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Thoughts on 2016

Labor Day is the unofficial kickoff for Get Out The Vote (GOTV) on a campaign -- the time when the intensity ramps up even more and you start ticking off days on a calendar with abandon. One year out from that critical time in 2016, I thought I would reflect on the presidential election thus far.

Perhaps the most well known DC pundit said to a gathering I attended in July, "I can't believe we're going to look back at summer 2015 as the Summer of Trump." Indeed, we will. Love him or hate him (and I fall in the latter category), Trump has tapped into a sense of discontent kindled by Sarah Palin and flamed by the Tea Party movement. That he seems to have no basis in fact or reality makes no difference. He's not going away and fellow candidates on both sides of the aisle have been forced to respond. To me, the scariest thing is the possibility that he can actually win the Republican primary; remember, theirs is a winner-take-all system (whereas Democrats are proportional). With so many candidates running, he needs a shockingly small percentage of the overall vote to win a state. Much has been written about his racism, xenophobia, and sexism and I certainly I don’t want to dismiss their importance. But, in my opinion, it’s his utter nonchalance towards the job as President that truly galls me. His statements about delegating responsibility, complete lack of foreign policy knowledge, and dismissal of the media signal a lack of seriousness about the office to which he wishes to ascend. I would like to think that GOP voters would come to their senses ahead of actually casting a ballot but that conventional wisdom has proven false as he gathers even more support after every crazy statement or antic.

And then there are the other 16 (and counting) candidates. I have said from the beginning that I didn’t think the GOP would nominate another Bush. Jeb’s debate performance and lackluster campaign have confirmed this theory so far. Yes, he’ll have a lot of money but in the age of the SuperPAC, that isn’t the advantage it used to be. Kasich and Rubio continue to be the two candidates that worry me most, as a Democrat. In the first debate, they came off as smart and reasonable while also sticking to their values. Each has demographic appeal beyond the usual Republican base. A Rubio/Kasich (2016’s version of Obama/Biden) or Kasich/Rubio ticket should worry us all from an electoral math perspective. I think it is highly likely that the early primary states get split amongst the outliers and the nomination is then decided by later (and larger) states. Stay tuned – six months is a lifetime in politics.

I am an unabashed and unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I was Ready for Hillary in 1992. Living in New York in 2000, I volunteered on her campaign and had the opportunity to spend time with her on numerous occasions. I don’t always agree with her (or with Bill Clinton’s triangulated, moderate policies in the 90’s) but she is unquestionably the most qualified person to be President. I also truly admire and like her personally; I know first-hand all of the sentiments we hear about how warm and personable she is in person – she is! But I don’t need to have a beer or a coffee with my President. I want someone competent, smart, and serious (see above: Trump). We, as a country, need to get over likeability and focus on the qualities that truly matter in a leader. Emailgate has not been helpful to her likeability and the campaign’s slow-roll response, while expected because of the legalities involved, was not helpful either. But the majority of Americans are not paying attention and/or care a lot more about her plans for the economy than her email server. Fundamentally, I think this “scandal” simply cemented opinions: if you didn’t like Hillary to begin with, you think it’s on the level of Watergate; if you lean towards her, your shrug and say, “Meh” when the topic is raised.

I also like and admire Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. I think competitive primaries are a good thing and that these candidates bring important views to the debate. I understand, to some degree, the Bernie phenomenon as discontent from the left (a la Dean 2016 – the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”) and I more closely align with him than with Hillary on many issues. If I thought an old, white, Jewish, Socialist guy from Vermont could get elected nationally (and if I didn’t harbor so much historic love for Hillary), I might feel differently about this primary. But I don’t and I don’t. I like revolution from within – he is helping to push Hillary on some key issues (although let’s remember her decades-long championing of many of them) but, again, let’s be realistic about what we need in a leader.

Finally, a word about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In my past day job as a funder of youth-focused political organizations, I proudly helped fund many of the groups working in the formal and informal BLM networks. Both the left and the right have criticized these young, predominantly female, often LGBTQ activists. Let’s be clear: innocent people in AMERICA are being SHOT AT by the POLICE because of the COLOR of their skin. If this sounds like something out of a George Orwell novel or apartheid South Africa, it should. If you and your (white) friends feared for your lives on a daily basis for walking down the street or driving to run an errand, you’d be protesting in the streets and everywhere else. The best analogy I’ve seen is from actor Matt McGorry: “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean other lives don’t. Like people who say ‘Save the Rainforest’ aren’t saying ‘F*ck All Other Kinds of Forests.’” I also want to recognize that many police officers are sensitive to these issues and do their jobs in a fair and just manner. We shouldn’t lump police into one broad category, just as we shouldn’t lump all young, black men into one broad category. But, next time you want to criticize the BLM movement for being too disruptive or militant or undermining authority or not playing nice, take a breath. No substantive change in this country came about without direct action and these activists are on the front lines. They deserve our applause and support.