FINAL PRE-ELECTION THOUGHTS….I’m not what you’d call an optimist. Most of my friends and family would describe me as fairly cynical. If you flip through our family photos, you’re more likely to find images of me smirking than smiling. And I’ve been disillusioned with the political process ever since John Hoffmeyer won the student council presidency by ten votes in sixth grade and my request for a recount was denied.

So it has surprised no one more than me that I’ve been fairly upbeat throughout this entire election season. Last fall, when most Democrats were busy moaning about how Bush was going to win on the strength of Iraq alone, I tried to point out that Iraq wasn’t going to help him a heck of a lot if it continued to go badly. The moaning got louder when Bush signed Medicare reform, but it seemed to me that if seniors didn’t like the law (and they don’t), it wouldn’t be a winner for the president. And the moaning reached shrill heights when Saddam Hussein was captured–“we’re doomed!”–but Americans historically have short memories and a year is a pretty long time to coast on a successful spiderhole nab.

Then came the primaries. “We’re beating each other up….The party will be hopelessly divided….We’re doomed!” whimpered Democrats. I thought it was a good sign that Democrats managed to field ten candidates, at least four of whom could actually be good presidents.

In September, after a month of attacks from Swift Boat veterans and one of the nastiest Republican conventions in memory sank Kerry’s poll numbers, the moaning resumed. My colleagues declared the election over, my boyfriend braced for a certain Bush victory, and despite myself, I chirped, “There’s still plenty of time left! We haven’t had the debates yet. This is just a blip!”

So now, as it’s become trendy for liberal political types to predict that even if Kerry wins, he’ll be a sub-par president, I’m going to extend this unusual run of optimism even more. If elected, John Kerry will be a perfectly fine president. Maybe even better than that. He’ll have real and daunting challenges to deal with, there’s no question about it. This isn’t going to be an easy run for anyone. But why all the wailing about how horrible he’ll be? Some complain that he’s a micro-manager, he can’t make up his mind, he’ll never get anything done. Sound like anyone else you know…cough, cough, Bill Clinton? And although the Clinton-Gore legacy is somewhat rightly revered in Democratic circles, there were an awful lot of wasted opportunities during those eight years. Surely Kerry could manage to shepherd through at least as many far-reaching programs as they did.

Maybe this is all just a giant lowering-of-the-expectations trick by liberals. To me, it sounds like too-cool-for-school cynicism, and for now–maybe just for now–I’m not falling for that.

But the real reason I’m optimistic about the outcome of this election? Lawn signs in Plymouth, Michigan.

Over the past few months, my mom has been calling with increasing frequency after her evening walks to update me on the lawn sign situation in my hometown. When I was growing up there, Plymouth was a Republican bastion, the type of place where I had doors slammed in my face when I walked door-to-door as a young Democratic campaign volunteer. Now, however, Mom has been documenting a 3 to 1, sometimes even 4 to 1 tilt in favor of Kerry/Edwards lawn signs.

As a good social scientist, I tried to convince her that this was not an accurate measure of the political tilt of the town, that demographics had changed quite a bit over the past few years, and, finally (and obnoxiously) that her sample size was just too small.

Three weeks ago, the page one story on The Wall Street Journal had the dateline “Plymouth, Michigan,” the headline “Folks on Adams Street are Showing Signs of a Close Election,” and 1200 words entirely about lawn signs in Plymouth. Always listen to your mother.

I hope you’re right, Mom. I think you are.

Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.