As we head into Election Day and cap off the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history, Americans can be forgiven for feeling exhausted with “politics as usual.” Between the millions spent on negative advertising and the nonstop coverage that seems to prize the sensational over the substance, it’s understandable that a clear majority of Americans feel like our nation is on the wrong track.
But amidst the polarization and partisan mud-slinging that’s come to define our national politics, we’ve seen a new story emerge this cycle: one of a new kind of political candidate who can rise above tribal partisanship to put people over politics and service to others over elevating themselves.
They’re veterans who have dedicated their lives to putting our country first and have shown that they can be the antidote to what our politics needs.
We’ve seen the impact of these servant leaders on campaign trails across the country.
In Ohio, Navy veteran Ken Harbaugh, has inspired a cross-partisan movement in a traditionally conservative area. The biggest newspaper in the district endorsed his opponent last election, but this year got behind Ken, writing, “We’ve found no candidate who matches Harbaugh’s drive, passion and ability to connect with voters the way Harbaugh does.”
In New Jersey, former Navy helicopter pilot Mikie Sherrill has brought together voters from across the political spectrum behind a campaign centered on the values of service and courage. The center of her pitch is often a leadership lesson she learned in the Navy about the importance of standing up when you see your ship running aground – an apt metaphor of our country today.
In Minnesota, Army veteran and former teacher Dan Feehan is running on the importance of coming together across party lines to get things done. He’s led by example with “Service Saturdays” throughout the campaign, and we’ve seen voters willing to put partisanship aside because of his character, humility, and down-to-earth Minnesota values.
In Kentucky, former Marine pilot Amy McGrath is finishing up a record-setting campaign in which she’s raised millions from low-dollar grassroots donors and has not run a single attack ad. She’s crystal clear about the service values that have been central to her life and the campaign she’s run, and she’s uniting folks from all backgrounds because of her dedication to putting country first.
And in North Carolina, Marine veteran Dan McCready is also running on the mantra “country over party.” He describes his military service as a calling, and when I talked to him the day after Election Day 2016, he told me he felt that same calling to serve once again. Although he’s a first-time candidate, the Charlotte Observer cited his “character, his intelligence and his life-long commitment to others,” as among their reasons for endorsing him.
These servant leaders are just a few of those across the country who are leading this movement to put character and service back into our politics. Despite the polarizing times we live in, they offer inspiring proof for the fact that politics can be better – our democracy can work – when we unite around common values and expect more of our leaders. When we remember that courage, integrity, and empathy aren’t too much to ask for.
Win or lose – and some of these candidates may fall short this time – we’re just at the beginning of this movement to elect a new generation of servant leaders, a generation of political leaders who can rebuild trust in our country so that one day, “politics as usual” can be a good thing.
Revitalizing our democracy is a long-term project – and it won’t be accomplished by just one leader or in one election cycle. But we must continue to support, to talk about, and to vote for servant leaders in years ahead. Because this year we saw first hand how, one campaign at a time, it is fully possible to get us headed back in the right direction.