By Greg Sagan
The election that looms before us carries a cargo of consequence unprecedented in my lifetime.
The president struggles to free himself from a mesh of scandals, investigations and his own ineptitude. The party he leads but does not resemble is caught between offending the president’s most loyal supporters and offending everyone else, a condition they endure in almost complete silence just so they can sneak judicial nominees and a toxic agenda past the sentinels that both guard and reflect the real America. And the rest of us sit powerless and horrified at the prospect of an America that is held for ransom by the most racist, the most greedy and the least informed among us.
We can argue for hours – indeed, for days, weeks and months – the issues that float to the top of our daily diet of news: health care; immigration; trade; education; women’s rights; minority justice; random and chilling acts of violence that reach even into our schools and churches, sometimes perpetrated by those who have sworn to protect us; broad decline in our standard of living and accelerating prohibition of meaningful relief; individual dread and collective apathy. These topics are common in our daily discourse, primarily – at least in my view – because the central question facing us in this election isn’t defined.
Americans feel powerless to assert the promise of “liberty and justice for all” because those who hold power are immune to our appeals.
Whether the “real” political power in America resides at the local, state or federal level, it is the federal level that symbolizes “real power.” So the elections we hold for Congress and the presidency are generally viewed as the bellwether of national direction. But we vote for the stewards of this power only every two, four or six years. What about the rest of the time?
When we vote for a representative to speak for us in Congress, we do so with a gap of 730 days before we can force a change. During that time, if our representative does not listen to us, does not empathize with us, does not respond to our concerns, does not budge from the dogma that binds his imagination or the party that blesses his position, then we must wait for a very long time before we can express our discontent. By the time the next election comes around, it is easy to conclude that even our vote doesn’t matter because nothing is going to change, anyway.
So what should we look for in our candidates?
Party affiliation really doesn’t matter much in the coming election. Position on issues really doesn’t matter much. The label of “liberal” or “conservative” doesn’t matter much. Gender doesn’t matter much. Nor do age, sexual orientation, religious identity or level of education. What matters in this election is simply this:
Does the person we elect to represent us listen to us?
Our answer to this question can be found in a simple but universal human emotion. Do I feel heard?
A representative who listens to us until we feel heard is in a position to do more than regurgitate his party’s doctrine, or patronize us, or argue with us, or chase us out. A representative who listens to us is in the best position to articulate problems in ways that suggest practical and effective solutions and to apply imagination and cooperation in pursuit of those solutions.
In the coming election we must all seek and support those candidates who will allow us to exert our influence, to regulate their conduct, to question their actions, to guide their efforts and harness their zeal.
Editor’s note: Greg Sagan is the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’ 13th Congressional District. Sagan is facing Republican incumbent Mac Thornberry and Libertarian Calvin DeWeese in the November election.