Every election offers a choice, even if the choice is deciding not to vote for the rascal who stands unopposed. Often, we hold our nose as we mark the ballot. In the best circumstances, however, an election can offer a chance to craft a better future.
It will surprise no one that I’ve come to believe that about the candidacy of Ro Khanna, who is bidding to unseat longtime incumbent Mike Honda in the 17th congressional district in November. I’ve written several pieces that highlight the choice.
If you want to think about the opportunity — the chance to add someone of depth to Congress — you should invest an hour and watch the “Young Turks’’ interview with Wes Clark Jr. and Khanna (See it at goo.gl/WDRb2h).
What makes this interview worth watching is not just that it’s an intelligent conversation between two well-informed people — Clark is the son of the famous general — but that it reveals much about Khanna, an ambitious man who won’t be happy being a backbencher in Congress.
I’m a certified, card-carrying skeptic. And you can find things on which to disagree with Khanna — he might be too optimistic about America’s ability to knit a common cloth from its vast diversity — but it’s hard to say he hasn’t grappled with big economic issues.
I’ve written before that Khanna has a chance to be the Democratic answer to the Republicans’ Paul Ryan, meaning that the 17th district challenger is a progressive who brings intellectual heft to the daily fray. The interview suggests three reasons why:
1) Steeped in American history, Khanna devoutly believes in ideas and debate. About two-thirds of the way through the interview (38:11), Khanna talks about the perplexities of Facebook. He can post an economic treatise and get maybe 20 “likes.’’ If he puts up a picture of something cute, it might get 400 likes and go viral.
“People say, Ro, you’re such a nerd,’’ he said. “I say, it’s nerds that built America in part. Madison was a nerd. Jefferson was a nerd. Lincoln, go read his speeches. There was a time of argument and debate.’’
2) Khanna has a scope of vision and a command of facts unusual for a congressional candidate: As Clark probed him, the former Obama Commerce Department official tossed off figures about China’s GDP, the state of climate change, the need to price carbon effectively, and the issues behind H1B visas.
While Khanna has spent a lot of time immersing himself in local issues, he clearly has thought long and hard about knotty national problems. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be a parochial representative content with simply bringing home the bacon.
3) In his second run against Honda, the 40-year-old challenger has demonstrated compassion for the less fortunate. I’ve always thought that this was difficult ground on which to compete with Honda, a very decent man with a compelling family history.
But Khanna casts the question in terms of the responsibility of the successful toward the less fortunate in the knowledge economy. “So we all have a social responsibility to say, ‘How do we help those who haven’t benefited?’’’ he said.
All politicians have to make compromises. Congress has killed many good ideas and disappointed many ambitious young politicians. Like I say, you can disagree with the particulars of Khanna’s pitch: He talks about early childhood education and expanding the earned income tax credit.
What is important here is not any specific proposal, but the comfort that Khanna shows in talking about ideas. You often hear that the Democratic Party has a weak bench. Here’s a chance to promote a promising player to what ballplayers call the show.