In the fall of 2012, when Angus King was running for the U.S. Senate for the first time and I was running for re-election to the Maine Senate, both as Independents, we held a joint rally on my back porch in Yarmouth.
In introducing Sen. King, I said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about any candidate running for any office as I am about Angus King running for U.S. Senate.” King’s thoughtful, articulate, and likable presence seemed a perfect antidote to the partisan divisiveness plaguing Washington politics.
As unsettling as the times seemed then, today is monumentally worse.
Partisan divisions have amplified and hardened. Even more terrifying, political tactics have devolved to a degree that our stabilizing institutions are compromised, separations of power are bypassed, rules of law are ignored, and the deliberate dissemination of false information is standard practice.
Acknowledging that the roots of these issues are complex, I still blame President Trump for the depth of national degradation that I feel happening. As such, the 2020 presidential race is a defining moment for our country. If we democratically reaffirm the Trumpian approach to governing and to American presence in the global community, we will have turned a dismal one-term presidency into a wholesale forfeiture of what I thought were America’s ideals.
Of course, I am not just anti-Trump; I do care about the eventual Democratic nominee. More than any other election, what I am looking for is less about policy and more about approach. There are candidates who will perpetuate the partisan divisions of the day, and there are candidates who have some chance of transcending them.
At a recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire, I met presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She was genuine. Inspiring. Likable. Principled. Experienced. Caring. Collaboratively minded. Smart. Reminiscent of my earlier sentiments about King, Klobuchar fit my vision for what America needs in these divisive times.
Qualities like “genuine” are tough to convey on paper, but Klobuchar exudes them. She says what she thinks, but guided by an inspiring blend of heart and mind, and without pretension. She says what she thinks with conviction, but not closed-mindedness. She says it with kindness and compassion, and yet strength. She is present with those in the room with her, not performing some pre-rehearsed, pre-polled robotics. She speaks of herself and her husband as “normal people,” and that’s exactly how she comes across – a refreshing contrast to the self-importance of many politicians.
Klobuchar highlights the benefit of bringing people together, working together, and compromising to “get things done,” and she points to a track record of having done exactly that. She lays out an agenda for the first 100 days that advances goals most Americans believe are the right directions, steering clear of the more extreme proposals of many of her primary competitors. Importantly, she has strong existing relationships in the U.S. Senate. Klobuchar will not have to build bridges from scratch, unlike some of the similarly thoughtful but younger candidates, or those without congressional experience.
The last question at the town hall I attended was about the challenges faced by women in politics. By that point, I was sold on Klobuchar, but her answer sealed it. She spoke of the giant wave of women newly inspired to political office following the 2016 elections. She spoke respectfully, even admiringly, of her women candidate colleagues, and the toughness of spirit they’ve all needed to succeed in politics. And she spoke about the key role women have played in achieving the rare compromises that have been made successfully in such a divisive Congress.
I, too, think the country will be well served by having a woman as our next president; partly in reaction to the offensively male-dominated cabinet rooms in the White House today, and more importantly in catapulting forward gender equality in America.
To those of us disturbed by the current presidency, whether Democrat, Republican or independent, is there a candidate with some chance of transcending the partisan divisions of our day? My vote is with Klobuchar.
Economist Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth was an independent in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002-2008, and in the state Senate from 2010-2014. He was also a weekly commentator on Maine Public’s “Across the Aisle” from 2014-2018.