I’ve always been a fan of outsiders. Ross Perot was a successful business man who would get politics out of government (that was ’92.) Ralph Nader would bring everyday, independent people back into the halls of power (in ’96, and again in ’00). I knew then that these were the right votes to cast.
This election cycle I have ridden the pendulum, from right, to left, and back again. I actually registered with a major political party for the first time in 20 years just so I could vote in the primary. But when I look ahead to the future that I believe is best for my country, and especially my family and children, I believe one choice far, far outweighs the other.
The world we live in today, for better or worse, is largely a product of the United States. World Wars 1 and 2, followed by the Cold War – all these overseas interventions in the last 100 years – some positive, some negative – were won by the efforts and the sacrifices our nation and our families made and by the leadership we showed. My belief is that we as a nation cannot just stop and walk away from all these places where conflagrations are now burning, be it a foreign country or a domestic disaster, fueled by man-made or cyclical climate change. We started many of these fires. The communities in our own country and the world need our continued leadership and some of our resources to help put them out.
For instance, like many people, I think what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy and a travesty. It shouldn’t have happened. But the world we live in is many ways beyond our control.
A couple weeks ago I got to hear a former CIA official speak to a small group of policymakers, researchers, and educators from the U.S. and the Netherlands. “In today’s world,” she began, reflecting on her more than 30 years in U.S. and global security, “most of the dynamics overseas we 1) do not understand 2) we cannot control and therefore we 3) cannot anticipate what is going to happen next.” Boy, is she right.
I will never forget being in Istanbul in 2001, when the first bomb went off in Taksim Square. Just 2 days later we were flying out of that country when the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks happened. We made a u-turn over Bulgaria and landed again in Istanbul where for 5 days we watched our city burn on CNN. Clearly the world we have today is even less rational and predictable than the world of 2001.
In the years immediately after 9/11 I carried a grudge against the airline industry. In some ways I still do. How could that have happened? The lousy seats don’t help.
Working at a non-profit based in NYC, I remember leading delegations to Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. We were trying to help create a smarter, more wholistic transportation system for New York City. I resented the help of Hillary Clinton’s transportation policy aide. At first I didn’t trust him. He had been an airline pilot, and I resented him for that self-serving Airline bailout bill she proudly extolled. A bailout for this lousy industry? But the truth is he helped us too.
But the reality is that transportation was and still is the lifeblood of this country. While the airline corporations seem to focus on the Business Class, our government works to make sure that air travel is an option for the people who do not live in major markets. And that aide for Hillary? Surprisingly, I thought, he still helped us. Years later when she was nominated to serve as Secretary of State this staffer helped us establish a friendly relationship with her successor. We were constituents. We were not donors.
By this time I began working as an independent consultant. I say “Consultant” because I wasn’t and didn’t want to be a Lobbyist (the required Reporting in NYC is too difficult). I also couldn’t call myself a Fundraiser, mostly because I didn’t want to pay the almost $1,000 annual registration fee that New York State charges for people to call themselves “Fundraiser.”
In that stage of my career I helped raise or secure over $30 million for various causes and projects. This isn’t meant to brag, as many, many people have raised much, much more in their efforts. But in those years I did a lot of this work . I even got to meet people with the Clinton Foundation and the Global Initiative . I’ll tell you, from the moment I met them, I had contempt for them too.
For all my years in non-profit and various fundraising efforts, I resented the people with money who invited you in and then had the nerve to ask all sorts of tough questions I had never thought about. “Why am I even here?” I would wonder. Many times those meetings would lead, seemingly, to nothing. Sometimes, in the case of the Clinton’s philanthropic efforts, they would just lead to another meeting, months or a year or more later. The phone would ring, or the email would show up. I would roll my eyes. “Here we go again…”
But these small struggles were also important lessons. They forced us to think, to look within, and to see ourselves from very different angles. They taught us how to communicate with people who did not understand our issues whatsoever.
Finally, in the case of one of my clients and friends, they led to a number of really, really great opportunities. Getting here took 3-4 years of meetings. And not just for that particular client but also some in their constituency (a group that happens to be young, non-white, and not at all affluent).
The way I see it now, those annoying, sometimes painful meetings led to some life-changing and positive experiences for a number of people I was fortunate to get to work alongside. They opened doors that many of us don’t even know exist.
Looking back, was every one of these stories or experiences over the past 15 years gratifying? Not really. Can I say each one produced a “successful?” outcome? No, I cannot, and the story on some of these issues is still being written. But I can honestly say my experience as a constituent, as a citizen, as someone who first visited Washington DC 25 years ago, has given me a very solid education in the basics and virtues of democratic and public governance. I have learned pretty well how our country works. Which is also a little different than how it should work.
Should we get rid of the “Senators Only” elevators on Capitol Hill? Absolutely.
Yes, I have always been a fan of outsiders. And for now, I think we need experienced and diverse leadership to help navigate our country, the world’s largest and most powerful democracy, through these tumultuous times.
Right now, and for the next 3-1/2 years at least, I’m With Her.
P.S. – And in Hoboken NJ, please vote 1,2,4 for School Board; NO on Gambling Casinos, and YES on dedicating the Gas Tax to the Transportation Trust Fund.
updated November 7, 2016