I voted in my first presidential election 16 years ago. Young and idealistic, energized by the fact that my candidate won--even if the state where I lived went for the elder Bush. I remember an older friend who was excited because here was a politician "who actually says 'gay and lesbian'."
There was plenty of time for him to disappoint me on gays in the military and DOMA later. In fact, I withheld my vote for Clinton's second term. Still voted on other positions, just didn't check his box. It was a calculated move. I was still in a state that was going to go for Dole by a significant margin, so I felt that I could register my disappointment without jeopardizing the final outcome.
Voting has been strategic for me pretty much since then. Not that I haven't truly supported the candidates who received my votes. But there wasn't that same energy and excitement. It didn't help that by W.'s second run, much of the campaign felt like a direct attack on my family. It wore me down.
I remained aloof for much of the primaries this time around. Considered Clinton and Obama from a strategic standpoint, and found myself slightly leaning towards Obama. I was impressed by how he seemed to be inspiring the youth and saw some significance in how it recalled my feelings from 1992.
And then a funny thing started to happen. The enthusiasm apparent around me began to infect me. I thought, "Here's a man who could do much to heal what has been ailing this country."
I have been saying all along that the president is primarily a figurehead, that he alone does not wield a lot of power (when he stays within the bounds set by the Constitution). He serves as the face of the country in international affairs and the mouthpiece of the nation.
Which, at this particular moment, are not insignificant things. The USA needs a new presence on the international stage, one which is calm and rational, not a smirking cowboy. And the thought that our next chief executive will have a full understanding of the Constitution--Obama did teach constitutional law for 12 years, after all--is more than a bit reassuring. Respect for citizens' rights, no more casting the courts' protection of minority rights as "activist judges," not unreasonable expectations.
There is something to be said for this welling up of hope. It is not an unpleasant feeling. And should be even better once I can set these butterflies free.