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What Now?

Dealing with the five stages of grief—at the death of the campaign season

We keep checking the Huffington Post, fivethirtyeight.com, and yes the Drudge Report for new polls, but there aren’t any. Our favorite cable news anchors are saying things like, “Now it’s time for the hard part—it’s time to govern,” and, “The American people have spoken.” We still see this Palin woman on TV pleading with reporters that she knows basic geography but . . . we are getting the sinking feeling that this election season is now—gasp!—over. And trust us, we are not ready to let go yet.

After two years of political drama, of obsessive tracking, speculating and pontificating, of hoping, and cursing at talking heads, Metroland staffers are trying to come to terms with the end of what veteran Washington Post political reporter David Broder called “the best campaign I’ve ever covered.”

We miss CNN’s holograms and the “magic map.” We miss the uncertainty in Keith Olbermann’s voice (the new gloating tone just makes us nervous). We miss Saturday Night Live being relevant. We miss Greek columns and grandiose speeches. We miss McCain’s “My fellow prisoners” and “That one!” We miss the first-name-plus-profession-equals-political-gold equation. We miss 3 AM phone calls and shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus, and we have no idea how to get that thrill back—that thrill delivered to us by watching Fox News anchors crumble in mid-sentence.

We present to our readers a guide to the five-step grieving process that Metrolanders have gone through in the wake of the finale of this truly captivating election. From denial, anger, bargaining and depression, through acceptance, Metroland staffers will bare their struggle to come to terms with our loss, in hopes that our readers will learn from our collective pain and have speedy recoveries, so that they may return to productive lives faster than any of us here at Metroland can ever hope to.

Remember, it’s not the results that have us reeling in shock—it’s simply that the results are in, and we are still trying to figure out how to move on.

 

STAGE 1

DENIAL

For those of us in the media, and likely for much of the American population, the two years leading to the election were like an expertly executed, patient sales hook by the ubiquitous henchmen of a savvy drug kingpin.

We’re not talking about election results. We’re not talking about Obama. We’re talking about our fiendish addiction to the campaigning itself. The controversy, the sound bites, the polls, the gaffes. Someone created this unquenchable thirst in us—this perfect addiction. It started out easy, just a puff to hook us: a McCain clip on Daily Kos, a college poll predicting the primary voting patterns of cat owners, a late-night chuckle from Saturday Night Live. Then, gradually, over two years of campaigning, through primaries and debates, they upped the ante. They offered up the hard stuff. The Drudge Report, fivethirty eight.com, the Huffington Post. And in the final days, they sent us on a reckless bender. We freebased the Stewart-Colbert Indecision 2008 live election night coverage. CNN, CBS, NBC. Click to refresh your supply.

Then they cut us off.

And we were left trembling. Many a psychologist and Narconon counselor has compared the loss that comes with overcoming addiction to the grieving process for a lost loved one. In her landmark book On Death And Dying, the late Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of grief. “After the initial shock has worn off,” she writes, “the next stage is usually one of classic denial, where they pretend that the news has not been given. They effectively close their eyes to any evidence and pretend that nothing has happened.”

And like shining poster children for the psychological case studies that we are, that is exactly what we did. We committed to ignoring the facts and lingering in our sweet, opiate land of perpetual elections. We dedicated ourselves to denial.

We logged in. We checked the CNN live feed. We surfed over to the Huffington Post. Click to refresh. Click to refresh. We shielded our bloodshot eyes from the bright sting of results coverage. While the nation watched, rewatched and dissected the victory and concession speeches, on Nov. 5 we curled up our couches in the dark and revisited a week’s worth of preelection Daily Show indecision satire.

We tuned in to conservative talk radio to keep the controversy vital. We clung to the angry ranting of Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. We screamed back at them. “Wait till the votes roll in. You’ll be trembling in your penny loafers . . .”

We realize we’re trembling. Our façade is cracking. We log on again, hungry for cabinet appointment predictions. Our old standards are weighing in, and the prophecies wash through us with a swell of relieving warmth. We watch the latest video cliptastrophy from the world’s favorite entertainingly ignorant, fashionista hockey mom.

Each day we take one step closer to saying goodbye to our illusions. But we’re not ready to wean ourselves from the debate, the passion, the energy, the conflict and hope of this truly historic race. We’ll be watching, haze cleared, eyes wide open, and ready for change on Jan. 20.

But for now, at least we still have the automatic recount in the Minnesota race for state Senate to cling to. We snug up the tourniquet, lean back, and cross our fingers for a Franken victory. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

—Kathryn Geurin

 

STAGE 2

ANGER

Where did everybody go? Why did the text messages stop? When the phone rang before Nov. 4, it was likely to be a robocall from an important elected official offering a gentle reminder to vote the party line. When the cell vibrated, it vibrated with Hope. Now, it’s sure to be a bill collector on the line, or worse.

That’s just great.

