If you had asked me in high school where I saw myself in two years, it wouldn’t be working out of an old dilapidated building, living off donations and begging people for their time. But here I am.
What can I say? She blew me away.
“I refuse to believe that the era of American innovation and exceptionalism is over,” she says when she’s handed back the microphone. There’s only one to go around. The room is small, and only a dozen or so people have gathered to meet the candidate.
“We shouldn’t run away from challenges simply because they’re challenging. Or, in public policy terms, because they’re expensive. Because they’re politically unpopular. Because politicians can’t mold them into a campaign slogan. Rather, this is how we know an issue is worth tackling.”
She is fond of this argument. For months now, we’ve been trying out different ways of getting the idea across. Vote for her not because she offers easy solutions, but because she’s willing to take on problems that other candidates would rather ignore. She’s not the most ideological. She isn’t trying to appeal to her party’s base. She’s running for office because she believes it’s the only way she can tackle these problems, and she thinks the government could benefit from having more people like her in office.
I happen to agree.
It was never hard for me to admit that government can do good things. I come from a family of die-hard liberals. My parents immigrated from France, and they have a hard time understanding American aversion to the word socialism. Rather, there are a few industries they view as desperately in need of deprivatization.
Being born in North Carolina, my parents view me as the American in the house. Sometimes, when I’m not quick to agree, they call me the Republican.
I don’t have a party yet. I have yet to vote in any election. But this woman has my vote. More than that. I’m one of only seven people who make up her staff.
I don’t take this lightly. There’s no reason for me to be here. I don’t have a college degree. I have some work experience, but none of it full-time. All I know is that she sees in me what I see in her. Those are her words, not mine.
“America’s best days still lie ahead, but they won’t happen if we don’t make them. We need bold thinking, and that is the one thing I promise to deliver.”
I came on board as an unpaid volunteer. I had my associate degree, but I wasn’t ready to transfer to a four-year university. The numbers scared me off. My parents were ready to help, but I wasn’t ready to ask.
It was during that summer that I saw her deliver this line for the first time.
She guards her commitments closely and guarantees little. She sees this as the only way a politician can get into office and remain true to her word.
She was only willing to promise one thing, and for that, I trusted her.
“How will you bring better paying jobs to our county?” a man asks from two rows back.
As the microphone makes its way back to the front, I see her thinking. Then she breaks out into a strain of dialogue our team had worked out before.
“We can build up the middle class by rethinking how we structure companies, changing the dynamic so that wealth isn’t concentrated entirely at the top. We don’t have to do this through mandate or regulation. From a governance standpoint, all it requires is a change in tax code, a change in incentives. The rest is up to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Investors and workers. I can’t predict what the economy will do, but I have heard what people want to do, and they want to do their part to make America better. They want to help.”
These words weren’t rehearsed. They were burned into memory from the countless debates our staff had had, the way college kids bounce ideas back and forth after having their eyes opened for the first time. To know how to run this campaign, we had to first know what we were campaigning for. And she always came back to this.
“I do not believe that the wealthiest Americans are greedy. I don’t think they look down on the rest of us. They know there’s a problem, but many already feel that they pay more than their fair share of taxes. Whether they do or don’t is a tired debate. We should move on, and that’s what I intend to do. There are other ways to pump capital back into our economy.”
My parents don’t see it this way. Americans are the most generous people in the world, they tell me. Americans are also the most obsessed with money. They don’t horde it, like other cultures. But they always want more.
Maybe so, I say. Maybe that’s why our economy is what it is.
We never see eye to eye, despite being family, despite being people who love each other. This leaves me feeling pretty hopeless about the future of our politics.
“M’am?” a little boy asks in the front row.
“Why, hello,” she says, bending over. A camera flashes. One of ours. This is a photo destined for the website.
“Mom says I should vote for you because you’re a woman.”
The room laughs. No other children are in the room, but a number of the adults let out an aw or two as though they could see their own kids in him.
“She does?” she continues, her eyes locked on the child as she tilts the microphone back towards him.
“Uh huh. I don’t think it’s fair.”
“Mom already gets to make all the rules. I think boys should have a turn.”
Again, the room laughs.
She smiles. “You know what, I think you’re right.”
She begins to straighten up, but pauses. “How about this? In thirty or forty years, you and your friends should run for office. How does that sound?”
“I think that sounds good.”
“Me, too. But right now, I’m also mother, so I’m going to have to agree with your mom.” Only then does she look up from the child towards his mother, and the two of them share a smile.
Just like that, she has the youth vote and the woman vote.
In me, she has both.
Now it’s only a matter of getting everyone else to see what I see. But in this moment, as I look out across the people in this room, I don’t think that will be a problem.
We’re all going to vote for her.