After the election: Hangover in Hanover

by Sydney Ribot | 11/14/08 4:31am

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by DAVID SELIGER / The Dartmouth

"You never forget your first time," said Jessica Guthrie '10, president of Vox Clamantis. "Voting, that is." So goes the motto of Vote Clamantis, a nonpartisan student organization. Its mission: to get as many Dartmouth students as possible to vote, regardless of their position on the Red-Blue, conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat spectrum.

This election year marked many unforgettable "firsts." The 80% voter turnout among Dartmouth students was historic, as was the election's end result. College students across the country abandoned their apathy and discovered a spirit of political activism that they had only heard about in thier parents' recollections of the '60s. If this election has taught us anything, it is that the old rules may no longer apply.

As Americans absorb the significance of this election and look to the future, Dartmouth students themselves are recovering from what was the longest presidential campaign in history. And like a particularly long night out on Frat Row, the morning-after can be difficult to stomach.

David Imamura '10 and Jennifer Bandy '09, the presidents of the College Democrats and the College Republicans, respectively, felt the effects of the final sprint in the race to the White House. Exhaustion, it seems, knows no partisanship. In the 72 hours leading up to Election Day, Imamura spent only two hours on Monday morning asleep on a couch at his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Bandy cited 20-hour work weeks -- on top of a full course load and law school applications -- as the norm throughout the campaign, with intensity that only increased as November 4 drew closer.

Barack Obama is president-elect, and the campaigns are over. But how does one let go of such a large presence in our lives?

Denial

Imamura was quick to express relief at the prospect of returning to a normal Dartmouth life. "Personally, the election was great; I enjoyed every second of it," he said. "But I am enjoying having the time to do schoolwork now." Still, there's a part of him that is wistful for campaigning days past.

"There is something about predictability of routine that is not as comforting after the roller coaster experience of the campaign," said Imamura. "Although, it is great to be able to finally say 'Yes, I can have lunch with you,' and know that the Obama campaign isn't going to call me up and say Kal Penn or Sarah Jessica Parker is coming to Dartmouth and you need to book an event, stat."

The monotony of "regular" life can be difficult to cope with.

"Since I got here, from March to now, it's been all this Obama supporting," Imamura reflected. "It's like, what am I doing with my life now?"

Other students began asking such existential questions before the final vote count on November 4.

Emily Ghods-Esfahani, editor of The Dartmouth Review, recounted her personal experience as a campaigner for McCain, noting that she "didn't speak on behalf of the entire Review." Ghods-Esfahani began her off-campus campaign work for McCain on a higher note than she ended it. While initially enthusiastic, she, like many conservatives, eventually came to feel that McCain's authenticity was waning with his confidence. As time wore on, Ghods-Esfahani found herself wondering, "What happened to the McCain of the 2000 election?"

Ghods-Esfahani was disappointed by the lack of organization within the campaign. "His campaign -- I knew from working on it -- was incredibly disorganized. Usually the leadership at the top sets the tone for what goes on below, which made me wonder about the leadership at the top," she said.

Similarly disillusioned, albeit equally committed to his party, Brice Acree, director of communications for the College Democrats, spoke of his initial work for the primaries with the John Edwards disparagingly, "I actually supported John Edwards in the primaries instead of Obama, which turned out to be a mistake because Edwards turned out to be a huge douche."

Anger

The emotional toll of intense campaigning on both sides may last far longer than the physical. Divisions between parties can translate into divisions between people.

Taja Braggs '11 recalled some of the hostility she experienced while canvassing for Obama in her hometown of Minneapolis over the summer.

"I was phone-banking this summer, and a man was mad at Minnesota for making everyone use compact fluorescent light bulbs as part of a green initiative, and he started going off," Braggs said. "[He told me] people in China aren't even allowed to vote." When Braggs clarified that China was a Communist country, she was told, "That's what you want to turn our country into." It was one of many accusations Braggs endured.

Plenty of vitriol has circulated throughout Hanover, as well.

"The hate mail I've received is really disconcerting," said Bandy. "There is no reason to rub in the results of the election."

As president of College Republicans, Bandy has been the focus of many attacks, from confrontations around campus to Facebook messages from strangers. "To be on the receiving end of that kind of hatred is depressing; it's so disrespectful," said Bandy.

Even cherished friendship weren't safe from the political tension.

"Jenn [Bandy] and I were friends, or thought we were. Everything was cool until election night," recalled Imamura.

