me in for some reason. I got a bit wound up over this one, and am having the blues now, too, realizing I liked it more than I thought. But while some of us don't belong in politics we all own a part of its process. And that makes it exciting indeed.

  2. Ah..this one gave me red,blue and white shivers! This was a great election, even though Big Money from both sides made a lot of noise. In the end, the little people ruled the polls and that makes me glad. Like in India, the world's biggest democracy (here! here!) no amount of election shenanigans can prevail, for the common Indian--the poor peasant--rules the day. I must here add that in India we have election commissioner, a non-partisan and highly respected individual, carefully monitors the polls. Perhaps that is one improvement we in the US could borrow from a country that truly "relishes confusion" at every level.