Opinion

A vote too late for Obama

ElectionsBarack ObamaChristopher HitchensSarah Palin

I did not vote this year, and up until a few days ago, I felt good about that decision. But now I wonder if it wasn't a mistake. Or maybe not so much a mistake as something I will come to regret in time. As I've watched the wave of post-election elation rushing over so many people in recent days, and as I have been unexpectedly and powerfully moved myself, I've started to feel a little, I don't know, out of it.

I decided not to vote for what I think are good reasons.

Though I am by no means as doctrinaire as I once was about political and social matters, I'm still a libertarian fiscal conservative. In the most concrete terms, this means I don't believe that penalizing people who make more than $250,000 a year is going to fix the economy.

In fact, I think it may worsen it. The argument goes deeper than that, of course, but no doubt you've heard it before, so I'm not going to bore you with it now. Let's just say that that's the short version of the reason why I didn't vote for Barack Obama.

There are two reasons why I didn't vote for John McCain. The first is that I think he is a man of brittle intellect and doctrinaire sensibility. These are potentially fatal flaws that he shares with the current president, flaws incidentally, that Obama does not share. In fact, Obama's intellectual curiosity and suppleness of mind is, in my view, one of his biggest selling points, whatever your political beliefs.

The second reason I didn't vote for McCain is -- big surprise here -- Sarah Palin. Christopher Hitchens was right on the money when he called her a "proud, boastful ignoramus," though I would go further. She is a belligerent ignoramus. The resounding theme of her candidacy was a shamefully rabble-rousing, nauseatingly populist denunciation of knowledge, intellectual expression and reasoned debate, all apparently the vicious province of the media elite and not the hard and hardy backbone of the "real" America.

Watching her made me sick, and the thought of her ascending to the highest office in the land on the possible demise of her less-than-robust 72-year-old boss was not something I could live with. A vote for him was, in all likelihood, a vote for her, and I just couldn't do it.

But after watching the video of Obama's acceptance speech (I went to bed early Nov. 4), I have, to my great surprise, found myself moved to tears by the president-elect, by his poise and graciousness, not to mention what seems to be his almost Hegelian historical significance. I now wonder if I missed out on the moment. Am I going to feel a little caught out one day when I have to say that I did not vote for him? Or will I feel vindicated by what will surely be the many and great disappointments of the Obama administration?

After all, what man could live up to so much expectation? So much hope?

I honestly don't know how the man gets out of bed in the morning. I mean really, what kind of person goes to work every day thinking, "Yep, just heading off to fix the world." Either a god or a lunatic, it seems to me. Or, and here is my worst worry, a charlatan of the highest order. Because you have to seriously question whether you can really trust someone, anyone, who can manage to get himself elected in a democracy, and moreover someone who can do it while moving you to tears. That man is either P.T. Barnum or Gandhi.

Or not. Maybe he's just an absurdly hopeful person with a lot of energy and belief who can strike the infinitely delicate balance of making the masses happy while sticking to his core beliefs. Maybe he's someone who knows how to tell us what we want to hear while at the same time doing what needs to be done. At this point, it's anybody's guess.

But whatever the case, watching Obama, I can't help myself. I feel proud of us. I think the world is actually proud of us too, and more than a little surprised. It didn't think we had it in us. To tell you the truth, neither did I. We -- well, actually, you -- didn't elect a black man to the presidency. You elected someone who is an incredibly inspiring man, a Kennedyesque, Lincolnesque, Rooseveltesque man, who happens to be black. You elected him not because of or in spite of his race, but without regard to his race, and whether he lives up to even the 100th part of his promise, the electorate has lived up to its, and sitting here now, embarrassedly wiping my eyes, I sort of wish I had been part of it.

Norah Vincent is the author of "Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin," forthcoming in December.

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