It was an unseasonably warm evening in a courtyard behind a midtown dive bar called Rudy’s, and a casual after-work crowd of Obamaphiles was bathed in the light of a Florida State football game projected on the wall, talking politics over $9 pitchers of beer. The mood was festive, anticipatory, measured. With just a dash of paranoia.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Josh Bolotsky, 24, a Columbia grad who lives in Astoria and works for Living Liberally, the progressive networking association that had organized the gathering. He was wearing a black T-shirt that advertised the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “Anything can happen in the last two weeks.”
History warned against premature celebration, he pointed out. Take 1980: “People thought Reagan was a joke until the last debate. He gave that famous ‘There you go again’ line, and things turned and he made up eight percentage points!”
Mr. Bolotsky throws out statistics, past and present, like a political operative, or a baseball fan whose hopes for his team have been crushed one too many times. He continually monitors dispatches from The New York Times; Daily Kos; Andrew Sullivan’s blog for The Atlantic; Real Clear Politics; and the increasingly ubiquitous electoral projection site FiveThirtyEight.com, not to mention his favorite, the blog Open Left. “I read polls out of anxiety,” he said.
And he’s not alone. For the overwhelming number of New Yorkers who support Barack Obama, the news has been allll good lately. Numbers up. Lookin’ sharp. McCain flailing. So why can’t everyone just sit back and relax? Why are they constantly clicking “refresh” on Drudge Report and HuffPo; analyzing red and blue maps; considering bar graphs and pie charts and “likely scenarios”? Why are perfectly sensible, rational people covering their ears and shouting, “Don’t say that!” when one dares to venture that maybe, just maybe, the Democratic candidate might pull it out this time? Why do they go into paroxysms if you tiptoe up to them and stage-whisper, “Landslide!”
“It’s a compulsion at this point—I wouldn’t want something to happen and not know,” said Daniel Luxembourg, a 24-year-old resident of Boerum Hill and consultant, who said he constantly e-mails and instant-messages with election-obsessed pals, and joked that he checks the Huffington Post more than 100 times daily (at least, we think he was joking). “It’s sort of hard not to speculate about things more than is healthy or necessary.”
It’s not just the fellas, of course. A female lawyer at a top New York firm who declined to be named—perhaps because so many of her billable hours have been spent checking in on the campaign—said that her daily media feed usually consists of The Atlantic’s Web site; FiveThirtyEight.com; Daily Show clips; MSNBC shows including Hardball, Countdown and Rachel Maddow; and as many articles as she can stomach from Real Clear Politics, Politico and the HuffPo. Then there are all the “hysterical” e-mails she gets from her mother in Washington, D.C. “I hear updates of her regular election milestone parties (primaries, debates, etc.) where they serve beer, tuna noodle casserole and jello to counter elitism/arugula accusations,” the attorney wrote in an e-mail.
You don’t even have to be an American to share the fixation. The election has hijacked the virtual desktop of Johnny Williams, 24, a British citizen living in Brooklyn. “I’ll literally open up six or seven different tabs—Google News to see what’s popping up in the mainstream, then I work my way through Politico, HuffPo, FiveThirtyEight for the polls, then Mark Halperin, then Andrew Sullivan. … It’s like an addiction!” said Mr. Williams, who likes to update his Gchat status with “the latest McCain gaffe or anything Palin says.”
We’d be the last to argue that New Yorkers’ overproduction and overconsumption of media is news. But there’s a strange, unsettling feeling behind the great campaign obsession of 2008: sincerity.
Let’s admit it: Many cynical, hardened New Yorkers are experiencing a refreshing surge of actual emotion toward their Ivy-educated, book-writing, multi-racial, bar-admitted candidate!
One young 20-something Brooklynite said he’s found himself unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirts, in the manner of his hero, and starting the occasional sentence with “Look …”
“He makes me want to fall in love and get married, also,” the young fan e-mailed later in an unguarded moment.
“It would be extra-bad, if that’s possible, for him to lose now,” said Mr. Luxembourg, referring to the recent barrage of encouraging poll numbers for the Democrat. Not that it wasn’t bad in 2004, but John Kerry was no Barack Obama. “Kerry was just the not-Bush option,” said Mr. Luxembourg. “I do have some extra-strong feelings about Obama.”
Perhaps all this frantic clicking and neurotic number-crunching and magical thinking, then, is simply a way of shielding these rarely exposed soft spots. “It’s like when I fly in a plane,” said another lawyer, 35. “I know rationally that chances it will crash are next to nil, but looking outside again and again, checking the wing flaps, is reassuring emotionally.”
The result of the 2000 presidential election was a bona fide trauma for liberal New Yorkers. And while 2004 was a more predictable outcome, it only furthered our sense of confused, wounded alienation from the heartland. “Most of the time psychiatrists see people who have very dark catastrophic thoughts that are inappropriate to the situation, and once in a while they happen to be right, and this may be one of them,” said Richard A. Friedman, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College who said his patients bring up the election constantly. “I think in this case the worst-case scenario is not necessarily that far from reality.”