After a week of post-election cold turkey, there’s plenty of free-floating anger in the ether. Sarah Palin is serving up moose chili to Fox News clowns, clearly pissed that her super-fun time in the national headlights is over. MSNBC’s house conservative, Joe Scarborough, said “fuck” live on the air this week, so the cable net put Morning Joe on a seven-second “fuck” delay.

No one’s heart is in it. Hillary compared herself to a potted plant. The bitters, who blogged, hopefully, of an Obama collapse and/or Palin surge, have mostly fallen silent. McCain is yucking it up with Jay Leno. Those who really should be angry, aren’t. It’s infuriating.

And do you know what’s really aggravating? The only place in the United States where the voting season continues is Georgia. Georgia. Neither of the top two candidates for the U.S. Senate got 50 percent of the vote, so there will be another round of actual voting (in December) between incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin.

One of the tectonic political changes this year was that no candidate on either national ticket was from the South. Previously, the conventional wisdom was that the Democrats needed to nominate a southerner for president (or at least vice president) because the country wouldn’t elect a northern liberal. The Republicans generally would nominate a southerner as a matter of course, even if the “southerner” happened to be a Yankee carpetbagger from Kennebunkport deploying his cowpoke accent with all the cynicism and ignorance of a frat boy waving a Confederate flag.

Now, the South is old news—except for the “new” South (North Carolina, Virginia), which is in the tank for President-elect Hopey. And since this last U.S. Senate runoff is unlikely to affect the balance of power, it probably will be much ado about nothing as far as the Obama-intoxicated national media is concerned. Why would they want to take a trip down memory lane—however tantalizing—with Mittens, McSame and the Huckster when there’s a new administration coming together at warp speed? Why listen to hillbilly Huckabee pluck his bass and sad old gramps McCain claim that Saxby Chambliss is a “maverick,” when the real news is in following how Obama will handle our national economic collapse and those two pesky far-away wars?

Geez, you couldn’t sell the dumbest hillbilly in Peanutville, Ga., on the idea that anyone named “Saxby” is a maverick. It’s enough to piss off any political junkie.

—Shawn Stone

 

STAGE 3

BARGAINING

Please, just let us leave the Obama stickers on our cars for a few more weeks. OK, just until the weekend. No, no—you’re right: It’s clingy. We’ll take them off tomorrow, but please, give us something to hang on to.

You’re right. We couldn’t have imagined a better outcome. All the polls were correct. He took Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and we can’t help but feel that we willed this in some way. Yes we did! Compulsively calculate and recalculate all the combinations of electoral votes he could win or lose and still take the election? Yes we did! Check the papers, TV news, liberal blogs, and right-wing radio around the clock for the last TWO YEARS, trolling for talking points and gossip? Yes we did! Hang posters, call swing states, post away-messages, and convince our more radical friends that—shit, man—the political process is alive and well? Yes we did! And yes, we do need this whole thing to keep going because, no, we don’t know what to do now that it’s all over.

Give us hijinks and skullduggery. We need indecision and controversy. Keith Olbermann wants to rant and we want to watch him. What’s Sarah Palin up to? She’s usually good fodder. Sure, she’s bound to disappear into the annals of history eventually. But so soon? SNL still sucks, but we’ll watch, we really will, so long as everyone is talking about it on Monday. Republicans have to be pointing fingers. We’ll watch The O’Reilly Factor, but Stephen Colbert really needs to be there. Our Gmail accounts just aren’t the same without daily reminders from Moveon.org that this is the most important year ever. We’re addicted to David Letterman and The View like Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but we need a way to justify this. We’ll even watch Nancy Grace, so long as some story of national import is protracted into irrelevance. Most of all, we simply can’t wait until December to know if Al Franken is going to Washington.

Here’s the deal: We’ll give you the election season (it’s over—fine) so long as we can have John King’s Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall. The possibilities with that thing are endless.

We’ll even start watching football if you give John Madden the wall, beam in the every one of the Black Eyed Peas via hologram for color commentary, and broadcast the whole thing on every network simultaneously. Oh, and we want another OJ trial.

Fine. You strike a hard bargain, but you’re right. We’ll be big; we can do this. We’ll swear off the media frenzy entirely. It wasn’t about Obama. It wasn’t about the wall. It was about democracy. We’ll be alright so long as we can be a part of the process. That is, as long as we get to weigh in on everything. We have no problem going to the senior center to cast our ballots. Let’s make it a daily ritual. What color should the drapes be in the oval office? We vote for Tuscan Sunrise. Where should the Obama’s go for vacation? Minsk. And we will not rest until Sasha and Malia get a Labradoodle!

—Josh Potter

 

STAGE 4

DEPRESSION

Did you hear that that Billy Ray Cyrus invited Malia and Sasha Obama to be on an episode of Hannah Montana? And that 34 percent of Missourians think that the Obamas should take that hairless Peruvian pup, but 62 percent of New Yorkers . . . say that a Dalmatian . . . would be more fitting of a presidential . . . according to Campbell . . . ah, fuck it. Sorry. We can’t do this anymore.

