SF State Magazine Fall/Winter 2008

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One Nation Under Google

It was on Valentine's Day, inside the French Field House at Ohio State University in Columbus, that it finally hit me. History. I'm watching history.

The crowd of about 2,500 was electric. Most were women, young and old. And the rarely seen John Glenn, the legendary astronaut-turned-Buckeye-State-senator, stood alongside Hillary Clinton as she recounted a story. Years ago, a young Hillary wrote a letter to a new agency called NASA and asked, "How do you become an astronaut?" But NASA, she remembered, replied: "We're not accepting women into the astronaut program."

"Isn't it great that we've seen women astronauts?" Clinton said to loud applause. "We have seen so much change in a relatively short period of time!" Change has been a crucial word in the 2008 campaign, and not just to Barack Obama. In the first open election since 1928 in which no sitting president or vice president is running for the White House, the very idea of change has applied to other candidates. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, sought to be the first Mormon president. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, could have been the first Hispanic president. Though many worry about the protracted fight between Clinton and Obama, it seemed fitting, at least to me, that their duel would go on and on -- and on. Just when I thought it would be over, like before the New Hampshire primary or after Super Tuesday, it wasn't. Fact is, issues of race and gender have plagued this country since it was founded. Did anyone really think the Clinton and Obama match-up would be decided so quickly?

I joined The Washington Post's political team in February 2007, two days before my 26th birthday. It was a happy accident. A few weeks after finishing a yearlong series on AIDS in Washington, D.C., I watched Clinton announce her candidacy, much like John Edwards did, with an online video. Hours later, I wrote a one-page memo to editors proposing a new area of coverage: the marriage of Internet and politics.

A culture clash was inevitable. Campaigns, at least what I know of them, are all about being in control, staying on message, choreography. The Internet, in contrast, is a chaotic, freewheeling world where anything goes. Look at Craigslist, YouTube and MySpace at any given minute. After a year of reporting on this marriage of Internet and politics -- on Romney's blogging sons; on the record online fundraising of Obama and Ron Paul; on YouTubers uploading debate questions -- what became clear is the growth of a clickable democracy. A "clickocracy," I called it. It means one nation under Google, with online video and e-mail for all.

But aside from reporting on the online campaign, I also found myself on the trail, driving around Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas. I was at the Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, as Obama and Oprah took to the stage in front of 30,000 people last December. I spent the holidays in Iowa, watching Mike Huckabee shoot pheasants in Osceola the day after Christmas, and rung in the new year with Bill and Hillary Clinton in Des Moines. I spent my birthday in New Mexico, writing about the Hispanic vote in the largely Hispanic state and landing an interview with Richardson.

Through it all I've asked myself: How lucky am I? Barely four years out of San Francisco State -- a university that expanded my definition of diversity, of change -- here I am reporting on a historic race. Very lucky, indeed.

Jose Antonio Vargas (B.A., '04) won a 2008 Pulitzer Prize as part of a team that covered the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. A native of Mountain View, Calif., he's also written for the Mountain View Voice, Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle and New York magazine. He's appeared on CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. Read more of his work online: www.joseantoniovargas.com

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