"We're going to see a lot of good stuff coming out of the next four years."
That was the sentiment of state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, Tuesday night as the national numbers accumulated and it seemed increasingly clear that President Barack Obama would be re-elected, though the official verdict wouldn't come (partly because of GOP intransigence) until nearly midnight. The scene at the Driskill was chaotic and ebullient – and extremely noisy – most of the night, with particular whoops of joy rising from the crowd over special moments, e.g., Pennsylvania being called for Obama, or Massachusetts for Elizabeth Warren (that roar threatened eardrums all over the room).
Off the main ballroom/media central, where local Dem candidates trooped to the podium to declare victory (or stood in corners biting their nails), other rooms hosted particular campaigns – Central Health (victory!) or Love Austin (the bond propositions, all but one passing) – and the isolated "media room" where reporters wrestled with the overwhelmed hotel wireless as they tried to translate the shouts reverberating down the hall. But the headline event was always the presidential race, as Travis County Democrats, still relatively isolated in Republican Texas, took eager solace in a national race that vindicated the Obama administration and its major initiatives in a still deeply divided country.
Although the networks began calling the race for Obama a little after 10pm – after it was apparent Ohio had once again voted blue – the president couldn't deliver a victory speech until there was some kind of concession from Mitt Romney and the GOP. That was long in coming, partly because Romney told reporters he had prepared only a victory speech, and partly because the GOP brain trust – most notably notorious Texas operative Karl Rove – refused to believe they had lost. Rove had an onscreen FOX-TV meltdown, defying his own network's concession and trying to convince viewers that there was still some avenue for a Romney victory – or perhaps just firing the first salvos in the next round of political defiance.
It was after midnight when Romney finally called the president and then made a brief concession speech, ending: "I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader, and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation." Shortly thereafter, Obama appeared before a huge crowd at Chicago's McCormick Place and delivered an inspirational declaration: "The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary, work of self-government. That's the principle we were founded on."
The speech, as evocative as any ever delivered by the president, had been prefigured a bit by the Driskill celebration, expressed in Naishtat's sense that this would be a very good night. Could it mean real progress in D.C.? "I have some cautious optimism," Naishtat reflected, "that the gridlock will lessen, because some of the victories, particularly in the Senate, are going to be relatively overwhelming, and I think the Republicans are going to take a long hard look at what really is in the best interest of the country, given that their move to the right – the whole Tea Party effort – isn't working, is not cutting it with the American people.
"I thought it was going to be much closer," he continued. "It's not over, but my gut is telling me we're on a path to real change in this country, following what Barack Obama initiated, and what I believe he will follow through on, with a Congress that will be a lot more supportive. I hope I'm right."
For one night, at least, it seemed good enough to be true.
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