Watching TV on election nights frequently brings up the childhood trauma of listening to the returns the night my father lost his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate. I often wonder if my excitement about a candidate is not directly proportional to the likelihood things will go badly for him or her, as they did for my dad on that night in 1972.
My parents had gone to some sort of election night party–stop me if I’ve told you this story before. I probably have, but like a victim of a crime or a person with PTSD, I seem to have a need to go over it again and again.
So it was 1972, and I was 11 and my brother was 9, and we were in our hometown of Jane Austen’s Village, and my parents had gone to the ballroom or some such place at the Governor Dinwiddie Hotel. I am not kidding, that was its real name. I’m from a place where they’re only one step past naming things after Lord Cornwallis. After all, he was British. And "British goods were ever the best," as the snobby grandmother in the "The Story of a Patriot" taught all good little boys and girls who visited Historic Billsburg. Because even though we were supposed to sniff and think she was a snooty Tory, we still knew she spoke the truth.
This kind of frantic stream of consciousness is a symptom of my election night weirdness. I believe my analyst might have called this the activation of a complex.
Anyway, my brother and I were at the house we had lived in when we were really little, at that time mostly occupied by our grandmother. We were upstairs with a small black-and-white TV. I kid you not. Neither of our homes, the one in Jane Austen’s Village or the one in the Northern Virginia suburb where we lived for six years, had a color TV at that time. Feel free to marvel at that fact.
So there we were, watching the election returns, without my grandmother.
My grandmother preferred to listen to the returns on her transistor radio.
A brief interruption, while we all do The Time Warp.
Okay, that felt good.
So, downstairs, at the end of a long, darkened hallway, my poor grandmother reclined stiffly on a small couch, legs covered by one of those black crocheted afghans with the brightly colored flowers in each square, the transistor radio pressed against her ear.
This was back in the day, you understand, when precinct returns could be heard on the radio. Because there was still such a thing as local radio. Believe me, children, it did exist.
Again, upstairs, two kids watched the returns alone.
As an 11 year old girl who worshiped her father, I had no doubt he would win. When the numbers suggested a negative outcome, I didn’t believe them. When predictions were made after only 52% of the precincts were in, I did not understand how that made a difference. How could this be happening?
How, indeed. I understand tracking polls and all the rest. I understand sampling. I understand!!!
But on election night, I feel the panic. I feel the panic. And I feel it especially when I like a candidate and see him or her losing.
Tonight I’m wondering, are they telling me it’s "too close to call" just to keep me watching? Or are they truly surprised, these all-knowing journalists, to see Obama running behind Clinton?
Anyway, I feel sort of badly. If I had remained neutral, I expect he would have run it going away.
Maybe I ought to start pulling for someone I *don’t* like?
For tonight, it’s too late. So I will sit here somewhat manically, watching , and hoping to fall asleep and wake up to a different result. And I will think sympathetically of the politician’s children, whatever their ages.