Does it really matter who’s president? Yes and no

President Richard Nixon went to China in February 1972. I was 18, a senior in high school. People too young to remember can’t imagine how amazing that was, after a quarter-century of Chinese isolation.

On TV, I watched Nixon and the first lady touring the Great Wall, and the president trying chopsticks at a banquet with Premier Chou En-Lai.

That fall of ‘72, I was in a UW dorm room when I filled out an absentee ballot to vote in my first presidential election. I voted for the other guy, Democrat George McGovern, who earned just 17 electoral votes to Nixon’s 520.

By August 1974, Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign, with the specter of impeachment looming after the Watergate break-in. That’s another story.

This story — for you to read this morning — is to acknowledge that while roughly half of voters are elated today, the other half dread the worst.

I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter who won the presidential race. Sure it matters. Ask veterans of the war in Iraq whether the 2000 presidential race mattered. For some Americans, the occupant of the White House is life-changing.

Yet for most of us, day to day, the result of Tuesday’s presidential race won’t drastically change anything. Our tax rates may change, or we’ll pay for health care in a different way. Still, we woke up this morning with the same problems we had yesterday, and the same joys.

Here’s something to consider, too, whether you are upset or thrilled by election news today: At times, I have been pleased by the actions of a president I didn’t support. I have also been disappointed by presidents who won my vote.

Nixon’s trip to China is only one example of that. I can think of many.

While I never voted for President George W. Bush, he made us all proud to be Americans when, six days after the 9/11 attacks, he visited a mosque in Washington, D.C. In an eloquent talk, Bush spoke out against harassment of Muslims in the United States, and about respecting Islam.

President Ronald Reagan didn’t get my vote, either. Reagan came into the White House in 1981 with a shoot-from-the-hip reputation, yet he pushed the Soviet Union for deep cuts in nuclear arms, making the world a safer place.

I didn’t vote for those presidents, and didn’t expect to like much of what they did. Sometimes, I was happily surprised.

On the disappointment side, President Bill Clinton’s behavior with intern Monica Lewinsky is right up there. I voted for Clinton, and given the chance I would again. But really, there’s no defending that tawdry chapter of his presidency.

President Jimmy Carter also had my vote, but I wish he hadn’t boycotted U.S. participation in the 1980 Olympics, or blamed the country’s problems on a “crisis of confidence.”

Presidents we voted for can take us by unhappy surprise — both by their actions and inactions. After the 2008 election, for instance, I hoped we would no longer be a nation at war. Yet war drags on.

So here we are, the morning after. You’re happy or you’re not. Just wait. That could change.

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll watch more election analysis, as if I haven’t had my fill. I’ll watch on my Sony TV — the one I bought with a George W. Bush administration economic stimulus check.

You never know.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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