November 7, 2008

A silent majority

But after coming so far only to crash at the finish line, Democratic Patriot fans simply needed an emotional release.

Just minutes after the formerly unbeaten, formerly unstoppable New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants last January, I received a text, unprompted, from a friend back in Boston. It was brief and to the point: “Obama better win.”

The idea was not to entwine the two events—as much as we like to mix and match our metaphors, you’d be hard pressed to find a voter who blames the St. Louis Rams for the economic downturn, or who thinks a President Obama would have any impact on the White Sox’s World Series prospects. But after coming so far only to crash at the finish line, Democratic Patriot fans simply needed an emotional release.

As you may have read (if you were lucky enough to find a newspaper anywhere Wednesday), Obama did win. Resoundingly. Of the 20 states John Kerry captured in 2004, Obama won each of them by at least nine points. He swept all of the certified swing states except Missouri, and likely became the first Democrat in 44 years to win an electoral vote in Nebraska, turning Omaha into Obamaha. And just to pour salt in John McCain’s wounds, the Illinois senator won Texas’s Maverick County by 57 points. So much for staying on message.

Elections, though, unlike Super Bowls or any other large-scale public event, are inherently private affairs. We may hold parties to watch both, pick and choose sides, and waste time during class tracking the latest news on our laptops, but we also cast secret ballots, ban campaigning inside the polling station, and often enough, keep to ourselves after the fact.

And despite the traditional red-state, blue-state dichotomy, the reasons for picking one candidate over another can’t be pigeonholed. Some supporters had waited a lifetime for Tuesday night, some eight years, while others made up their minds last week. The white Pennsylvania couple who told a canvasser “We’re voting for the n-----” likely didn’t have Martin Luther King, Jr., in mind when they cast their votes for Obama, as the young black man I saw in the “I Have A Dream 2008” T-shirt certainly did.

As I left the Obama rally in Grant Park early Wednesday morning, I was struck by just how quiet 200,000 delirious supporters could be. There was no rioting in the streets, as happens nearly every time a sports team wins or loses a major championship, nor was there singing or chanting or much of anything that could be considered “dancing.”

Likewise, there were no reports of McCain supporters burning cactuses in Sedona, or really even much reaction from McCain supporters at all. The closest we came to a violent outburst was Barney, the current first family’s dog and Bush administration veteran, who, unprompted, snapped at a Reuters reporter on the White House lawn, biting him on the finger (no doubt a backlash against the mainstream media).

Save the odd car horn blaring in excitement through the streets, nothing suggested the Republic had been forever altered, that 232 years of history had been overcome, or that the mountaintop had at last been scaled.

My lasting memory of the night Obama won the presidency was the bus ride home. The full demographic spectrum of Hyde Park was packed like canned tuna aboard the re-routed #6 bus, smiles all around, and with the exception of one or two small conversations, perfectly silent.

Tim Murphy is a fourth-year in the College majoring in history. He is a member of the Maroon Editorial Board.