Transpartisan Note #114

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner


With this Note, we are introducing a new feature to our occasional Transpartisan Notes. These “Election 2020” Notes will focus on both issues and candidates.  We plan to endorse candidates or advocate particular solutions rarely, if ever. Rather, we intend these notes to present a snapshot of our impression at the time of writing.

Here we present our first Note in this series on an unlikely candidate, Rep Tulsi Gabbard, Congressional Representative from Hawaii running for the Democratic nomination for President.

Although Gabbard lags far behind the front-runners for the Democratic nomination (hovering around 1%) at the moment, she embodies, in her presence, a powerful transpartisan spirit in a way different from any of the other candidates in either party.

Gabbard was raised in a multicultural and multi-religious household.  Her father is of Samoan and European ancestry and a Catholic who is active in his church.  Her mother, who was born in Indiana, is of German descent and is a practicing Hindu.  Gabbard chose Hinduism as a teenager.

Gabbard is, in our view, so far the only candidate in this Presidential election choosing to manifest less as a political mechanic than as fully HUMAN.  Another word for ‘human’ might be ‘transpartisan’ because she speaks to, and seeks the support of, everyone, while understanding a wide range of issues in a way that attracts widespread support.  She makes no effort to appeal to fear, which is the most powerful weapon in most candidates’ arsenals, and she avoids the polarizing language that promotes perpetual conflict in our politics.  She avoids pledges to ‘fight’ enemies (see Bernie and Warren).  At the same time she is, as one of the first two female combat veterans elected to Congress, tough.  Her rhetorical evisceration of Kamala Harris in the second Democratic debate was one of the most memorable moments of the debates so far.

Along with her multicultural upbringing (and her coming from Hawaii, like Barak Obama), we think her religion plays a role in her transpartisan affect.  If anyone is tempted to oppose her because of her religion, they discover that, although a combat veteran, she embraces a strain of Hinduism reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi, avoiding conflict.  Her stance avoids what many people object to about religion: it avoids imposing values on anyone.  In fact, we saw her response to Kamala Harris as based precisely on a modern commitment to individual rights, which explains, we believe, why it appealed so widely.

One reason Gabbard is so appealing, we think, is that Hindus tend toward the fatalistic — in Western terms, Stoic — which liberates her from the heavy-breathing earnestness that is so off-putting in other candidates, including Trump.  In fact, it is precisely that earnestness that drives so many candidates to campaign on imposing their values on others — the Order Quadrants in the Transpartisan Matrix.

Gabbard’s authenticity — another crucial quality that seems lacking in other candidates — is indicated by her service in the military, serving two tours of duty in the Middle East.

She is young, and her knowledge of mainstream issues needs to be strengthened.  (Her position on foreign and security policy, for example, needs to reconcile two themes that seem to conflict in her current formulation — one representing her position as a ‘hawk’ and the other as a ‘dove’.)

It is still early in the campaign.  There is plenty of time for her to strengthen her message on issues, especially to integrate them with her fundamentally transpartisan spirit.

At this point in the campaign, we have no intention of endorsing a candidate.  We will not endorse any candidate unless we feel she exemplifies transpartisan values.  At this point in the campaign, however, Tulsi Gabbard — in our view of her character — is the standard by which we intend to measure all the others.

(Image licensed CC BY 2.0 and by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.)

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