As you may have gathered from my last article about watching the debates, I find politics very entertaining. Election nights are the culmination of lengthy campaigns that seem like they started long enough ago that the bc/bce debate becomes relevant. They’re exhilarating and terrifying. Watching the election is like watching a major sporting event, only this time, if the Giants lose, gay people are denied basic civil rights and rape is the other team’s MVP. So maybe the stakes are a little higher. Still, I think a lot of people are trying to have a good time on election night, if only to take the edge off of the gravity of the proceedings.
The first election night I can really remember was the infamous 2000 Bush-Gore election. My 5th grade class had been learning about the political process and the Electoral College, and we had been given a worksheet to fill out while watching the election results. It was a map of the states, with a three-colored key for filling out election results. “The first two should be red and blue, for Democrats and Republicans,” Ms. Ross had told us. “The third one doesn’t really need to be there. Color it yellow for a third party or something, but I can’t imagine you’ll need to use it.” Well, as it turns out, we did. “Too close to call” entered our lexicon, and we finally finished our worksheets more than a month after the due date. Of course the first election I was some part of was a total clusterfuck. It was a great introduction to politics and the news media.
(Side note – A bunch of my fellow 10-year old northern-California friends went to a protest after Bush won. My parents wouldn’t let me go. All my friends got interviewed for the newspaper, and I still haven’t forgiven my parents for denying me that opportunity.)
I don’t really remember much specifically about the ’04 elections, but I do recall an overwhelming feeling of despair and disbelief. Thus far my experience with the political process had been the sporting equivalence of supporting the Chicago Cubs, the only difference being that there was still hope.
That brings us to 2008. This was a hell of an election – from an entertainment standpoint it had it all. Barack Obama was the man, hope and change hadn’t yet been bogged down by political realities, and we had Sarah Palin. Oh my God, we had Sarah Palin (and Tina Fey.) There was so much energy, enthusiasm and entertainment. It was like an amazing episode of Friday Night Lights; only Mitt Romney hadn’t co-opted their slogan yet. Could the sequel, Election 2012 possibly live up to the glory of 2008?
But it had its moments.
Watching Obama win reelection was less exhilarating that watching him win in 2008. After ’08 I felt euphoria, a feeling that after voting for the first time we had won! Hope! Change! Champagne! When he won on Tuesday, my response was “oh thank God.” The win was great, but I was too anxious about it. In preparation for the night, I bought a six-pack of Budweiser and a six-pack of Molson, figuring I’d drink one depending on how the night turned out. I threw that plan away when some Republican talking head on CNN seemed pretty positive that Mitt was going to get 300 electoral votes. I needed a drink.
Despite this tension, when Obama did eventually win it seemed somewhat anticlimactic. Politically, I got exactly what I wanted out of Election Night. (Well, almost everything, as Michele Bachmann is still an elected official.) As entertainment, Obama’s election was kind of a letdown. That is, until I turned to Fox News.
I wonder what it says about me that I’d rather enjoy schadenfreude watching Fox News despair over Obama’s reelection than watch the folks at MSNBC celebrate it. Probably nothing good, though after watching Karl Rove try to fight off reality with the same level of mania as a meth addict fighting off invisible snakes, I don’t really care about the implications. It was amazing TV. Rove’s entire worldview, crumbled around him, and the nearly $400 million superPAC money he spent was rendered pointless. Megyn Kelly, though clearly less-than-thrilled about Romney’s loss, was still able to pay attention to the reality of, well reality. Kelly knew the gig was up, yet she indulged Rove like one might humor a very upset child. Plus, we got to see a nice tour of the Fox News headquarters and the data-crunching hobbits sequestered deep within the walls of media Mordor.
In addition to that immortal moment of TV, the election was made fun thanks to the presence of social media. 2012 was the first Twitter election, which meant that when the talking heads of results got boring I could turn to my computer for in depth analysis and commentary or stupid jokes. Twitter also allowed for the world to see Donald Trump’s temper tantrum where he advocated for rebellion under the impression that Obama had lost the popular vote. You know, like Bush did. The election even saw my favorite Twitter account ever come out of retirement, asking the question that I think all of us are asking.
Twitter didn’t provide commentary as consistently as it had during the debates, as those were only an hour and a half long and everybody was watching the same thing. On election night people would make references to something happening on NBC when you were watching CNN, and the sense of community was a little more disjointed. Still, the social media’s role as real-time community message board, info sharing tool, and comedy goldmine is certainly now an integral part of the political viewing process, and I think it adds to the experience.
The 2012 presidential race is now over; the nightmare 2000 scenario did not come to pass. We didn’t even need Florida, though I would argue that that’s true most of the time. Election night remains must see TV, for the obvious reason that we’re choosing the leader of the free world. It can also be a pretty fun time. 2012 wasn’t the best election, but it was certainly entertaining enough. I’m looking forward to 2016. Journalism, campaigns, and democracy haven’t jumped the shark. Well, at least not yet.
Originally published Friday, November 9, 2012