The end of a presidential campaign feels like a combination of summer camp coming to a close and finishing a marathon race.
Like summer camp, you say goodbye to people with whom you’ve shared an intensive experience and developed, remarkably quickly, very close and deep friendships.
As with a marathon, you find yourself coming to an abrupt – and somewhat disorienting — stop after a high-intensity, exhausting and exhilarating pace.
While disappointing and sad, this moment also gives an opportunity to pause and reflect. On the insights gained from being part of something so much bigger than one’s self at a time of extraordinary consequence in our nation’s history.
As John Hickenlooper made his exit from the presidential campaign, in a manner that was characteristically gracious, a couple of thoughts come to mind.
First is that I ended this campaign, much to my surprise, far more optimistic than I entered.
Here’s my advice to anybody who is angered, frustrated or concerned about the state of political affairs in this country. The best response is to move from angst to action, to jump in and try to do something about it. It could be supporting a candidate for office, or an organization or cause whose mission you believe in. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Just do something, however big or small, to make a difference, to “stop one heart from breaking [or] ease one life the aching,” as Emily Dickinson wrote.
For me, I was tired of the well-meaning but continuous loop of conversations about our broken political system, of political leaders who disappoint and divide, of the endless scenes of gun violence, of growing inequality and racial and ethnic animosity, of so much unfulfilled promise in our nation.
So I seized the opportunity to support an individual who I believed, and still believe, could lead our nation to a better place; who by experience, talent and temperament, could be the antidote to the divisiveness of our times.
While my candidate did not succeed in his quest for the presidency, he left in my view an important legacy of ideas for the Democratic Party and the nation.
A vision for how we can bring this bitterly divided country together. And how we can build on the majority support that polls show exists for common-sense solutions that too often are obscured by the polarizing effect of our primary campaigns, partisan redistricting, and other elements of our current political system.
The second thought is more personal in nature, and it goes to that moment when we gain a deeper insight into somebody “famous” whom we have admired.
As a child, my mother used to invite authors to our home for dinner and discussion. She was a voracious reader, had a local column on books, and developed direct relationships with many esteemed writers. All of these men and women, my mother would caution us before their arrival, “are great writers, but not all of them are great people.”
Although I have known John Hickenlooper for many years, this is the first time I had the opportunity to work for him and with him so closely.
The relentless pressure of a presidential campaign, with its highs and many lows, casts a light on the true character of a person.
And what I saw in Gov. Hickenlooper deepened my respect and admiration for him. As we packed up the office at campaign headquarters recently, saying our goodbyes and exchanging memories, many of the staff shared the same insight.
That the “brand” of John Hickenlooper as someone who can creatively, patiently, persistently find common ground and build coalitions around progressive, pragmatic solutions, even in a politically divisive environment, is very real.
That whatever combination of nature and nurture shaped who he is — as a child of a twice-widowed mother, scientist-turned-entrepreneur-turned-politician, tireless extrovert and relentless optimist and problem-solver — is authentic and meaningful and would serve our nation well in a position of national leadership.
And that those qualities trumped by a wide margin whatever shortcomings he may have in the sound-bite skirmishes of a modern presidential campaign.
The presidential campaign moves on. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to avoid second-guessing what might have happened if only (fill in the blank) were different.
But, as my father used to say, “would’ve, could’ve and should’ve means didn’t, so be grateful for the lessons the experience, however difficult, taught you.” I leave this campaign with ample amounts of gratitude.
Shepard Nevel was senior policy adviser for the presidential campaign of former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
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