A big part of my optimism is due to the obvious fact of them being the first ever black and female presidential candidates on a major party ticket. The media has made a big deal over this, but I feel it's so significant that it's worthy of an even bigger deal than anyone has fully realized yet. Presidents have more powers than the ones officially granted to them; they have a huge amount of symbolic culture-shifting power as figureheads, too. Especially if Clinton wins, the whole sexist language of presidency would have to be rewritten in ways that I don't think the country has really begun to grapple with seriously yet. If either one of them wins, I think their mere existences in the bodies they were born into will make the country a significantly more pleasant place, even if I do end up hating a large number of their actual political stances.
But the other reason I feel so much more optimistic about this election than about any other presidential elections I've ever been eligible to vote in is something much less noticed by the media: Quite simply, whenever I hear anyone this year urging me to vote for either of the Democratic presidential candidates, the urging is consistently phrased as, "You should vote for X because X did something good." This stands in very sharp contrast to what I heard during the past several elections (most noticeably with John Kerry, but also quite a bit with Al Gore and even to a significant extent with Bill Clinton, at least during his second term, which was the first one I was eligible to vote about), when instead I kept hearing, "You should vote for X because even though I know X is horribly disappointingly conservative and totally uninspiring, the alternative is the absolutely terrifying prospect of Y being elected instead!" The fact that this year I hear Democratic voters actually enthused about the prospect of voting for the Democratic candidates, rather than just terrified into resigning themselves to having to vote against the Republican candidates, makes me feel for the first time in ages that the Democrats are actually going to win the November elections this time around. And yes, I know the Barack Obama voters tend to be significantly more enthusiastic than the Hillary Clinton voters. But even most of the Hillary Clinton voters seem to be phrasing their support of her in terms of things they actually like about her. I really think they're both far more decent candidates than the Democrats have ever previously given me the opportunity to vote for.
My opportunity won't come until November, though, since I'm not a registered Democrat. In the meantime, I voted yesterday for Cynthia McKinney, on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket.