I've worked with Americans Elect since its inception two years ago because I believe our political system is totally dysfunctional and needs to be shaken up. After all, it's the youngest generation that stands to lose the most from the kind of policy stagnation we're seeing in Washington. I believe AE offers a way to break through the gridlock and put our country back on track again.
In theory – AE a brilliant idea: 50-state ballot access for a bipartisan/non-partisan presidential ticket chosen directly by the people through an online convention. It leverages our new technology to open up the process to more people (not just those on the extremes) and expand the pool of candidates to those who otherwise would not run through the circus of either party's primary. But in practice - it has proven more difficult than expected to engage voters in the process and attract credible/viable candidates and draft movements.
I've always thought that the biggest obstacle to independent candidacies and outside the two-party box movements were structural –– money, volunteers, and most than all, ballot access. But I've learned that the largest obstacle is probably a psychological one. People simply don't like taking risks, especially political people. I think that's the best explanation why, at this late date, AE still has no candidate qualified for its convention or on track to do so. There are a host of other reasons that have also contributed to the current situation, but I think the aforementioned is most fundamental.
So I made a decision last week that my time, energy and resources would probably best serve the cause I believe in by trying to tackle that specific problem: the missing candidate. And I believe the right person for the job is the former Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker. He's an independent. He has command of the most salient issues of this campaign: the economy and the budget. What he lacks in broader name recognition, he makes up for in being well known to the media. I think he's just the type of leader the country needs, who can -- at the very least -- focus the public and both parties on the issues that matter and force action on them by the next administration, regardless of who is elected.
By law, AE must stay candidate neutral. Unlike AE volunteers and volunteer leaders, the organization and its staff cannot give any particular candidate more support than it offers any of the rest. So, to start a draft campaign for David Walker, I had to leave my job and my paycheck, which I did last week. I had to tell my colleagues, many of whom I'm worked with for two years now, that I'm moving on (not knowing what their reactions would be). I also had to contribute some money out of my own savings to get the effort off the ground.
These were all risks. Significant ones, at that. No one asked me to, nor did I ask anyone's permission. I just felt it in my gut. It sounds odd, but I had the same feeling when I decided to transfer colleges, and when I decided to leave school for a year to join AE –– it was just a "you have to do this" feeling. I decided to start a draft effort not just because AE needs a candidate, but because I genuinely and greatly admire David Walker and feel passionately about the issues he advocates, fiscal responsibility and political reform.
I have no idea whether this effort will work our or not, but I do know that I'm now in a position whereby I can be more effective in helping achieve what AE set out to do: make 2012 a three-way race and deliver a jolt to our failing political system. If it succeeds, it can be really important for the country. If it fails, I learn some valuable lessons and try again later.
One thing is for sure, I won't regret taking the risk. Because nothing will ever be achieved or accomplished if we are preoccupied with what others think (our friends, colleagues....bloggers) or if we are are too afraid to put some of our skin in the game to do what we feel in our gut is the right thing to do. The status quo is our greatest enemy, and taking risks is the only way to challenge it. The folks who started AE know that, and hopefully so do you.