Here is Why
For the second time in less than two years, I am shifting my public support from a political candidate to his opponent. I did it in 2012 when, after having endorsed Rob Bonta for California Assembly, I learned that Abel Guillen‘s political views more closely aligned with mine. I am doing so again now, by announcing my endorsement of Ro Khanna, who is running against Mike Honda for Congress in CD 17. My reasons for switching this time are very different.
I have the utmost respect for Mike Honda. His record of supporting human rights and civil liberties, while advocating a progressive agenda, is exemplary. You can count on Honda to vote the right way almost every time. Indeed, I think it says a lot that before this election, his biggest source of campaign contributions were human rights activists.
Honda, moreover, is an extremely pleasant legislator, well-liked by everyone who knows him. He has done very important work, in particular seeking justice for Japan’s comfort women and standing up for American Muslims. At first thought – and second and third and fourth – the idea of endorsing someone else seems crazy. And, indeed, it has taken me several months of careful thought to come to this decision.
I’ve come to it because while I am deeply appreciative about everything that Mike Honda has done in Congress, I think that Ro Khanna can and will do even more. Khanna is a one-in-a-generation sort of politician, a statesman-in-the-making who combines intellectual brilliance with a thorough understanding of our economic and political realities and a clear vision of what this country needs to advance. He is pragmatic about what can be accomplished in our current political environment, has concrete plans on how to reach out to legislators from all political persuasions, but he’s clear as to what is not up for compromise (things like human rights or a woman’s right to choose).
More importantly, Khanna is both convincing and inspiring. Khanna profoundly believes that the job of government is to promote the general welfare and it is a job it can get back to doing well. He believes in the political philosophy of the founding fathers, and in their dream of America as the political heir to Athens. When you hear him speak, his unique mix of optimism and pragmatism quickly becomes contagious. I fell under his spell when I interviewed him last year and you can notice similar reactions in journalists and bloggers who’ve interviewed him at length. It’s this effect which provides him with an ideologically-diverse base of financial and other support. Watch, for example, how emotional football legend Ronnie Lott becomes when speaking to Khanna about his expectations for his candidacy.
It’s been difficult to ignore, however, the parallels between Ro Khanna and Barack Obama. Obama also spun beautiful webs when running for office – he spoke about hope and restoring the rule of law, only to go back on pretty much all of his promises as soon as he was in office. Khanna started his political career walking precincts for Obama, and his current campaign is being run by Obama former operatives. For months, I’ve feared that Khanna was also a con.
But fears are ultimately prejudices, and neither I nor the country can afford to dwell in them. In reality, Khanna has been consistent on the political philosophy he’s expressed throughout the years. He first ran for Congress in 2004, as a statement of opposition to the war on Iraq and the Patriot Act. He has made it clear in interview after interview that he believes civil liberties are the cornerstone of democracy and that we must support them at home and abroad. People whom I respect and have known Khanna for far longer than I, believe he is the real deal and offer their support. Chief among them is Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Lessig is one of the foremost advocates of political reform in America, and has written and spoken widely on the corrupting influence of money in politics. I respect his opinion greatly. I also respect the opinions of teachers like Cheryl Cook-Kallio. Ro Khanna started volunteering in her classroom almost a decade ago because, he told her, his life had been changed by a teacher. She was proud to tell me how Khanna wrote a recommendation to the University of Chicago, his alma matter, for one of the students he mentored. That student just graduated law school and passed the bar.
Finding a person with the intellectual acumen, knowledge base and political, social and ethical values that Ro Khanna spouts is rare. Finding such a person who actually wants to get involved in politics and has the commitment and desire to make a difference, is rarer still. Finding someone with all those qualities that can also inspire others is almost impossible. As much as I like Mike Honda and appreciate the work he’s done, I want to see Ro Khanna have the chance to prove himself in Congress. For that reason, I endorse him.
I am not thrilled, however, about some of the positions that Khanna has taken – for example, concerning Congressional pay – and I have been disappointed at some of the childish antics that both campaigns have displayed. My public endorsement of Khanna will not prevent me from criticizing his policies and postures in the future. It should also put any criticisms I make of Honda into context.
Full Disclosure: Khanna was one of the several politicians and labor groups who contributed to the slate of candidates with which I ran for Alameda County Democratic Central Committee in 2012.