Strange comparisons for strange times: A presidential election day is a little bit like a hurricane. Prior to and throughout the duration of it, everything changes. Other news pretty much stops (or we largely stop paying attention to it), cancelled or postponed indefinitely until things "calm down" and we have the presence of mind or time or energy to return to that other stuff, assuming the "other stuff" is still relevant at all. The news of the day is the main event against which all else pales. In the case of a presidential election, it comes only every four years; a hurricane, well, let's hope it's less, and so in the discrete pieces of time that surround such events we talk about them ad nauseam, in whichever way we can—parsing, analyzing, complaining, trying to understand, anticipating, planning, plotting, preparing, looking at photos—until we are red or blue in the face.
Of course, there are major differences between a hurricane and a presidential election, and this is not an attempt to belittle either in terms of impact, whether the impact is positive or negative. A presidential election is something ostensibly good, something that says America and what we stand for, even if not everyone is happy with the process itself or the way it turns out. A hurricane is an uncontrollable weather pattern; in the best case overhyped and underplayed and in the worst case, devastating. Sandy was more devastating than overhyped, which means, as we vote and then wait for the news of who our president will be, that storm will be in the back of our minds—it was news just yesterday, after all, and all last week—and it's top of mind for people who are trying to find ways to vote in the wake of the storm. It will remain a big news story even past the election, as we prepare for another storm, and as people struggle to recover their homes and their lives.
We can predict what will happen with an election and a hurricane, and we can be right, like the meteorologists were, or we can be wrong. Yet even as we make our best guesses and read all we can of the experts and pollsters and pundits and try to analyze for ourselves, we don't know for sure. It's a close race, they tell us. We simply have to wait to find out. Waiting! Waiting is the worst. Still, this waiting period makes for interesting, valuable if sometimes stressful, content. In that regard, the New York Times has a great interactive chart of the 512 possible ways the batteground states could break down, which, as our own Gabriel Snyder explained a little while back, leaves Obama with 431 paths to victory and Romney just 76. The profusion of Election Day infographics brings to mind other recent, great interactive charts about, well, the hurricane—what will its impact be; what are the chances? They're of course different in terms of subject matter but have something of the same sense of expectation, possible dread, a strange bit of excitement, an attempt to know, and most of all, in the end, a readiness for it to finally be over, for us to move on, for us to start up with the next phase of things, come what may. We can only wait for so long.
I, for one, am ready. Whether you've been waiting for four years, since the last election, to cast your ballots in another, or for just days or weeks or months, you can't have failed to become in some way swept up as a news reader in the undulating rhythms of politics in some way or another. Sometimes they are not so undulating and instead, rather brutal, but always, for the last year, for longer, there's been a sense of this impending thing to come—ratcheting up as it gets closer and closer, with debates, stumping, tireless efforts from the campaigns, the never-ceasing commentary of cable news, accusations from supporters on either side, gaffes, mistakes from peripheral politicians that will never be called mistakes, and some that are. Apologies, explanations, the continuation of the campaigns. It could go on endlessly, but thankfully, every four years, there's a stopping point.
Of course, the business of politics won't end just because we have determined our president for the next four years. Politics will go on, no matter who wins that seat in the Oval Office; no matter who wins the Senate or Congress or who is elected locally; no matter what. But today, a day like Christmas, but with fewer presents, or maybe, a day like the day that we await a hurricane that may or may not change our lives, the politics machine is going at full blast, spewing out its final chugs, running on the fumes, energetic to the very last. Today is its day. At the very least this means you should go vote, because soon, the waiting will be over, and you won't have your chance for another four years to cast your ballot for the next president of the United States (and to make your voice heard on any number of local measures and candidates). Also, you should vote, because it's better than simply waiting around to be told what's been decided for you.
Surely some will complain and others will rejoice pending what what we learn later tonight and tomorrow (and I hope we don't have to wait too long, because I'm not sure I can stand it; I've already got an anxious knot in my stomach that's only going to get bigger over the day). But at least then we'll know what we know, right? The electoral hurricane will have passed; the president will have been chosen. And the conversations then will inevitably shift from who we will elect to discontent with who was elected to, one hopes, getting back to the business of what our country is and should be. We can return to "normal" and get on with the news and the business of being ourselves. Of course, there will be disagreement there, too—no one said any of this was easy; no one said any of us would agree. Still, I can't wait for the waiting to be over.