Like everyone else, I didn’t—couldn’t—trust the polls. Also, the day before the election I finished Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Tradition 1742-2004, and it seemed jejune not to expect the Republicans to do whatever they could to steal the election again. As Campbell illustrates, few American elections are entirely untainted by fraud, but only the closest are truly susceptible to having their outcomes altered by voter suppression, ballot box stuffing, and bald vote-buying. Even if the election couldn’t be delivered to the Republicans outright, I was certain that the outcome would fall within the ever-widening "Margin of Litigation," such that legal challenges would prolong the final result for weeks.
Nevertheless, over the final week the more rational part of my brain grasped the objective structural disadvantages working against the Republicans and could posit no plausible scenario for a Republican victory (I had no experience or instinct by which to judge the "Bradley effect," and I regarded it as akin to belief in ghosts; succumbing to one’s fear only gives it more power). The capacity of the American electorate to be stampeded by Republican fear-mongering had seemed inexhaustible, but I gradually came to tentatively accept that Bush’s "mandate" had run its course by mid-2005, and that the hangover had been painful enough to fill the electorate with resolve, if not remorse.
So, as CNN called Pennsylvania for the Democrats, it seemed possible that we might see a result by the time the polls closed on the West Coast, and I decided I could risk the company of friends. Ohio had been called for the Democrats by the time I arrived at the party, but I wouldn’t take the champagne out of the fridge until I had heard a concession. With the giddy Stockholm syndrome of a viewer who cannot walk out of a schlock horror movie, I half-hoped Palin would muscle McCain away from the podium and refuse to concede. When the phrase "Senator Obama’s victory" passed McCain’s lips, I popped the cork, but I did not feel joy so much as relief. It was as if I had awakened from a seven-year-long Philip K. Dick fever-dream, escaping from a cartoon world where even the authoritarian thugs cannot help indulging in self-parody just to show that they can get away with it, and returning to a universe where logic and accountability apply. The world we have regained is not unplagued by fear, malice, or stupidity, but we have remembered that we are also capable of maturity and thoughtfulness, and I drank to that.