Everybody has their own tapestry of political memories that led them to this moment, probably the greatest and most important political triumphs any of us will witness in our lifetimes.
For what it's worth, here's mine.
1980 -- I'm a freshman in college and ready to cast my first vote. I smoked a lot of pot back then so I don't remember a tremendous amount about my political thinking, except that having spent the 70s arguing with my deeply Republican father about Nixon, Vietnam, etc., I'm very liberal. I know I hated Reagan because I remember the fire-breathing columns I used to write for the D.P. I know I also thought Carter was the lamest thing going and was already attracted to vaguely libertarian Third Way thinking enough to cast the first of many losing votes for John Anderson.
1984 -- Now I'm in my first months of graduate school in New York. Still hazy in memory but I know I was aware that the odds of Mondale and Ferraro beating the Gipper were, uh, low. I also remember, 70s Jersey boy that I am, being really pissed off at the way the Republicans appropriated my man Bruce's fist-pumping "Born in the U.S.A." album. And maybe, just a little, pissed off at Bruce for having written it. I'm just saying.
Another vote, another loss. My old man really has it all over me now.
1988 -- So deep in the loser Eighties, my god, Michael Dukakis, really? He's our candidate? Like, how? I remember Lloyd Bentson's famous moment with Dan Quayle, I remember this brief flash of wondering whether that might mean anything, electorally speaking, I remember my father, a second-generation Boston guy, scornfully dismissing Dukakis despite his being the hometown favorite, and defending Bush despite him being, well, a Bush. I remember being at the apex of my libertarian infatuation and being equally contemptuous of both candidates but voting Democratic because I just thought Bush was so unbelievably lame, and the evangelical influence on the GOP, even that far back, so unbelievably malevolent.
1992 -- I still believe in the man from Hope. I give myself props here, I recognized the greatness in Clinton a long time before most other people did. I remember telling my Dad that Clinton was going to win and him laughing -- that draft-dodging, skirt-chasing small-state governor against an incumbent president who'd won a Middle East war? Yeah, that guy, Dad. I think back now on the Perot craziness and wonder what would have happened that year if he hadn't run. Deep down, I kind of think I know the answer; there was still no such thing as a liberal consensus, we were deep in the heart of the conservative era and the only way a Democrat slipped in was through extremely skillful triangulation and extremely outlandish luck. Still, finally I cast a winning vote. Don't remember much about my Dad at this time, we were barely speaking, he was reaching an apex of his own, one of personal bitterness and unhappiness and taking it out on everyone else around him, and in political terms that translated into a pretty ugly right-wing viewpoint that I couldn't really stomach, so...
1996 -- Joke of a campaign, boom well underway, tech tide about to sweep me out to California after many years in New York, and just as my parents were splitting up in New Jersey. I vote for the Big Dog again, of course.
2000 -- The dark years begin. A full psychoanalysis of your correspondent is beyond the scope of this knocked-off diary. Suffice it say that between now and '96, my parents split up, my father moved out and got a new girlfriend, spent a couple years in therapy, and became a new person. I, meanwhile, having broken off with the love of my life, moved from NY to SF and separated from most of my friends, plunged into a depression that only accelerated dramatically after our devastating loss in this election and the dotcom crash which turned the job I'd impulsively taken that January from a guarantee of vast wealth (because those millions were going to solve all my emotional problems, natch) to a harbinger of personal and professional disaster. I still think of those days and shudder. I was speaking to my father again, though. He has actually turned out to be a decent guy in his retirement years. He still votes Republican but at least in his personal life he has learned to think a little bit like a Democrat.
2004 -- For the past few years my life has been slowly moving back on track, though -- or, on track, since it had never really been there. I meet a great woman. On October 1st we get married. I have a much better job. The following spring we will have a baby. In mid-October I sit on the phone and listen to my father sobbing with a combination of joy and late-in-life nostalgia, I guess, as the Red Sox finish their miracle post-season run and take the World Series. "If only my old man had lived to see this," he says, tears choking in his voice. I'm so stunned by the emotional effusion on the part of a man who, until a few years before, had probably never ever said the words "I love you" that I can't really respond. Two weeks later the Election Day exit polls will break our collective hearts. Again. Even my father, now that he isn't carrying around a lifetime of repressed bitterness about his own angry, impoverished father and his own deeply flawed marriage, is more open to talking about how disappointed he has been with Bush and how "empty" it felt to vote Republican this time. Even he acknowledges the remarkable nature of that Barack Obama guy's speech at the Kerry convention in his old hometown that summer. Even he, I can sense, might be gearing up to cast the first Democratic ballot of his lifetime in 2008.
Instead, in late June 2007, he has a massive stroke and spends ten years flickering in and out of semi-coherent consciousness in a New Jersey ICU before passing away on the Fourth of July. Most of the time I sit by his side and try to talk to him, his eyes are open, he's looking at me, but nothing but gibberish makes it out of his mouth. Except this one moment (and I swear that this is true), when I say, "I love you, Dad," and he squeezes my hand and says "I love you, too."
2008 -- Everyone else will write far more skillfully and movingly than I could about what we'll witness tomorrow. I'll just pause for a moment and hoist my virtual glass and congratulate us all, collectively, on whatever journeys any of us have taken to reach this moment. If only my old man had lived to see this.