New Hampshire, like Iowa, was a buzzing sea of political enthusiasm and anxious waiting. Yet another bizarre arena, where every corner had campaign signs, every commercial on the radio was a political ad, and where every candidate’s fate is solemnly determined.
While I was there I had the opportunity to canvas for Bernie Sanders. An incredible experience, as I myself am an avid Bernie supporter. Speaking to the other supporters there had me all riled up about Sanders and the great things he’ll do for this country. But of course, when working for Sanders I am always confronted with the question: Why not Hillary? (Or why not any other candidate for that matter)
I personally believe that Hillary Clinton is an extremely well qualified candidate, and would do a great job in office. However, the question that it comes down to is always, can I forgive Hillary? Can I forgive Hillary for her White Feminist campaign? Can I forgive Hillary for her hypocrisy or for her secrecy? Can I forgive Hillary for whatever mistakes have been or will be made?
I ask about forgiveness because ultimately my vote for a candidate is like a social contract made between my candidate and me. It is a relationship that demands and expects that in turn for my vote, you will fight for my needs/wants. But like any relationship there will be mistakes, and mistakes can be forgiven, but only if there is trust in that relationship. Once the trust is broken, there is no more forgiving.
And for the majority of Americans, that trust has been broken, not just with Hillary but with the government as a whole. According to a poll done by Pew in 2015, only 19% of Americans trust the government most of the time. So it is no surprise when voters are discussing whom they’d like to vote for, often it is someone they feel they can trust. And if you’re a candidate that can’t be trusted, then nothing you do can be forgiven.
Marco Rubio is another example of someone that has fallen victim to an unforgiving jury. Rubio came out of Iowa strong at 23.1%, only narrowly following Trump who came second at 24.3%. After Iowa Rubio was projected, by most political experts and what seemed like by most of the American public (myself included), to surge in momentum and head into New Hampshire as the front-runner. However, all of that completely changed after a debauched debate last Saturday. A few quips about his “25 second rehearsed” speech suddenly turned into a viral attack about his “robot” methodology and approach. In fact, we literally saw in NH protesters outside of his events dressed up as robots to heckle the Senator. This slight downward spiral landed Rubio in fifth place after NH, trailing less than 10%. In short, the American public was rather unforgiving to Marco Rubio.
I, along with my fellow cohort members could not forgive Rubio for his repeated line mistakes because suddenly the words he was saying couldn’t be trusted. If he just repeats what he’s told does he really mean them? Suddenly he is no longer authentic, he does not appear to be proactive on issues, and if he has to be fed lines, is he really a leader?
Rubio like Clinton is seen as unforgivable, but on the flip side is someone like Donald Trump, who is constantly forgiven. Trump came in first place in NH polling in around 34%, that’s about 20 points more than Kasich who came in second place. How is that a man that is known for fear mongering, and for racist and sexist remarks, is still able to attract such a large following? Well its because for all his flagrant language he is forgiven. Instead his attitudes are reflected by a sentiment that he is authentic, he is proactive, and he is a leader. It does not matter that he has no explicit policy plans or political experience; he has the voter’s trust. He has the voter’s forgiveness.
It is the same reason why Hillary could loose the nomination to Sanders. For all her experience and good will, some voters can not seem to forgive her. The media and others have portrayed her as someone unforgivable. Alternatively, Sanders brings about a new energy of authenticity, proactivity, and leadership, the same kind that Trump brings. He has managed to coalesce a campaign that is strong, united, and banded with trust. And that is why, for all of his faults and mistakes, he will be unequivocally forgiven.
I acknowledge this and I am afraid that I am becoming blindsided by my willingness to forgive or not forgive certain candidates. The choice of who to vote for is no longer based on policy ideas but who we can morally muster up to forgive. It is a battle that I think many voters will have to face this upcoming election. I can not say who or who isn’t worth forgiving, but I will say that I think it is important to look at each candidate with both a critical and a forgiving lens. No one should be excused from critique, but no one should be stolen the chance to be forgiven either.