Last December, I received a rather useful piece of holiday swag: A super-special desk clock from "The Page," Mark Halperin's election site at Time.com, which became nigh indispensable this election season. This clock featured not only the time and Time (branding!), but also the time left, in a clock that counted inexorably down toward election day, in hours, minutes, seconds and tenths of a second, so it was constantly running down the mesmerizing slip of time.
Yeah, I've spent a lot of time staring at that clock. Back when it arrived at my desk I took a photo for a planned post on holiday swag — that was on December 18th and there were 321 days left in the campaign — plenty of time for anything to happen before Hillary Clinton faced Rudy Giuliani on election day. Ha, ha.
It stayed on my desk ever since then, running down through the primaries — through Obama's gathering momentum and Hillary's hardscrabble fight to the bitter end and Bill Clinton's unscripted commentary on the campaign trail; through John McCain's transition from broke long shot to darling of New Hampshire to genial old guy jawing in the back of the Straight Talk Express to genial old guy who now had a plane to, er, less genial old guy; through a noun, a verb and 9/11 and bling-bling; through floating crosses and fried squirrels; through lawn signs stuck in the snow in Iowa where Chris Dodd's kids went to kindergarten. Oops.
It was there on my desk counting down through Mike Huckabee's smooth transition from candidate to cable talk show host and Mitt Romney's awkward dance with pretending to like McCain and Fred Thompson's disappearance from anywhere there wasn't a teleprompter and a place to nap; through Dennis Kucinich's vain fight to be included in those final debates and John Edwards' vain fight to keep his lovechild out of the papers; through Ron Paul Nation and the Dream Ticket/Fairtyale; through Super Tuesday and that Other Super Tuesday; the Caroline Kennedy endorsement and the Cackle and sniper fire from Bosnia; a More Perfect Union and a less-than-perfect preacher; arugula and waffles, bitterness and bowling; through a thrill running up Chris Matthew's leg and the vein throbbing in Keith Olbermann's temple; through the outrage of Fox & Friends over Obama's "typical white person" (remember that?) and the dark foreboding of E.D. Hill's "terrorist fist jab."
It was there through the return of SNL after the writer's strike and the parade of presidential candidates thereon; through the first time Tina Fey made a dent in the election (remember "Bitch is the new black?" Not all Dems loved Tina then!) as it was through the second time, seven months later; through a Hillary Clinton whose belly swelled with each show and a racially-mixed actor playing a racially-mixed candidate in racially-mixed makeup.
It was there through Hillary's concession with its PUMAs and its 18 million cracks, and the kickoff of the general (finally!), of Phil Gramm's nation of whiners and Wes Clark's "fighter pilot" firestorm, of Obama's trip 'round the world and presidential seal seen once, Obama's Ich Bin Ein moment vs. McCain's Sausagehaus photo-op; McCain's Ferragamos and multiple houses; what Jesse Jackson wanted with Obama's nuts; the Celebrity ad with Paris Hilton and the other Celebrity ad with Paris Hilton, and the celebrity text-message naming of Joe Biden.
It was there through the conventions, the Clinton reconciliation at the DNC and Ted Kennedy's benediction; Sasha and Malia's surpassing cuteness and fireworks over Invesco field; the next-day naming of an obscure Alaska governor with big hair; the next-to-next day rumors over her baby's parentage and the next-to-next-to-next day's revelation of her unwed teenage daughter; through Bristol, Piper, Trig, Todd and Levi; through Mother, Moosehunter, Maverick; through Rudy Giuliani snickering over "community organizers" (wow, has that guy bet on the wrong horse at ever step of this election or what?) and Sarah Palin RNC-rocking debut as the media-hating hockey-momming lipstick-wearing pitbull of choice; the return of John McCain's greenscreen nemesis; the GOP vs. NBC, and Andrea Mitchell vs. balloons; "Thanks but no thanks" and "Drill, baby, drill"; Palin vs. Gibson, and then Palin v. Couric; the implosion of Wall Street, and McCain's briefly-sorta-suspended campaign; "That One" and "Can I call you Joe?"; Joe the Plumber, Real America, and $150,000 at Neiman Marcus; Letterman & Liddy; Ground-gaming Pennsylvania and Schlepping to Florida; three days of Jeremiah Wright ads; Obama's aunt, and then his grandma; and finally — finally! — the polls.
Yes, through it all that damn clock ran inexorably down, and somewhere over the past few weeks I began wondering what would happen when it hit zero. Would it just stop with almost a thud, leaving all of us that have been staring at it moving inexorably towards zero for the last year sort of slump over in our chairs in disbelief and bewilderment and loss? Or would it start to roll the other way — counting forward through the next administration, running the clock forward through a mandate as-yet unspooled? I even asked Halperin himself, but he declined to share. I'd find out when it was, well, time.
So what happened? Well, the clock ran down — that part you already know. I had popped it in my purse on the way out of the office on the 3rd, and took it out with 9 minutes to zero hour, and waited. And when it hit zero, it flashed. And that was that for the clock, until I looked at it again a day later, after Obama was named president-elect. And at that point, the flashing zeroes were gone. All that was left was the actual clock, telling the time of day and nothing else. Like everything catalogued in this long list, the purpose for the clock ceased to matter — all it meant was that stuff had gone on in the past. On November 5th, looking forward, all that seems pretty obsolete.
Still, as holiday swag goes, it was pretty good.