Dear candidates in any party, running for any office:
You’ve spent the last year — and will spend most of the remainder of this one — trying to get one thing from me: My vote. Only one of you will win. But none of you seem to know how to do it.
Sure, you’ve got your Madison Avenue ad agency accounts. You’ve infiltrated Instagram, taken over Twitter, snatched Snapchat and fixated Facebook. Celebrities have endorsed you and provided God-like voiceovers to your campaign commercials. Some of you have focused on what you will do without giving adequate explanation of how; others have done nothing but insult and discredit your opponents with little mention of anything you plan on doing — just know that I’ll be doing it better than that guy.
And in the middle of trying to capture my attention, you’ve forgotten the one thing Americans must get from a president — respect. I’m not talking about respect for other candidates, which is sorely lacking in the Democratic party and a taboo concept in the GOP these days, but about respect for the people you want to vote for you.
Here’s an example. Last week campaigners were handing out flyers for a Republican candidate, Jay Kinzler, who was trying to snatch the GOP primary title from incumbent Rep. Peter Roskam. As the four-minute warning for the 7:10 a.m. train came over the PA, I had just come into the most intriguing part of a biography on (very liberal) political columnist and journalism trailblazer Mary McGrory. Not only was I riveted by her commentary on Chicago’s 1968 Democratic convention, but I’ve also experience firsthand how books can shield a commuter from unwanted flyer distribution. Head down and nose firmly planted in the pages, I plowed ahead.
“Hey, kiddo,” I heard the campaigner say. “I got a bookmark for ya.”
I’m 24 and look it, but my age is inconsequential. Clearly I looked old enough to vote, which is why Kinzler’s campaigner was so intent on handing me his candidate’s literature. This guy wanted my adult vote but with one word made it clear that I’m not an adult. Just a “kiddo.”My parents can call me kiddo all they want because they knew me when I really was a kiddo. You, sir, did not and therefore cannot.
GOP congressional candidates aren’t the only ones making the error of disrespecting potential voters. Bernie Sanders campaigns based on his belief that all young people want the demise of Wall Street. If they don’t, they’re part of the problem because they make more than they deserve (cough, journalist-gone-corporate, cough) and come from families just as filthy rich because they didn’t leave college with a lifetime of loans. A growing savings account and a good job make you the enemy to Sanders’ campaign, and while I see the merit in the regulations he wants to install — I’m still seething from The Big Short — I’m too old and too cynical to see any of it actually work. A large part of that is because he’s too polarizing to get the average congress representative to back his agenda, and that polarization comes from a lack of respect toward those who are successful.
Meanwhile his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, spent a conspicuous few weeks campaigning solely based on her gender. As a female voter interested in her experience and policy plans, I was rather incensed that she’d forgo explaining her platform in favor of using the very reason misogynists won’t vote for her (“I don’t want a woman in the White House.”) to get support from women (“Don’t you want a woman in the White House?”). As one of my favorite civil rights activists wrote, just because you have a uterus doesn’t make you a viable candidate for office.
Don’t make the same mistake the people who refuse to vote for you because of your gender are making, Hillary. Don’t assume that every woman is alike.
Of course, the former Secretary of State is far from being the most disrespectful candidate out there. Kasich isn’t so bad — apart from ignoring his own state’s water problems while chastising Michigan’s government for its handling of Flint, ergo disrespecting even those who have voted for him. Marco Rubio appealed to Latinos the same way Hillary appealed to women: “I’m just like you!” without providing any policy ideas that would help move them forward in a system that discriminates against them. Ted Cruz disrespects the intelligence of gun-toting, GOP-voting Americans by hyping himself as a machine gun gourmet.
And what would a letter to all of you about respect be without admonishing Donald Trump? Just as social media is void of respect, so is Trump — in fact, he is social media incarnate. His Twitter feed is an endless source of blood pressure-raising entertainment. His rhetoric is as pithy as a Buzzfeed post (I’m sure both parties would take offense to that simile). He’s as shallow as a Facebook post and a thousand times as vain as a selfie. While Clinton, Sanders and Obama have used social media to connect, Trump has taken it one step further to become social media — bullying comments, orange Instagram filter and all.
There’s no room for respect in showboat soundbites, which is what every candidate’s campaign has to fit now. Not all of that is your fault, campaigners. A lot of it has to do with how fast life moves. Whether we’re jaded channel surfers catching headlines on CNN or 24-year-old corporate communicators trying to make the 7:10 train, we demand you tell us exactly why we should vote for you in less time than it takes for us to mark a ballot. Not enough time for you? Then make us feel like we’re intelligent individuals you would be honored to have support you — not like “kiddos” in need of a bookmark.
As Maya Angelou put it, “People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” And as Aretha Franklin sang, “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect” when I go vote.