Column: Confessions of a political junkie

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t developed a personal relationship with MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki?

He and his counterparts on major channels have moved into our homes and our heads — and restless sleep — for the last few nights, or what used to be called Election Day. The highs and lows grab us politics junkies by the throat and mess with our blood pressure, as the votes come in painfully slow.

For the last several election cycles, Steve K. has kept his straight-data-arrow persona, crunching numbers as quickly as he pulls new counts up on his tally board, never wasting time on deciding what to wear.

Some of us have taken to drinking games — sipping every time we hear “mail-in ballots” would get us soused pretty fast. Others have made wagers on what infinitesimal slice of the electoral map will deliver the coup de grace. I try to stay busy in the next room, but the TV news channels employ their signature music or swooshing sounds to signal breaking news, sending me running back to the screen like Pavlov’s dog.

Did I dare jump in the shower and miss the announcement, one way or the other, when the winner would be called? For once, I wouldn’t leave my phone on silent overnight while I attempted sleep.

Spending a couple of hours getting a root canal yesterday was the only thing that kept me from obsessively watching the news on TV.

Knowing that my phone was nearby but out of reach during the procedure drove me crazy, forcing me to acknowledge how closely tethered I was to the constant flow of incoming updates.

My husband just came home with two newspapers and told me to change the TV channel to catch up on the latest news he’d heard in the car. Not only are we news junkies, but as the anticipation of the outcome inches closer, we’re ready to jump out of our skin.

It’s in my DNA, I guess, since I’ve worked in political campaigns since high school. My classmates and I would wear brightly colored uniforms and help spur interest and get out the vote. Like any intense, emotional time in one’s life, those memories are infused with aromas of food.

Overwhelmingly, it was pizza, and specifically the smell of the cardboard box saturated with pizza grease. Other times it was burgers, cooked on a grill with bacon, a flavor permanently recorded in my olfactory lobes.

Those takeout meals were the accompaniment to working phone banks, watching debates on TV, and eventually Election Night itself, when returns would come in on black desk phones.

Fast forward to today, when all of the research, polling, debates, social media and other resources make it painfully clear how closely matched the numbers are on both sides. The candidates and their parties were not separated by subtle differences, but reflected deep divisions in the nation.

One side would have to win, and nearly half the nation would be very unhappy.

Step back from that fact, though, and realize that no matter whom they supported, Americans went to the polls in overwhelming numbers, to choose their government in the way this country has since its founding.

I have never understood how some citizens could profess little interest in the process, much less those who failed to exercise this right that was long denied to many — for far too long — women and people of color.

What’s at stake in elections, whether in local towns or the nation, is a wide sweep of control over how communities are kept safe and secure, how infrastructure is funded, how justice is administered. That substance is often lost in the noise or in the style and personality each candidate projects.

While I await the outcome, I know I will feel deeply devastated if my side loses, and I’m sure my counterparts will feel the same if the opposite happens.

For now, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the political ads are off the air, although if the past is any indication, we’ll be back to hearing about catheters and MyPillow more than we need.

What will political junkies do to fill the void? For starters, we’ll try to live the values we’ve been professing throughout the campaigns. I know there’s healing work to be done, to try to get back to a world where we could disagree without anger, and God help us, violence.

I was admittedly furious when a political caravan blocked my route home the other day, and irritated when a police officer told me I’d have to take a long detour when my house was just minutes away.

As I started to drive away, though, I realized it was important he not misread my annoyance. “I do want to thank you,” I told him. “And stay safe.”

Momentarily surprised, he smiled and told me to be careful.

Let’s all be careful, to knit together the raveled ends of our common fabric, to remember that the flags, the colors, the bands, the lawn signs represent real people, our neighbors, with whom we’ve been able to accomplish so much good, even in the face of a pandemic that’s ravaged our communities and pulled the economic stability out from under our families.

And, anyone want to start a drinking game? Say, whenever someone mentions 2024?