I announced my candidacy for president of the United States on June 24, 2015. I suspended my campaign five months later on Nov 17. It would be easy to fill the post-mortem of my unsuccessful race with clichés suggesting that during my quest for the presidency I was reminded of the goodness of the American people, the strength of our country, and the bright future awaiting us. These are all are beautiful and honest, but vacuous, sentiments.
I could also offer some quips about the importance of money in politics, insights about local dining spots, and humorous anecdotes about quirky traditions.
I will leave it to others to do justice to fair foods, stump speeches, and diners.
Instead, I would like to describe what I saw, along with a call to action.
Voters are angry. And not just Republican voters. And not just because of President Obama’s incompetence and ideological extremism, though certainly neither has helped things. The reason Sanders and Trump have both found receptive audiences for their populist messages is that they have tapped into this anger.
Voters want to remind the Washington political bosses, in both parties, that they work for us, not the other way around. Polls have shown historically high portions of the American population are no longer convinced our best days are ahead of us, that our children will live better and longer than we have, that hard work and a good education are enough to succeed.
As a firm believer in and beneficiary of the American Dream, I find these sentiments to be almost un-American, though certainly understandable.
Macroeconomic trends, for example, globalization of the supply chain and automation moving through countless sectors of the economy, have left too many Americans accustomed to economic stagnation as the new normal.
Just when challenging times require visionary leadership, we are stuck with the same old, same old pattern of higher taxes and more regulations, which exacerbate our problems.
President Obama has proven more adept at diagnosing our ills as a campaigner than prescribing cures for them as a leader. When politicians in Washington tell us better times are coming tomorrow, we have learned to interpret that to mean simply that better times are not coming today. Whereas the highly skilled and highly connected do increasingly well in today’s economy, millions of Americans working hard for the middle class lifestyle enjoyed by their parents find that goal harder and harder to attain.
The vast majority of the American people are not greedy, lazy, or jealous. We do not expect life to be easy, but we do want it to be fair, or at least as fair as can be expected.
We do not begrudge the rich their success, but Democrats find it easier to exploit economic inequality for political gain when opportunity seems harder and harder to come by.
The social compact for generations has been that hard work, delayed gratification, and playing by the rules should mean that you can afford to feed your children, put a roof over their heads, send them to decent schools, and take an occasional vacation, perhaps to a nearby beach or theme park or national park.
You should not have to go broke or depend on government if a son gets sick or a daughter gets into college.
The people I met on the campaign trail have expectations that are reasonable and yet still seemingly out of reach.
Folks living inside the political bubble known as the Beltway may respond with statistics about unemployment rates and stock market prices (well, at least until recently), but they have been shielded from the volatility in the economy masked by these averages. This is more than the cyclical destruction and growth inherent in a free market economy. The velocity of change has increased, and our political leaders seem helpless to respond to events, much less shape them.
President Obama heightened our expectations, with his campaign talk eight years ago of competent, centrist governance that would bring the change we awaited, but then governed from a very different place that left Americans even more disappointed and frustrated than before his election. And it is not helpful to point out that yes our economy is bad compared to historical comparisons, but at least we are doing better than the Japanese, Europeans, and other developed economies. Hardly an American rallying cry: “We suck, but at least not as much as the other guy.”
No wonder many voters feel the system is rigged against them. Witness the deep suspicion that the Democrats are the party of big government, while the Republicans have become the party of big business. Both conspire behind closed doors to protect the special interests, tell us how to live our lives, and take away our rights.
Add to our economic challenges the mess our president has made of our foreign policy, projecting weakness that alienates our allies and emboldens our enemies, an increasingly unstable and dangerous world, and a coarsening culture that seems to constantly seek new ways to challenge and undermine the faith and values of millions of Americans. No wonder many simply want Trump to make America great again, or for Sanders to rob from Peter to pay Paul.
I believe the American people are better than our leaders. I believe America still is that shining city on the hill, even if we have temporarily lost our way. I think we still believe in freedom over tyranny, have more faith in bottom up decision making than central planning, and desperately want the chance to work hard to create a brighter future for our children. I believe the voters will reward a Republican party that offers a vision backed by specific policy solutions, consistent with our conservative principles and belief in limited government, that restore the American Dream.
However, I worry that voters will not wait forever. If the Republican party simply stands in opposition to all things Obama, which may be necessary but not sufficient, and does not offer a path out of this mess, I worry some voters will be attracted by the seeming security promised by Sanders or Trump. While we prefer freedom and opportunity, some might be tempted to settle for a larger, more expensive, more intrusive government that promises to protect us from the world without telling us who will protect us from the politicians and bureaucrats running the government.
My parents boarded a plane for the first time over forty-four years ago to come to America in search of a better life, in search of the American Dream. They chased that dream, caught that dream, and have lived that dream. I want the same opportunity for their grandchildren.
I still believe in America, still believe our best days are ahead of us, and believe we will own this century as we did the last one.
I had better be right. Others can dream of coming to America, we have nowhere to go.
Republican Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana and a former Republican candidate for president of the United States.