The first time I heard of Barack Obama, I had three thoughts about him:
- That as he was a dirty filthy chain-smoker, I had no respect for him.
- That as I couldn’t relate to the “Obama Girl” video, he was obviously not up my alley.
- That there was no way a guy with the middle name Hussein and with a surname one letter different from Osama would get elected president of the United States.
But 1) he quit, 2) everyone has crazy fans, and 3) oh, so I was totally wrong about that one.
Wednesday, November 5th, 2008. One of my workmates and I were in his car, driving along Victoria Street, towards Taranaki Street. He turned on Radio NZ National. Their US election coverage was playing. It was mentioned that Obama had reached over 270 electoral college votes and was therefore going to be the president-elect. We both said woo-hoo and continued on to our destination, the American Ambassador’s election party.
At the Michael Fowler Centre, the room was full of celebration and excitement. It was very American, with cardboard cutouts of McCain and Obama, and paddles, badges and stickers for both Democrats and Republicans – though it should be noted that while the McCain/Palin badge bowl was still quite full, the Obama/Biden bowl was nearly empty.
CNN’s election coverage was playing on a projector. McCain made his speech and the room was quiet for it. It was so gracious and humble, and I got that horrible feeling that, dammit, if he’d won the Republican nomination in 2000, things would have been so much better.
Before I went to the party, I joked that I hoped they’d be serving hotdogs. Well, they did – mini gourmet hotdogs and hamburgers. Slowly I started to realise a feeling was coming back; something I hadn’t felt for years – America was OK. America was slowly moving back to being a cool country.
Then Barack Obama made his speech; the speech. The room feel silent and everyone listened. It was awesome. People were crying and sniffling a little.
The bit that got me was when he thanked his wife, Michelle. I’d never fully got the way the president’s wife is called the First Lady and gets special reverence of her own, but I suddenly realised. Being the wife of a president would be so hard. You’d almost lose party of your identity and be forced into a job that you virtually couldn’t quit. The whole ‘first lady’ thing is a small compensation for all the crap they have to put up with.
I remember in the ’90s, when I was doing the angsty Generation X bullshit, we used to wail that we’d never had a definitive moment that united the generation, so we were all messed up, etc. Then September 11 happened, and it was like, “Oh, you got something – happy now?” Well, now the Obama win feels like another definitive moment in history that’s brought everyone together in a good good way.
I’d been feeling a little gloomy about the future, but now it feels like that even though things might be tough in the future, there is going to be a future that we will be able to enjoy.
After the party my workmate and I went on to the Backbencher pub for the filming of Back Benches (oh, like anyone was watching!). Just after 9, the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks display started. We ran to the end of Kate Sheppard Place and discovered a magnificent view of the fireworks erupting in the night sky. And that’s a good ending to a memorable night.
Oh, there’s that other election thing going on. Uh, New Zealand, right?
It’s difficult having the New Zealand election happening at the same time as the US election because it makes the NZ one look like a school trustees election.
I’m a little disturbed by the televised debates that have viewer-submitted video questions. Most of them seem to be badly lit, resulting in a shadowy figure, making it seem like most of the viewers were in witness protection and/or internet nutters.
It’s harder not having a clear-cut choice like in the US election. There are no heroes and villains. You have to, like, actually read up on policies and make informed decisions. Though that’s actually not going to stop all those people who are voting National solely because they think Labour have been in government long enough and they think it’s time someone else had a turn, thank you.
But it’s so much nicer being in the Wellington Central electorate than being in Epsom, where things were skewed by the funny little goblin-man in the yellow coat. Now I can actually vote for the candidate I want to vote for, knowing that he’d make an excellent MP.
So to the polling booth tomorrow I go, where I shall wield my orange marker pen of democracy, and hopefully the government that comes out of it will be a good one.