The Campaign Speech You Won't Hear

With just 10 days until the election I'm still waiting for the speech I had hoped to hear -- from any candidate, of either party, in any race. With time running out I'm growing doubtful, so just in case, I've tried to at least imagine it:

"My fellow Americans, it's been a long campaign, and much has been said to earn your support but too little to earn your respect.

I want to say some things you have not heard but they need to be said because we've got to try a new way.

Make no mistake, I am loyal to my party. I believe in its principles, but not in the way it practices its politics, not in billionaire-funded SuperPacs, not in take-no-prisoners negative ads. The political points we score against each other in pursuit of office detract from the ability of the eventual winner to get things done, and make the office less than it should be.

I disagree with but won't demonize my opponent. Most men and women who run for office -- Democrats and Republicans -- do so because of a genuine desire to serve and make our country better. Our democratic processes remain our greatest hope. But growing economic inequality and the concentration of economic and political power have made campaigns less a marketplace of competing ideas and more a contest of carefully targeted sound bites.

Unfortunately campaign promise has become an oxymoron, so I won't make any. Not about creating jobs, fighting for the middle class, cutting taxes, hunting down terrorists, standing with Israel, or anything else. That's not to say you don't deserve to know where I stand, only that you also deserve elected officials who take office without the constraints of campaign pledges to special interest groups.

What you deserve more than promises is our humility and gratitude. For many years our political system has failed to confront challenges such as mounting debt, poverty, climate change, growing inequality, failing schools and inadequate health care. When political and economic markets fail, it is has been you, your family and neighbors who have made heroic efforts to try to fill the gap -- through churches, temples and mosques, civic associations, nonprofits, and charitable efforts.

So instead of campaign promises, I share three principles:

First, I will ask you to sacrifice in the short-term to support investments that won't pay off until the long-term. Anything great and worthwhile takes time to build -- whether a house, a career, or a nation. I'm not offering the immediate gratification of patching together quick fixes that the next generation must patch again. I'm asking you to build cathedrals knowing that the work may not be finished in our lifetime, but that once finished will endure. In exchange for commitment, sacrifice, and patience, you will be part of something larger than yourself, something that matters.

Second, your interests are not the only interests for which I intend to fight. I also intend to act on behalf of those who don't make campaign contributions, belong to advocacy organizations, have lobbyists, or have any political power at all for that matter. For those who are left out and left behind, those who are most vulnerable and voiceless.

Third, and finally, I will focus above all else, on what is best for our children because we can't be a strong America with weak kids. More than 22 percent of our children live in poverty today. And of the 46 million Americans on food stamps, nearly half are kids. I will re-set national priorities so that we invest in children -- in their nutrition, education, health, and development, early when we can have the most impact, rather than later when it is more expensive and less effective.

From my campaign plane, as I look down at farms and factories, cities and small towns, America looks fertile and full of possibility. But our leaders no longer see the whole, as one can from this vantage point. They have instead narrowed their vision to see only what is small and advantageous in the short-term.

Our challenges are bigger than the ideas of any one party. Experience and position papers will matter less than quality of character, openness to new ideas, inclusiveness and ability to see America whole.

I've been around politics a long time. I'm not naïve, nor am I auditioning for Jimmy Stewart's role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But the present political path is not sustainable. I don't know whether I can be elected having said what I've said, but I am certain I could not govern in ways well or worthy if I hadn't."

You can likely imagine a better speech. Keep eyes and ears open and if you hear one let me know. And whichever candidates you prefer, don't forget to vote. The results on Nov. 6, whatever they may be, are sure to bring both new opportunities and challenges to the bipartisan approach to which the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger remains committed.