With endless campaign almost over, here're 10 things we'll miss

Fort Worth Star-TelegramNovember 3, 2008 

It's the day we've had circled on our calendars. Tuesday — tomorrow — is the day we've obsessed over, wondered about, worried about and looked forward to for months, even years: Election Day.

And aren't we all glad to see it go?

To some degree, it's a relief. Once this election is over, Americans will probably argue less and sleep more. We'll think less about federal government and more about our families. And the wait, the eternal wait, will finally have ended.

But in other ways? We know we're going to miss this long slog to Election Day, which started in January 2007 — yes, 2007 — when most of the major candidates joined the race. It has been a wildly entertaining, occasionally irritating and often inspiring race to the White House.

So now, before it all ends, we stop to appreciate the 10 things, large and small, we’ll miss most about Election ’08:

1. John King’s Magic Map

Every news network has a high-tech map that displays election results. But CNN has the best: the Magic Map (also called the Magic Wall), a magnificent touch screen that goes way beyond displaying red and blue states. And correspondent John King plays it with virtuoso skill.

It carried us through the primary season, that crazy map with its numbers-crunching touch-screen brilliance. If votes were being counted somewhere, King was there with his map — zooming in on the Milwaukee metro area, displaying demographics data for Detroit, cutting a swath across South Carolina with the swish of a finger.

We'll be glued to that map Tuesday night, we're certain. But after the last vote has been counted and the last bit of data has been analyzed, it'll disappear to the CNN basement — at least until midterm elections in two years. We'll miss you, Magic Map. (And so, undoubtedly, will King.)

2. Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression

When John McCain named Gov. Sarah Palin his running mate in late August, it took about 15 seconds for people across America to say, "Heyyy . . . she looks a lot like Tina Fey." And NBC's Saturday Night Live wasted no time in recruiting Fey, an SNL alum, to impersonate Palin on the show.

For weeks, Fey has done so — brilliantly. After seeing her, no one remembers it wasn't the real Palin who said, "I can see Russia from my house!" Palin herself has admitted she loves the impression (though she claims she has watched Fey with the sound turned all the way down). And Fey told Conan O'Brien last week that even her 3-year-old daughter, Alice, confuses the governor's picture with her mom’s.

Fey has warned us that if McCain is victorious, she won't spend the next four years impersonating Palin. In fact, she mentioned something about, well, leaving Earth if McCain wins. So no matter who's elected, we'll miss Fey's Palin impression — and we'll be watching those videos whenever we feel nostalgic. (Or maybe in four to eight years, when Palin runs for president and the networks show the clips all over again.)

3. Meghan McCain's campaign trail blog

We're going to miss all the election blogs, really. The news blogs from reporters on the trail who posted an update every time a candidate made a speech or ate a sandwich. The blogs that offered snarky campaign humor. The ones that provided solemn election analysis.

But Meghan McCain's first-person rambles about her daily adventures on the campaign trail? We'll miss those most of all.

The reader's politics didn't matter, because this blog — McCainBlogette.com — wasn't really about politics. The Republican candidate's 24-year-old daughter gave us a daily glimpse of life on the campaign trail, from the bus to the stage to the TV studio to the messy hotel room. She posted playlists of her favorite music of the moment, from Emmylou Harris to the Ramones. She documented the campaign's stops at Sonic and Graceland. And after an event with Henry Kissinger, she posted a picture of his feet ("Because I love shoes, and who doesn’t want to know what kind of shoes Dr. Kissinger wears?").

4. The rallies

Most of us Texans haven’t been able to attend big rallies since the primary season. But that doesn't mean it's not cool to see people across the country gathering — standing in line, even, in the heat or the cold or the rain — to attend something so old-fashioned and earnest: a show with no special effects, no $100 admission wristbands, no reward other than the sheer joy of joining the political process. It's a little heartbreaking, isn't it?

5. The gaffes

Oh, please. You know you love it when Joe Biden says this election is about "a three-letter word, jobs: J-O-B-S." Or when McCain, on Meet the Press, gets stumped trying to list the five former secretaries of state who've endorsed him.

Barack Obama has described some of Biden's gaffes as "rhetorical flourishes." We describe this year's blunders as pure political fun. While we're watching speeches, debates and long interviews on TV, the gaffes are what we're really waiting for.

6. The surrogates, strategists and spokesmen

How would cable news shows have filled the time without all those panels of pundits? Night after night, there they were — chattering at big tables, arguing on split screens, offering their pithy opinions on matters ranging from economic policy to Biden’s hairline.

Often, they amused: On CNN, a day without James Carville was a day without quality entertainment. Sometimes they made news: McCain surrogate Michele Bachmann caused a stir last month on MSNBC, when she told Hardball's Chris Matthews the media should investigate Congress to expose members who are "anti-America." And sometimes they became stars: Rachel Maddow, who appeared often on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, was given her own prime-time show on MSNBC in September.

We know. There will always be talking heads on cable news, analyzing the events of the day. But they won't be using words like "battleground state" and "tracking poll." It simply won’t be the same.

7. The attack ads

We loved waiting to see what sort of ads the candidates would roll out against each other. Come on, this is politics — the attacks are half the fun.

And this year’s ads didn’t disappoint. In July, the McCain campaign rocked the boat with an online video comparing Obama’s celebrity to the bimbo appeal of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Ouch. A recent Obama ad featured a clip of Palin winking, implying a similar point.

But the year’s standout was Hillary Clinton’s "3 a.m. phone call" ad, which rolled out just before the Texas primary.

"It’s 3 a.m.," declares a menacing voice, one we’ve been imitating for months. "Something is happening in the world." Yes, something is always happening in the world. But logic aside, this ad was a winner because, well, it worked — and because it was easily parodied. (And not just by SNL. Go to YouTube and search for "3 a.m. phone call." Thank us later.)

8. The buzzwords and catchphrases

We've had fun this year, haven't we, making jokes about pigs wearing lipstick? And coming up with words that rhyme with Obama? Every election year produces words and phrases that get stuck in the American vernacular for months. We hear them so often, we begin to adopt them — usually with a smidgen of irony.

Campaign ’08 has produced some quality catchphrases. But starting Wednesday, when the election’s over, their stock goes way down. Soon, alas, they’ll cease to be funny at all. (Think about it. Does anybody make "lockbox" jokes anymore?)

We’ve been dropping them into our conversation for weeks, sometimes months, for comic effect. But we’re going to have to get over all that. Now, just to get them out of our system, we pay tribute to our favorite phrases of this campaign:

Any combination of "pit bull," "hockey mom" and "lipstick"

"Say it ain’t so, Joe!"

"Yes we can!"

"Drill, baby, drill!"

"Joe Six-Pack"

"Joe the Plumber"

"Real Virginia"

"Pallin’ around with terrorists"

"Ready on Day One"

"Nation of whiners"

"Wall Street" and "Main Street"

"Party unity"

"Change we can believe in"

"Superdelegates"

"In what respect, Charlie?"

"That one"

"My friends  . . ."

"Thrown under the bus"

"Maverick"

"Thanks, but no thanks, on that Bridge to Nowhere."

9. The joy of imagining we care about policy, not celebrity

Americans are obsessed with things that have no consequence. We are aware and sometimes a little ashamed. But we’ve just spent the past year talking to each other about swing states and campaign tactics, delegate math and the intricate details of healthcare policy. It felt good. It felt smart.

Deep down, we were often far more interested in Palin’s wardrobe than we were in her talking points. And Obama was — let’s be honest — far more interesting on Access Hollywood and The Daily Show than he ever was on CNN. But hasn’t it been nice to have (and overhear) conversations at bars and lunch tables that at least sounded smart and political, even a bit wonky? That was change we could believe in.

10. The sense of something seismic

For the past year, there’s been a sense of expectation. A sense of urgency. And the glorious notion that we’re about to witness historic change, no matter who wins the White House.

It’s the sort of buzz that only an election year can bring, really. Unfortunately. Because even if your candidate wins Tuesday, you probably won’t always feel the same sense of excited elation you feel this week. In eight or nine months, you know we’ll all be back to grumbling about the guy in the White House. All that hope and expectation will quickly evolve into the new standard — the same old political reality.

Too harsh and cynical? Maybe. But just in case, enjoy the excitement of today and Tuesday. Remember how you feel when you cast your vote. And in the next four years, look back at 2008 and remember this year’s grandiose plans, the openhearted, maybe naive, expectation. And the sense that — as the speeches all tell us — for a moment, we stand on the edge of something great.

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