Monday, January 19, 2009

End of an Error

2000 was the first time I was old enough to vote.

Not that I did, mind you.

I could have. I probably should have (okay, I know I should have). But I didn't.

Now, before you jump all over me on this, let's hop in the WABAC and peek inside the mind of Zaki 2000 as he pondered what appeared to be the Bad News Bears of presidential contests.

I appreciated Al Gore as a statesman, but let's face it, the somnambulant Al Gore of '00 is a long way removed from the "Goreacle" of 2009. Add in the singularly unappealing selection as his veep of the wormy Joe Lieberman (who, unlike his running mate, has remained pretty much exactly the same), and Gore did a pretty thorough job of making himself as unpalatable as possible to me.

Back then, Ralph Nader was the guy who everyone in my age bracket seemed to be hailing as something "new" and "different." This despite the fact that "new" and "different" sounded like pretty much the same tune he'd been dancing to since the '70s (and still is, now that I think about it). Again, something about him just didn't rub me right.

And then there was George W. Bush.

I'd love to say I had a sudden moment of clarity like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, where visions of every wrong action and boneheaded decision in a then-hypothetical Bush presidency raced through my brain in one bone-chilling instant and prevented me from checking the appropriate box. Or maybe that I saw past the manufactured "aw shucks" cowboy image right through to the woefully inadequate, unprepared, unexceptional man standing on his father's presidential shoulders.

"Who cares who wins?" I said to myself. "What difference does it make?" So I stayed home that day. And when the long election night turned into the long election month-and-a-half without a clear victor, I mostly shrugged my shoulders. And when the Supreme Court finally decided on our behalf to effectively hand George Bush the presidency, even then I said, "Four years. At most, eight. How bad can it be?"

Well, we found out. We found out through two wars, one arguably unnecessary, one definitely unnecessary. We found out through a city getting submerged thanks to government incompetence, not to mention the economy doing the same thing for the same reason. And on, and on, and on.

I really don't want to turn this into a Sears Catalogue of the foul-ups, bleeps, and blunders of the past eight years, but suffice it to say, the outgoing administration leaves a heavy burden for the country to bear and a whole lot of social, political, and legislative wreckage for historians and legal scholars to sift through.

How bad could he be, right?

Given all that, there's a certain unreality surrounding this moment. We're here. Finally, finally here. The sun has set on the last day of the George W. Bush presidency, and tomorrow brings the promise of...something else. Hopefully something better, but I'm not going to sit here and say "How much worse could it get?" because, well, you know.

Whether Barack Obama measures up to the symbolic promise and historic weight of his victory, whether he truly is the right man in the right job at the right time, will be something we'll surely dissect in the days and years ahead, but for now let's pause and celebrate an ending. The ending.

Bye, George.

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