I was in New York City the night Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. It seems impossible that I would experience a bigger party in my lifetime — hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, cheering, chanting, dancing, crying, hugging, smiling. I must have given out a thousand high-fives.
When Obama was re-elected president this November, I was hanging out with Republicans in a banquet hall at the Marriott Courtyard in Briarcliff Village, in North Kansas City. The mood was — how should I describe it? — less joyous.
I had planned to only stop by the party (which was being thrown for Rep. Sam Graves, a Republican congressman from Missouri) on my way to some Democratic shindigs. I figured I'd roll in, ask some folks why they hate poor people so much, tip back a domestic beer or two, and be on my liberal way. But within about 20 minutes of arriving, I knew I wouldn't be leaving until the networks called it for Obama. Watching the returns with a bunch of like-minded friends suddenly sounded boring. I wanted to see the looks on these people's faces.
The party was not a closed event, but RSVPs were required, and I didn't send mine until about 7 p.m. Sneaking into hotel event spaces is really easy, though. The restrooms are usually out in the public area, so people are constantly coming and going. I skipped the check-in line and walked with purpose past a security guard, right into the party. Full success. You guys: It's all about confidence.
A bluegrass band called the Souvenirs, or possibly the Souvineers (I've been unable to confirm their existence on the Internet), was performing at an unobtrusive volume on a small stage against a wall near the entrance. In one corner of the room, a man from Weston Tobacco was seated and cutting cigars at a folding table. Large TVs occupied the other three corners of the room — two set to Fox News, one set to KMBC Channel 9 for local election coverage. There was an open bar (free wine and beer; $9 for a cocktail) and a nice buffet spread, with roast-beef sandwiches and a mashed-potato bar.
"Have you ever worked a Democratic event?" I asked one of the caterers. "Who pays more?" She hadn't worked a Democratic event before.
"What's up with those little fudge things that were out here earlier?" I said. "With the nuts. Those all gone or do you guys have a second tray coming out later?"
A larger stage had been assembled at the head of the room. Every 45 minutes or so, the party's host, Platte County Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown, would take the mic and deliver updates and welcomes. Around 9 p.m., he invited Graves (whose "war room" was apparently somewhere in the hotel) onstage. Graves was wearing one of those V-neck pullover windbreakers that dads wear on the golf course.
"It's a good night for Republicans in northwest Missouri, but it's not so good everywhere else," he said. Then he said something about Obama's runaway spending and shook his head in disapproval. He looked oddly resigned for a guy who would go on to win his race with 65 percent of the vote. Possibly he had seen early polling from the Missouri Senate race and was re-evaluating his decision to come out in favor of Todd Akin post-"legitimate rape." That's pure speculation on my part.
The party was robust — perhaps 250 people at its height — and split about 50–50 between white people and minorities. Just kidding! It was all white people! Actually, to be fair, I did see one black person, a young woman in her early 20s.
"Are you, like, in the Young Republicans Club?" I asked.
"Sort of," she said. "I was. I'm out of school now, though."
Akin was on the TV in front of us delivering his concession speech. I took in his comb-over one last time.
"What do you think about Akin?" I asked. "You think he got a bad rap?"
She scrunched her nose. "I'm not really into him as much," she said.
"How come? You mean just because he doesn't believe in rape?" I pretended to be confused, but she picked up on my irony and laughed.
"It sucks because I think Missouri could have really gone red if he hadn't screwed everything up," she said.
"A real shame," I said.
I spent most of my three hours (three hours!) there participating in some variation of this: shuffling back and forth between the TVs, sidling up to people, making chitchat, and trying to elicit from them outrageous conservative opinions that I could then ridicule in this column. I wanted some latent racism. I wanted to hear the word communist. I wanted to meet some fucking birthers!
But the crowd was generally well-behaved. The best I got was an old man in a black jacket and a black cowboy hat who hopped up out of his chair and grumbled, "I can't watch this shit anymore," after they called Pennsylvania for Obama. Mostly what I heard from people was that they were "scared" of what Obama would do to this country with another four years. But when I asked follow-up questions, I could never puzzle out exactly what it was they were afraid of.
"I don't think my heart can handle watching this anymore," a friendly 50-ish woman told me after Wisconsin went blue. She drifted aimlessly into the crowd. There was real sorrow in her eyes, and I felt bad for her. I could relate, sort of: I remember the utter despair I felt on Election Night in 2004. I wanted to hug her and whisper in her ear, Unless you are a millionaire, you will probably be better off under Obama.
Instead, I pulled up a chair and soaked up the schadenfreude of watching Fox News call an election for Barack Hussein Obama. As a bonus, I witnessed the live, national-television meltdown of Karl Rove, a truly evil motherfucker. When I could no longer bear to look at Rove's huge, wet, larded face, I turned and saw most of the partygoers quietly filing out. Back in my car, alone, I allowed myself the smile I'd suppressed all night, and I let out a deep sigh of relief. Then I headed out in search of some people to high-five.