After work one recent evening the author had the good fortune to chat with John Q. Public over a few beers at the Ninkasi Brewpub & Pool Hall in Eugene, Oregon.
Over the cacophony of ricochets, and the din of fair and balanced talking heads emanating from the television above the bar, it was difficult to catch all of what Mr. Public had to say about the world and life in general. But when the subject of the 2008 elections came up, the pool tables and the other patrons all went quiet as Mr. Public’s voice grew louder:
“Dammit, if I were running for president, I’d speak most about what I would do, and least about what the other guy didn’t do. No amount of speeches about how bad things are and how awful the other guy or gal is will let the voters know what I believe in. And the voters right now are desperate for somebody to tell them something they can believe in.
“If I were running for president, I’d take positions because they were right, not just because they were safe, and damn the political consequences. If I lost because I did so, well then, hell, I lost. Things in this country are bad and looking worse right now. This ain’t no time for caution. This ain’t no time for candidates who are technocratic and careful. This is a time for candidates who are passionate, and bold, and brave.
“If I were running for president, I’d speak to voters’ hopes, their worries, and to what gives them despair late at night. And if I didn’t know, I’d be damn sure to find out by asking them directly, and I don’t mean by tricking them with some fancy-worded polls. Voters in this country don’t ask for much. They just ask that candidates know who they are, what they think, what they need, and what their rights are. They ask that candidates care more about people than about what the pollsters think. Voters, they need candidates who will say to them: "You and me both, pal."
“If I were running for president, I’d give my best answers to the real questions on voters’ minds. My God, who the hell really cares about gay marriage and flag burning? Folks across America are asking: "How will we prosper? What will make us secure? What will happen if my family loses our health care? How will we afford to send our kids to college? How will we afford to save for our retirement?"
“If I were running for president, I’d meet the American people where they are, not where I think they ought’ta be. Hell, meeting them where they are comes before leading them where they ought’ta be. Belittling them for where they are only drives them further away from where they ought’ta be.
“If I were running for president, I’d speak not out of hopelessness, but out of hope. Hope is more sustaining than fear, you see. I’d give people a clear vision for the future, a fresh agenda of new ideas, rather than a stale litany of old tired ones. I’d help people to imagine more ambitiously what we can do together, and to realize what we can never do apart.
“If I were running for president, if I had to criticize, I’d do it without sounding as if I wanted America to fail. I’d describe all the things I love about America, and then I’d talk about what I want to do to make her better. While we Americans are proud of our country, we’re not blind to her shortcomings. But tell us how awful she is, or patronize our pride, and you can forget about ever being elected.
“If I were running for president, I’d present big, positive visionary solutions that solve multiple problems simultaneously while sticking to core American values. The American people cannot be won over by presenting them a laundry list of complaints and by giving us no end of "I have a nightmare" speeches. We’re tired of candidates who try to frighten us into inaction, and cause us to be pessimistic about the possibility for real change.
“If I were running for president, I’d mobilize and persuade, rather than continue only to mobilize the persuaded. Those professional politicians in Washington need to face up to the fact that there aren’t anymore great untapped reserves of knee-jerk liberals and conservatives out there – those wells are producing as much as they ever did and ever will. It’s time they explore the vast political center where most Americans live for new sources of political energy.
“If I were running for president, I’d run on a platform that would Make America Safe, Rebuild America First, Make Work Pay, Strengthen Health Care, Educate Children Well, Provide Tuition Relief, Protect Retirement Security. Create New Energy, and Save Our Environment. Let’s keep it simple, folks. These are the things that matter, dammit.
“If I were running for president, I’d champion a just society that doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, orientation or creed. I’d champion an opportunity society that makes the American dream real for every American who reaches for it. I’d champion a secure society, but one where our security is found most in the health, education, courage, and innovation of the American people.
“I’d champion a government of the Have-Nots, not the Haves; of Main Street, and not Wall Street. I’d champion an America where government doesn’t turn its back on its own people, not when they’re drowning, not when they’re wounded in war, not ever. I’d champion an America whose great strength – its people – work together once again to build a stronger, smarter, healthier and safer nation.
“For though America is a great nation, a nation cannot remain great unless it remains good, and prosperous. A nation cannot remain prosperous unless its people work tirelessly together to keep the scales of justice balanced for all, the halls of learning wide enough for all, the advances of science available to all, and the avenues of opportunity open to all.
“If I were running for president, this would be my vision. No more can America withstand candidates who lack this or some other positive vision of opportunity and well-being for all. For as it says in the Scriptures, ‘where there is no vision, the people perish’.”
It started slowly, with a few handclaps from the bartender. Within a few moments, the entire bar was applauding. Mr. Public just blushed, as his voice grew quiet. “It’s just common sense, you know.”