Guest post by Matthew P.
Today, the GOP candidate for Governor of California, Neel Kashkari, released a documentary video and accompanying WSJ op-ed detailing his experiences as a homeless man in Fresno. He stepped off of a Greyhound bus, clean-shaven and presentable, with $40 in his pocket, a backpack with some supplies, and the clothes on his back. His goal was to spend a week living the life of a homeless man, in search of a job. Some people journey overseas on a mission of self-discovery; Mr. Kashkari didn’t have to travel as far.
Mr. Kashkari’s journey stands out as a supreme example of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, complete with some reflections about what he has taken for granted over the years. To his credit, this is not the first time he has embraced the poor. Throughout the primary campaign, he slept in homeless shelters and worked picking produce. He also paid numerous visits to churches and schools in poor neighborhoods. Many credit this unconventional approach for his come-from-behind primary victory.
The video and op-ed document his undercover experience, complete with his sleeping on park benches, eating at a church mission, and relying on the goodness of strangers to sustain him. The video is worth a watch, and I encourage you to read the op-ed as well. Much of it is oriented toward California’s current economic disorder, but the lessons are palpable.
In the course of writing this blog, we see many examples of good things candidates are doing. Earlier, we praised Rand Paul’s speeches at historically black colleges and universities, along with other efforts to take his message to ears who wouldn’t necessarily hear it in their normal course of life. That may require a few visits to hostile territory, but we encourage you, dear reader, to try it. Respectfully engage people who you may not agree with. Spend less time at Lincoln Day Dinners and more time speaking to ordinary people.
Athletes say, “practice like you play,” and we say, “campaign like you would govern.” It will help you build empathy and credibility among people you will one day serve as an elected official. Here, we roundly discourage the divisive “rile your base with red meat, and turn ’em out” style of campaigning simply because, while it may win you one election, that model is very bad for your long-term prospects of governing.
Much criticism has been piled on Mr. Kashkari for his background in finance and his wealth. Sometimes candidates counter this kind of criticism de rigeur by discussing their charitable activities, and by doing community service on the campaign trail. And, if you are the kind of person who has a charitable background and have legitimate involvement in community service organizations, then by all means let that part of your character shine. Mr. Kashkari has a strong history of service, but by taking some time to experience the hardships of poverty, he took the opportunity to build a better sense of the daily lives of these he would like to serve. Plus, he can legitimately build credibility while learning.
Now, we do not expect you, dear reader, to try homelessness for a week. But we do encourage you to take some time and reflect on how your past hardships have helped you to become the person you are. If your background contains periods of hardship, dredge up those memories, as painful as they can be, and use those episodes to help explain your positions to the voters. Let your human side show. Voters yearn for authenticity, and have richly rewarded candidates who deliver.
In the end, half of all candidates end up losing. Perhaps this isn’t the time for Mr. Kashkari. But he, and you, dear reader, should take a longer view. Campaigns are long and grueling. Campaigning takes you from your family, and saps your finances and energy. So, please take your time running for office seriously, and do your best to make yourself a better person along the way. It will pay dividends once the voting is done, win or lose.