The news that Amy Acton, the former director of the Ohio Department of Health, will not run for the U.S. Senate is something of a shame. That’s not because she would certainly be a good senator, or even a good candidate. Those are unknowns. But she would have been different.
Is different good in itself?
But when politics seems broken, both as to tone and as to substance, as it does today, different — fresh blood, fresh air and the absence of cynicism — is one possible remedy.
In a democracy, the people have to have some faith in two propositions: First, that we can change and change for the better. With reason and collective action, we can order our society and progress. Second, that the mechanics of government are comprehensible to the layman. That is, that a non-politician can govern.
Acton was the beloved “Dr. Amy” to many — a wholesome, upbeat, dedicated public servant. To the far and reactionary right, she was a scolding schoolmarm, the personification of the nanny state. Alas, she exited public service, and the Senate race, because to be any sort of public figure these days is to invite character assassination and vilification. She couldn’t take it, and who can blame her? Harry Truman’s hot kitchen has become a hell.
But if the normal, sane person cannot take the heat of today’s politics, how are we to test the second proposition? How do we hang on to the ideal of self-government?
That’s why it would be a good thing if author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance made the leap Acton did not make and ran for the Senate.
Vance is, of course, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” the brilliant book about the hollowing out of Middle America and the expansion of Appalachian poverty into so much of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana due to bad trade policy and indifferent elites. The man has something to say. And his politics might be a bridge between what, more and more, seems to many of us to be two countries. Vance is his own man. He might not be confined to an ideological or partisan box as a senator. This, plus his ability to see things in a fresh way and articulate his loyalty to a forgotten class of Americans, makes his possible candidacy interesting.
We could use a Vance in those other Middle American states in 2022, as well.
In New York City, Andrew Yang is holding his polling lead in the race for mayor of New York, when many experts thought his candidacy would fade. Traditionally, New Yorkers have been open to outsiders and men and women without electoral or governmental experience. Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor with no political experience and served three highly successful terms.
Being mayor of the Big Apple is said to be the second-toughest job in politics or government. It is no place for a dilettante. You have to really work at getting things done. By people just like Yang, who is relentlessly energetic and upbeat. He is a uniter rather than a divider. He is an idealist with a sense of humor and the common touch, two qualities politicians needed back in the days of retail politics, a type of politics Yang loves.
Critics and cynics will say that we tried the amateur-outsider model with Donald Trump, and look how that turned out. But Trump’s problems were, for the most part, not caused by his outsider status. They were caused by his personality and character.
Knowledge of the system and experience count. They count a lot. There is no question that in politics, as in any field, it is difficult to start at the top. But our politics needs an infusion of new blood, right now, in order to heal. And the late Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy said it best: In America we believe the capacity to lead exists in each and every citizen.
Run, J.D., run.