The harder path to a better place

Election Day 2020 is scarcely more than 18 months away, so now is obviously the time to put forward a bold plan to take back the White House:

OK, I didn’t say that it’s a good plan.

I like George Takei. I followed his Facebook posts for years, often finding them funny, insightful or inspiring, and sometimes re-posting them. I left Facebook over a year ago but recently opened a Twitter account and started following Takei again.

Unfortunately, things had changed. I found Takei’s tweets more numerous, more negative, and too heavily focused on Donald Trump for my liking. Maybe Takei changed or maybe I did. Anyway, I stopped following him last week.

Nonetheless, the tweet above appeared on my feed a couple days ago, undoubtedly because Takei is followed by a number of people I follow. Twitter and other social media work that way — degrees of connection. Two people have mutual contacts and interests and magically they find out about one another.

But algorithms can only go so far at predicting what actually connects people.

Thus, someone I had stopped following (because his tweets had become annoying to me), turned up in my Twitter feed anyway, with a tweet that really pushed my buttons.

Thanks, but no

Blindly (or silently) following a supposed authority is the sort of thing I think people should not do. “Challenging blind obedience” is the main reason I started this blog.

So, no thank you. I will will not take a pledge to speak no ill about our candidates.

Here’s why I think avoiding criticism of candidates is a bad idea.

This is the beginning of a long process

We are a year and a half away from the general election. The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses — in which I expect to participate — are over nine months away. The Democratic National Convention won’t happen until mid-July 2020. From there it’s over 15 weeks to the election.

To say it’s a long process is an understatement. It’s a trek.

What’s it all about?

At this point, the process is about selecting a candidate. There are currently twenty declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. One of them — or someone else entirely — might eventually become the nominee. We don’t know how it’s going to play out.

The last candidate who declared is the early front runner for the nomination. That candidate also polls the highest in a head-to-head match up against Donald Trump. That is, a hypothetical match up a year and a half from now. Anything can happen. We’ve seen front runners stumble and unknowns come from nowhere to win. Right now we don’t even know for sure that Donald Trump will still be in the White House or on the ballot.

This seemingly endless campaign is about vetting and evaluating possible candidates to become the next president and vice president. We want to see what they’re made of. Do they share our values? Do they have what it takes to do a really important and difficult job? How do they handle pressure? Can they campaign, raise money, build an organization, craft a message, win support… Can they lead? Can they endure?

Why is it so hard?

When thinking about some of the exceptional American presidents, I think about their gifts and talents and the advantages they enjoyed, but also the hardships and difficulties they overcame. Abraham Lincoln was born poor, lost his mother as a child, and largely schooled himself. Theodore Roosevelt endured poor health and asthma as a child, the loss of his first wife and his mother within hours of one another, and financial loss from a blizzard that wiped out his cattle herd. Franklin Roosevelt contracted polio and was paralyzed in both legs while still in his thirties. John Kennedy lost a brother in World War II and had a PT boat he captained cut in two by a Japanese destroyer on a moonless night in the South Pacific.

Campaigning is hard because the job is hard. Whatever a candidate has gone through to get to a point of running for president, people want to find out what he or she is made of.

Several problems

One of the problems with a pledge not to speak negatively “about any of our candidates” is that it proposes a double standard: speaking no evil about Democrats while saying whatever we want about everybody else. It’s hypocrisy. This is a moral problem.

Other problems with such a pledge are practical. Just because we take it easy on our own candidates does not mean that anyone else will. And if we do not rigorously challenge our own candidates during the primaries, how will we know who is the best choice? What will happen when the general election campaign begins with a candidate who got a pass during the primaries? What happens if a badly flawed candidate sails through the campaign and faces his or her first real test in office?

At some point one of our candidates or one of their candidates is going to get elected and become our president. His or her running mate will become our vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency, as they say. Nine vice presidents have ascended to the presidency due to the death of the president.

What’s a partisan to do?

Considering my own conduct in the past, I’d say that some of it was a lot more constructive and effective than other stuff. As clever as I usually thought I was being at the time, a lot of those remarks look pretty bad in hindsight. In any event, the world doesn’t need any more snarky tweets, posts, online comments or letters to editors.

It’s easier to tear down than to build up, but the rewards of building are much greater.

Candidate and issue campaigns are always looking for volunteers. At the ground level, political parties run almost entirely on volunteer labor and contributions.

Like a lot of organizations in the United States, political parties are aging. This is both a problem and an opportunity, since the organizations really do need volunteers. The work isn’t always exciting or glamorous, but it’s important and can be very gratifying.

“Model something better”

On April 12, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg commented about inflammatory tweets by Donald Trump, saying “The president today made America smaller. It is not enough to condemn him; we must model something better.

I like the exhortation to provide a better example, rather than just criticizing or staying silent. Buttigieg is asking us to do more: to be the change.

It reminds me of something Barack Obama said when he accepted the Democratic nomination in 2012: “Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place.”

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