Around election time I become a member of that vaguely subhuman class of people who are addicted to the Internet, fixated as I am by Web sites that compile polling data from around the country and present it in digest form to the white-knuckled reader. I’m not usually the kind of person who reads the last page of the novel or gives the go-ahead to someone who wants to reveal in conversation the ending of a movie I haven’t seen: I like suspense. I like not knowing things when it isn’t yet time for me to know them. But when it comes to elections, I get so anxious about the results that I become desperate for someone to whisper the answers in my ear. During the 2004 Bush-Kerry presidential race, I had three updated daily, poll data-gathering Web sites as the first three bookmarks in my browser. I checked them compulsively for months before election day, hoping that, perhaps by faith alone, I could turn their detailed election maps into multicolored Cassandras.
By watching the results on these sites fluctuate — and, in the days preceding the 2004 election, slowly seem to turn bluer and bluer — I managed to convince myself that when Tuesday came around, Kerry was going to shock the world. I actually, in my hopeful naivete, predicted he’d win Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, and usher Bush out by a wide margin. That night, as it became clearer and clearer that, rather than send Bush packing — broadcasting to the entire world an apology for his foolishly unilateral war and a swift, severe indictment of the Patriot Act, the tax cut for the wealthy, backing out of the Kyoto protocols and a whole host of other stances our country had taken — we were in fact going to legitimize him, electing him by the clear majority he’d never had in the first place, a number of things started to happen in my brain:
1) The drugs I had been consuming furiously since 5 p.m. began to kick in;
2) I became convinced that we were transitioning into an Orwellian quasi-hegemony and that, despite our nation’s opulence, this was perhaps one of the worst times in history to be a 20-year-old American (see No. 1 for justification); and
3) I completely lost faith in polling data.
No. 3 having happened two years ago, one might naturally assume that I stayed away from polling Web sites this time around. One would be sorely mistaken. Were one to assume anything that logical about my addiction to false prophecy, one would miss the point entirely. No, I most certainly checked my new flock of Web sites with alarming frequency during the last two weeks, trying to see a bit into the future … but the difference this time was that I didn’t believe a word I was reading in the slightest. “Now they have McCaskill up four points on Talent,” I would say to myself. “Humbug.”
In addition to reading with a jaundiced eye, I became convinced that there was no way the Democrats were going to do it — which is to say, there was no way the Democrats were going to not not do it. It was going to be doomsday. That old paranoia began to set in … and I hadn’t even started with the drugs yet.
Then — lo and behold — the miraculous happened. The Democrats, like, didn’t fuck everything up. They won control of the House and the Senate. Rick Santorum’s smarmy ass is unemployed. Instead of wearing black and chain-smoking in brooding silence on Wednesday, I slept through class and woke up to find another Senate race called blue. Things are looking up. So what changed?
There’s only one explanation that makes any sense to me: me. I thought we’d win the last one, so we lost. I thought we’d lose this one, so we won. As a hearty subscriber to sports-related superstitions of all types (I still get furious when baseball announcers mention a no-hitter-in-progress on the air, which, as has been proven in my independent research, jinxes the thing immediately), I think I can safely add this one to the list. In 2008, when the Presidency is up for grabs again and I’m staring at election maps until my eyes fall out, I’ll pick McCain in a landslide and assume same-sex marriage bans in California and New York … and if the Chernicoff Predictional Paradox holds up, the Dakotas will legalize stem cell research and Ted Kennedy will move into the East Wing.
Maybe I can push this thing even further: if I pick Reagan, maybe we’ll get Clinton back, or even FDR … or if I can convince myself someone will succeed in a military coup and seize power on election day, I’ll wake up Wednesday morning to headlines about America’s spontaneous conversion to communism.
I’ve gotta be careful about that one, though: I don’t own a pair of red pants for the morning after.
David Chernicoff couldn’t get a coordinated outfit together the morning after the elections (unlike all those other mornings after). This time he even slept through his Wednesday classes. Go figure.