Four years ago, I was standing outside in the Los Angeles heat, knocking on doors in my West Hollywood neighborhood as a volunteer with Obama for America. Today, I sit in an apartment across from rainy Regents Park in London, my absentee ballot waiting to be mailed.
The election of 2008 engaged me like no other. I watched all presidential and vice presidential debates. I listened to endless analysis on CNN. I went to fundraisers. I signed up to volunteer. I called people I didn't know on the phone. I knocked on their doors. I thought about quitting my job and moving to Chicago to intern for David Alexrod. But most of all, I believed.
I believed in the campaign, in its iconic images, its one-word slogans, its possibility. Obama's campaign of 2008 captured a whole generation, and beyond. Myself included.
This year, I feel surprisingly disengaged from campaign 2012. The debates aired at one a.m. local time. I don't have a television. I'm a time-crunched student with a currently limited attention span for news. I feel the distance.
My experience of this election has been that of snippets - whether it's the 47%, the binders full of women, the Romnesia, or the horses and bayonets. At first I thought this was simply due to location and circumstance. But then I forced myself to watch the debate from last Monday night. And the one before it. And I realized that much more than geography, what I am missing is connection - a connection to something beyond the day to day, the buzz words, and the back and forth between Obama and Romney. I miss the connection I had to the campaign and the candidate of four years ago - the emotional draw, the belief.
The issues discussed in the last debates are clearly ones of critical importance. But the conversations, and the campaigns, seem to lack in vision. For Obama, this is obviously due to the high bar that was set with his last campaign. He created an expectation. And many believe he has not delivered on it. But I didn't just buy in to the candidate. I bought in to the movement. I like the expectation, because I want to be hopeful.
Hope and change, the slogans of 2008, are not promises. They are not tangible. They can't be delivered in a year, or two or four. Or maybe even eight. They are ideologies; they represent a new way of being, a shift in thinking, the promise of something new. They may not even take one leader. But they represent what we aspire to. And they tell us it's okay to have faith.
What makes Obama a great leader is his ability to get people behind what he believes in - and to make us believe too. But this year, that larger message feels lost. And while I do want the details, I also want to be inspired, to feel a sense of possibility. For me, the choice is not about finding the right candidate. That is as simple as it was four years ago. Instead, it is about being a part of a shared vision, of feeling inspired, and of believing once again.
Follow Rajal Pitroda on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rajalpitroda