Election night, U.S.A., 2012: Democracy? Check. Hyperbole? CHECK! But where, oh where, were the dazzling technological innovations in broadcast coverage?
Four years ago, the guy from the Black Eyed Peas appeared via hologram for an interview on CNN. Surely this election season would produce nothing less than a trio of Anderson Cooper clones being attended to by a robot butler. Surely by now the technology would exist to beam up an actual live person from a spaceship or, at minimum, make James Carville not look like he just wandered in from the set of The Walking Dead.
Or maybe CNN spent all its money this time around on a robust supply of exclamation marks for Wolf Blitzer: “We are about to make a really major projection! . . . These are ACTUAL numbers coming in! . . . WOW, THE NUMBERS JUST CHANGED AS WE! WERE! LOOKING! AT! THEM!!!!” Believe me, if Election Night 2012 proved nothing else, it proved that Wolf Blitzer is amazed by numbers suddenly becoming other numbers. “Wow,” he said, more than once. “WOW!”
Remember when anchors used to sit down to report stuff? Cronkite sat down. Jennings sat down. Brokaw? I bet that guy peed sitting down. Wolf Blitzer does not sit down. Wolf Blitzer is always moving. For Blitzer, anchoring an election broadcast is about celebrating the sanctity of the democratic process, sure, but it’s also about getting in some cardio. “Here are some really dramatic numbers!” Wolf declared mid-stride. (Sure enough, the numbers four and nine drop by to sing the climactic duet from Phantom of the Opera. Such drama!)
By 7:30, the polls were closed in Florida, Ohio and Herman Cain’s basement, where by a slim margin the former Republican contender lost his hard-fought campaign to switch the channel over to “something with maybe a little boob action.” Michigan went early for Obama despite Mitt Romney having repeatedly travelled to the state to flatter its plant life. (“The trees here are just the right height,” he said several times, apparently unaware that the role of trees in the electoral process is limited to that of ballot, not voter.) Then Pennsylvania was called for Obama—and that one hurt Romney. As bad omens go, it ranked up there with glimpsing a movie’s opening credits and seeing the words “Cuba” and “Gooding.”
By the time meaningful vote tallies started pouring in, CNN was entering what felt like its 53rd consecutive hour of live political coverage. David Gergen was passed out. James Carville was shirtless and skinning a possum. Wolf Blitzer was describing as “historic” the fact that he hadn’t taken a leak for a day and half. The planet’s longest, most gruelling reality show was at long last near an end. The courting was over. It was time for America to reveal which fella she’d chosen.
You knew things had turned sharply for Obama when broadcasters began speaking of Romney’s chances in certain states the way over-supportive parents speak of their children: He’s trying really hard and he could still totally pull it out in Nevada! HE COULD TOO!! It wasn’t quite over for Romney—but when the news hit that Florida was looking good for Obama, you could pretty much hear Bill O’Reilly explode from four channels over.
The victory and concession speeches took their usual form: “My spouse is so supportive . . . my kids mean everything to me . . . my opponent is a great American even though mere hours ago I’d have alleged that he’d date raped a ferret if I thought there was a vote in it.”
And then the token biennial nod to working together, uttered by victors on both sides—the predictable late-night sext to bipartisanship: We are really going to try to make it work this time, honey. We completely mean it and are totally serious, girl. This time it’s going to be different. This time we’re going to give you the love and respect you deserve, bipartisanship. Love and respect and lots of cuddling. P.S. We’re going out drinking with the guys now. Don’t wait up.
It didn’t sound sincere. It was as though both sides had come to peace with the polarized state of the land. It was as though they’d accepted that maybe it’s best that red and blue America never come together, because that would make purple America and that would just look weird.