There’s a lot of conventional wisdom that gets tossed around by people like me in situations like this—writing on a tight deadline for the early morning edition of a newspaper in a crowded room full of people screaming for a winning political candidate. And as cliché-riddled as it is, a lot of that conventional wisdom is true. It usually does come down to the ground game. When more people vote, Democrats do win. But my favorite bit of conventional wisdom is this: It’s almost impossible to win an election when your argument is that you’re not the other guy. People don’t vote against a candidate. They vote for a candidate.
That cliché seems especially relevant to me tonight for two reasons. For one thing, it’s one of the many reasons why Mitt Romney lost. When I attended the Republican National Convention back in August, it wasn’t so much a pro-Romney event as an anti-Obama event. The crowd rippled with hatred and disdain for President Obama, for Michelle Obama, for liberals. The compliments for Willard Romney were as thin and unctuous as the film that the Tampa humidity left on everyone’s skin: He’s a family man, a very successful businessman. He was governor of a liberal state. He did something with the Olympics that was positive, or something. All of the passion, all of the excitement, pitched and heaved into hatred.
Attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte a week later was like taking off a smudged pair of glasses: This was a convention about a candidate, a cause, and a community. People smiled, talked about hopes and memories. Romney’s name barely ever came up. I knew then, in some part of my brain immune to superstition, that everything would be all right on election night.
And so here we are. By my count, at the time of this writing, President Obama has won 303 electoral votes. An hour after the race had been called, Mitt Romney finally conceded to President Obama. It wasn’t even close. All the Republican arguments about skewed polls and Mittmentum were only so much talk. In 2008, the election was decided at 9 p.m. sharp. In 2012, we had to wait a little longer—it was 9:15 when Fox News called it. The hundreds of people crowded into The Stranger’s election night party at the Showbox are giddy and drunk and beautiful—a sold-out room of people packed together. It appears right now that all their hopes have come true—the legalization of pot in Washington State and Colorado, the passing of gay marriage in Washington State (as of this writing) along with gay marriage in Maine and Maryland, and the election of Senator Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, the defeat of rape apologists Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, and the outright refusal of the teabagger agenda that launched into the public discourse two years ago.
And let me tell you something: I’m proud to say that I voted for President Obama a second time and donated money to his campaign. I’m proud to vote for a president who addresses issues thoughtfully and appraises situations with a writer’s eye. But I was happy to vote against Mitt Romney, too. Romney was the worst Republican candidate in my lifetime, a witless creep who values money more than life, a monster whose strategy was literally to lie as many times as possible. First he convinced the Republicans to finally accept him as a candidate, after 20 years, to become his party’s nominee. Then he bet on the rank stupidity and racism of the American people in the most cynical presidential campaign in modern history. And he lost. With the help of corporations and incomprehensibly wealthy Americans, Romney tried to buy our love, or at least the love of enough white men to offset the coalition of minorities, women, and young voters that the Obama team assembled. Romney lost. The Republican Party will probably consign him to the same wasteland they constructed for George W. Bush, away from memory and nostalgia and pride. I’ve followed Romney around the country. I’ve shaken his hand, looked into his eyes. I’ve learned to hate him as much as conservatives hate President Obama, on a deeply personal level. And I say this with an outpouring of relief and gratitude and joy: Good riddance to him.
So now we have a second term for President Obama. In some ways, reelecting the first black president is a more transgressive act than electing him in the first place. The first time was for history. The second time is on the basis of his record. And it’s a record to be proud of: The recovery has been slow, but it’s a sturdy one that invests in the future. The pigheaded Bush Doctrine is, for the most part, a bad memory. Obamacare will survive, and its new phase at the beginning of next year promises to empower and protect more Americans than ever.
But there are plenty of things that I don’t like—even things that I loathe—about President Obama. His kill list is an abomination. His drug policy has been draconian. He’s kept certain Bush-era policies—wiretapping, Guantanamo—that should have been shaken off like a bad nightmare the day he took office. These are important issues.
But let me tell you why I supported President Obama without question all throughout this election despite those issues: President Obama changed his mind on gay marriage. In 2012, he said he “evolved” on gay marriage, and then he ran on it as an issue, endorsing R-74 here in Washington and embracing it in speeches around the country as the right thing to do. In the long and egotistical history of presidential politics, a president who changes his mind is a rare gift.
To everyone who voted for a third-party candidate, or who refused to vote because of an issue of conscience, I’m speaking directly to you: This is your time. Barack Hussein Obama is your president for four more years. Convince him. If you give up on your issue and your outrage now that the race is done, you’re guilty of the worst kind of hypocrisy, someone who waves his outrage and his principles around like a braggart when the spotlight is on, but who slumps back into apathy when the drama has passed. Voting is not the most important thing you can do as an American—it’s the least you can do. Now the onus is on you to become a political animal, to take part in your government. We know that President Obama’s mind can be changed; he can change course and reach out for the greater good. You just have to convince him, the way he convinced us four years ago to take a chance on him. That conversation needs to begin as soon as possible.
This is all a little heavy for a party, I realize. I look out at the people pushed up against the stage of the Showbox, staring raptly at their president, clapping and smiling and looking for all the world like an army of pink-cheeked children whose Christmas wishes all came true. This isn’t a moment to carry our agendas around like heavy stones. This is a time to be happy and free, and to be overwhelmed with a sense of our own accomplishment. The presidential campaign—too long, too arduous, too stupid, too encumbered by a too-dumb media—has finally ended. Tomorrow, the work begins again, but tonight the air is alive with that incredible moment that happens every so often, when the dirty, grubby, grinding process of politics manages to churn out something incredible, a moment greased by sweat and liquor and tears, and it starts to feel less like politics and more like love.