I do not know what will happen in the U.S. presidential election Tuesday. "The cake is baked," Barack Obama's strategists say, and they predict he will win the most crucial election in our lifetime.

But I'm glad it's over. It has been a degrading, unedifying spectacle. Besides, voting day means Obama won't again be speaking to tens of thousands of people in Minneapolis or Denver . He'll be home, safer from the one bullet that has so often served to bring an already violent nation to its knees.

It has taken Americans decades to drag themselves back up to a standing position since Robert F. Kennedy died and there are no words for how heartbreaking it would be if the bullet were used again.

This is how beaten down we have become, that we're grateful when a politician physically survives the campaign. And I'll be grateful not to have to watch John McCain make a fool of himself anymore.

As much as I deplore the man for his sneering about "the physical health" of pregnant women, for the campaign ads only days ago that deliberately darkened Obama's skin, for his backing of torture and wiretapping, for his wanton selection of a disgracefully unqualified VP candidate and, oh, 50 other matters involving ethics and the betraying thereof, it isn't pleasant to watch anyone deteriorate, mentally and morally, on camera.

People shouldn't be mocked for what they can't help.

It wasn't McCain's fault that he shuffled around the debate stage aimlessly or that he stumbled over his own thoughts, forgot people's names and made snuffling noises. We'll all do that some day.

I also don't think Joe Biden should have been mocked for his stutter, but Palin followers found it hilarious.

Primed as I am to find marriage intrinsically funny, I still didn't find the charade of the McCain marriage amusing at all. Cindy McCain was a pretty, happy young woman when she made the decision to marry a starchy rage-filled man making up for lost time; she seems to have had a subsequent hellish life that money has done nothing to improve.

She was a thin, peeled white nerve placed precariously behind her stubby husband. I don't know what helped her survive the campaign but I hope her doctors were compassionate with prescriptions.

But there were good things about the campaign, too, even if they were only the culmination of eight years of horror. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as teenage and girl-hating as it can be, was a tonic and The Colbert Report was satire on a positively  British level.

The campaign was marked by the presence of the young.

College students were mad for Obama. And even babies liked him; they respond to calmness and quiet assurance in adults and they sat placidly in his arms.

It was good to see a candidate who has young children. For that's when an adult  is most impatient for improvement in the world, when it's a fixer-upper he might eventually be able to show off to his kids.

But the whole campaign was odd. Joe the Plumber, whom McCain treated as some kind of pet, has an agent now and I hope his country music career takes off. He can hardly return to off-ledger plumbing.

That's one thing that campaigns do, fling open the doors of a lot of people who wouldn't normally go out but are lured into the front yard by some bright-eyed canvasser. You can see them blinking, unused to sunlight, saying they had heard Obama palled around with "turrsts."

Lady, go back inside for another four years. We'll check on you in 2012. If you still have your house then.

The word that stayed in my mind as the campaign dragged on through the  collapse of the world's economic structure was "hobo." We're all going to be hobos.

I would imagine myself packing up my bindle and setting out on the road in overalls and a pair of Roots boots. Train whistles, boxcars, hot soup, sleeping under a bridge, misery, fear, scrawny children with bite marks on their faces. A heartless Annie Leibovitz would be our Dorothea Lange.

It didn't matter how secure or insecure we really were during the fall of '08; we watched McCain and Obama fight it out and figured we'd all be Tom Joads pretty soon.

If McCain wins, sooner than that, I bet, and there'll be riots too.

This week

The finale of Mad Men's second season came just before the election. I hesitate to write about a cable TV show that is still a specialized taste. But there are some books and films that are only read or seen by a few people but have such influence that they end up stamping themselves invisibly on the culture. Mad Men is like that; it's a snapshot of 1962 when pull-tabs on beer cans, safe sterile abortions and electric typewriters were yet to be invented. It's as if the Middle Ages was only last week, recognizable but hallucinatory. It disturbed me greatly. I don't care what the future brings. I only know that I must have it, whatever it is. Get me out of Mad Men and McCainworld; I want my Obama now.