Sure, last week we craved insights into the inane aspects of the lives of the candidates and their families and thrived on the quantifications of polling data and the opinions of the overly preened mainstream network press. We stayed up until 3 o’clock in the morning refreshing CNN.com, lived and breathed the 24-hour news cycle, and sipped our morning coffees while studying every data point lovingly defined by our new media man-crush, Nate Silver. But the thrill is gone. The race is over. There is nothing left. Nothing. And we are dead inside.

We shouldn’t complain, though. We had a good run. The highs were so high, and the lows so low. The triumphs so audacious and the failures so satisfying. The easy myths and the demagoguery wrote our sweet dreams, plots and schemes, and gave us an endless supply of fascinating tidbits to discuss with our loathsome coworkers and our tiresome friends and family. But not anymore. Now we all stare at each other dumbfounded and miserable. It’s like we’re stuck on a bad date at corporate restaurant, and we know that it’s never going to end.

Rachel Maddow can’t save us now, not Sean Hannity, or Michael Savage, or Jon Stewart. Not even that sassy Keith Olbermann can roil our righteousness today. Not like he did. Those rumors of Sarah Palin’s inability to name all the countries in NAFTA now feel like a cheap imitation of the vapidity that we fell in love with on that magical night in St. Paul oh so many Alaskan moons ago. And Joe? You of the shiny bald head, Joe? Where are you Joe? Where have you gone? Don’t tell us. Don’t say it. Back to your insignificant workaday existence? Back to unclogging toilets and ranting about the Marxist/Mexican invasion?

We are all Joe the Plumbers now, right? Sob. Right?!

John McCain. Dear God, the saddest of all. Sweet, simple, adulterer, John McCain. Whither to now, noble old warrior? To wandering the woods at your Arizona ranch? How can it be the end for such a mavericky maverick of change? It’s just all too depressing.

So good-bye, cruel world. We have the knife poised to stab the outlet. The blow dryer is dangling above the bathtub, the car running in the garage. The shotgun is tied to our toes, 33 Valium cupped in our quivering hands, the tear-stained Portishead disc spinning in the CD player, singing, “And it’s only you, who can tell me apart.”

Oh, David Axelrod, only you could turn our wooden hearts!

—Chet Hardin

 

STAGE 5

ACCEPTANCE

It is over. We have a new president and his name is Barack Obama. The first African-American president will inherit a mess from George W. Bush and hopefully turn Bush’s failings into opportunity not only for himself but for the American people. It was exciting while it lasted but now it is time for reconciliation, time to focus on something not as bitter and divisive as presidential politics. So that is it. We can all go home now. . . . Hold on. Not so fast.

There are thousands of motivated young voters and organizers who participated in the Obama campaign across the Capital Region. If the election of Barack Obama has taught us anything, it’s that community organizing is a powerful tool—it seems that working for change on a local level can turn into much bigger things.

And in Albany, while the presidential election raged, the foundation was being laid for the 2009 mayoral race.

Local politicos met at the home of Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1). They plotted which issues would matter most in the coming mayoral race and who exactly they want to run for mayor.

It is no mistake that Coalition for Change, the organization that was extremely active in the local Obama campaign, is not dissolving after Obama’s victory.

In fact, Anton Konev, of Coalition of Change, recently told Metroland that, while the local Obama headquarters on Lexington Avenue will close, the Coalition for Change will remain active to support local candidates who are perceived to have qualities like Obama.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Jerry Jennings has struggled to put together an acceptable budget that has just enough money allocated in it to pave a heaping helping of sidewalks. It looks like someone wants to run again, despite promising during the last mayoral race that it would be his final term.

Who might actually dare to challenge Jennings? We have heard some pretty exciting possibilities thrown about, and some that are admittedly less exciting. But it is quite possible that Albanians will be treated to a truly captivating knock-down, drag-out political war for the mayor’s sash in 2009, and it is likely to start early.

Who are we kidding? The race has already started, and in some ways we have been chomping at the bit for the end of presidential season to get this race officially under way.

While the economic crisis brought the importance of the presidential election home to voters across the nation, a number of citywide problems might motivate a large turnout at the polls next year.

From budget issues to abandoned buildings and gun violence, the issues at the forefront of Albanians’ minds for the next seven months will determine what kind of Democratic primary will take place in July.

For political junkies hankering for intrigue, looking for replacement blogs to fill their heads with insider politics and election indicators, now is the time to get on board for the 2009 Albany Mayoral race. Let Democracy in Albany replace your Huffington Post. Instead of clicking on the Drudge Report, check out the Local Politics blog at the Times Union’s Web site. And for now, instead of political rallies, check out an Albany Common Council meeting—no, seriously—this is where it all starts, and all our indicators and impromptu polling tell us that the 2009 race for Albany mayor is going to be a barn burner.

—David King


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