This watershed moment centers around the distribution of campaign materials. Imamura said that the College Democrats had 3,000 Obama campaign posters, 2,000 of which were put up around campus. "I've really gotta hand it to the Republicans," said Imamura. "They were good at tearing down those posters. We put like, six waves of flyers up."

"Democrats are already the majority on campus -- they don't need to spend time marginalize Republicans further," said Bandy. "That is one reason David and I will not be friends: There should be respect between our two organizations, and that wasn't demonstrated."

Imamura referred to the incidents as "vigilante justice," but Bandy feels like she and others, who she stressed acted as individuals, were doing the College Dems a favor.

"Every poster that they put up, those posters should be charged $25 a piece, because that is what College policy dictates," said Bandy. "Our alternative course of action was to call ORL and document every improperly placed poster."

Using Imamura's estimate of 2,000 posters, Bandy did some quick math and asked, "Do they [College Dems] have $50,000 to spend for the defacing of this campus? Because that was what this was."

"Posters that were properly placed -- on bulletin boards and areas like that -- were left," Bandy maintained, "We're not out to reduce intellectual discourse on this campus."

Acree said he knew that Republican's felt "put-upon," given the predominance of Democrat students on campus. Taylor Holt '09 concurred from the opposite side of the aisle and described the difficulty of talking to his friends about politics.

"I feel that as a conservative on this campus, you're always forced to defend your views," said Holt. "In all honesty, I voted for Bob Barr in California. I had one sticker I wore on Election Day and encouraged people to vote for McCain."

Bargaining

Other relationships managed to weather the storm of campaign season.

Jack '11 and Jill '11, who both wished to remain anonymous, found that their fondness for each other bridged the partisan lines that the personal views of each did not. Jill spoke about a recent encounter with a high school teacher over the summer. Jack admitted their differences of opinion, issue by issue. The teacher "seemed really confused, and asked in an exasperated tone of voice, 'Well, what do you agree on?'" recalled Jill. "We looked at each other, and neither of us answered her for the longest time."

"When [Jack] finally spoke, he said, 'We agree on the important things.' He meant that we both respect each other," she said. "So our politics are different -- that's to be expected. We come from different backgrounds, different families. "

Jill concluded, "What's 'important' is each other. When we keep that in mind, it's not hard at all."

Others had to stand alone.

"In my group of friends it was kind of lonely being Republican," lamented an '11 from New York. "If you're a Democrat it's okay to be loud and insistent and full of Obama-mania. But if you're conservative you have to kind of keep it to yourself and endure the Sarah Palin jokes without getting annoyed."

Depression

Many who identify as Republicans look back on this election with regret -- and not solely because of the outcome.

While Imamura expressed amazement at the mobilization of the student body during this year's election, Bandy thought the general climate was "demonstrative of serious issues ... for students to feel it is acceptable to vandalize or send hate mail is depressing."

Holt expressed this feeling of being talked over by the Democrat-voting majority. "A lot of the Obama supporters were so caught up in not wanting to hear anything other than their views," said Holt. "Overall, I feel that conservatives were a little more open to hearing both sides."

Acceptance

Campus political organizations are working hard to put to use the things they learned as they look forward to the next election. Both Democrats and Republicans plan to take advantage of the sense of community such a long and passion-filled election fostered in students, even if those passions got out of hand occasionally.

While the residue from last week's verbal smack-downs between Dartmouth's political bodies crusted over, a reflective Ghods-Esfahani offered her personal beliefs concerning the future. "These days, you'll hear [Obama's] people talking more and more about a pragmatic, moderate Obama administration," she said.

"We're actually going to be meeting this week to chart our path," Acree said, "It will undoubtedly involve a lot of building up of the infrastructure with the big base of people who got involved during the election."

Acree also described an initiative College Democrats plan to launch in which the network of Darmouth Democrats will be used to place members in internships, similar to one Acree worked at over the summer.

The College Republicans remain similarly optimistic about the future.

"2010 and 2012 are far away, which gives the new Democratic leadership time to show their priorities," said Bandy. "History tends to bode well; generally the party in power loses seats in midterm election."

Until then, the College Republicans plan on strengthening membership

As for Vote Clamantis, little remains to be done at the moment except bask in the warm glow of a successful voter registration and outreach campaign.

"We've been pushing since last January so now we're remaining low-key," said Guthrie. But Vote Clamantis still has work to do: "In the next year of so, we'll hold voter registration for the next class to ensure that they vote."

While some may lament the four-year presidential administration they have to sit through before the next adrenaline rush, it will give many a much-needed respite to let their battle wounds heal so they can withstand the next election.