THE KICKOFF

It’s Monday, September 5, 2016.

It’s Labor Day – so a happy one to all workers.

It’s also the last day of psychological summer. That’s why few holidays are quite as sad as this one.

And, of course, it’s 64 days until the election.

One word you associate with this time of year is kickoff.

The college football season began this past weekend – although Northwestern losing to Western Michigan makes me want a do-over. The NFL season begins Thursday night, for those few of you interested in it.

The school year kicks off here in my neck of the woods this week. In many places, school began weeks ago, which just doesn’t seem right to me.

And every leap year, Labor Day traditionally kicks off the home stretch of the presidential election campaign. To which, in 2016, a loud “hallelujah” resounds across the land.

Because this campaign seems to have gone on for-goddamn-ever. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe we’re going to actually vote for the person who gets sworn in as President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2017.

Having already written thousands of words about this campaign, what’s a few hundred more? Here are two ideas that have been bouncing through my head as we reach the turn.

I. GOVERNING AND NO GOVERNING

Here’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans, and why the situation – if not the morality – favors Republicans.

Democrats believe in government. They believe that while there are times and ways government can be oppress, if guided correctly, it can do great good for great numbers of people.

It’s why Democrats brag of their triumphs: Social Security, Medicare, the civil rights movement. It’s why Democrats see health care reform as another stone in the pyramid of American civilization.

Republicans – or, at least, 21st century Republicans – don’t believe government is for anything but providing for the military. It should not be doing anything to help people – that’s a role for people themselves to handle by themselves.

Because Democrats like government, they bend over backwards to make it work. They have this belief that if they could just get a few Republicans to sign on, we could tackle all the problems of the nation and leave the weekends free for football games.

Republicans, because they don’t like government, will do anything to thwart it. That explains the Clinton impeachment, the Benghazi hearings, Fast and Furious (remember that?), the Garland nomination, and so on.

This impasse comes to a head in the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton is the ultimate government do-gooder. She wants to solve problems left, right and center. And she has this crazy notion that she can work with Republicans – she did it before – to get things done.

Trump wants nothing done – other than build the goddamn wall. He wants to keep Muslims and Mexicans out. He wants to disengage the United States from the rest of the world, except in cases where he can send the military in the event of a flare-up. He wants to give police free reign because he doesn’t want to be bothered listening to the grievances of people in need.

And that’s how his supporters feel. Don’t give anything to anyone. Everybody’s gettin’ free stuff.

This election is a test of the two philosophies. The anti-government position is so extreme that even some Republicans who have worked in government have cast their lot with Clinton.

But that anti-government position is strong. It’s why nothing gets done, and it has the advantage of being the default position. You need some drive to do things, and this aging nation – check out the average age of Trump supporters – doesn’t really have that kind of drive.

Kids and those slightly older, on the other hand, want to do stuff – when they’re motivated.

That will be the key to how this election goes.

II. HILLARY CLINTON HAS TO WIN THE ELECTION

That is not the same thing as Trump has to lose the election.

Yes, Trump has to lose. There’s little doubt that his election would be a nightmare for a country marching tentatively forward into the middle of the 21st century.

But when I say Clinton has to win, it’s meant to put the impetus on her. She can’t just be our anything-but-Trump President, who we elected because we were terrified about what this guy and the people who support would do with real power.

Being the United States of America isn’t easy. We are the world’s most important nation. That’s not just our usual bragging. Every other nation – even those whose aspire to supplant us – need the strength of our financial system and our military to maintain themselves.

So the people of this country need a President who is more than just not Trump. They need a leader. Someone who understands the problems and challenges America faces, and who is willing to lead on important matters such as infrastructure, climate change, income inequality and the global fight against terrorism.

They need someone who can capture the imagination of the people of the nation and remind them that we are a country of doers. We don’t hide from a challenge – we confront it and conquer it.

Hillary Clinton can be that leader. She’s certainly smart enough. And if she doesn’t know the answer, she seems to embrace the idea that someone else might.

So what she needs to do in the next 64 days is make Americans want her to be their President. Not just not want Trump. Want. Her.

It’s a tall order. Trump is the biggest noise machine in American history. He’ll throw up stuff to sully her reputation, to echo the cabbages who support him with their Hillary for Prison memes and suggestions that she’s not physically able for the job.

But, like few other people in my lifetime, she exudes presidency. She’s handled herself and situations like a Commander-in-Chief since she was First Lady. She’s calm, self-assured and knowledgeable.

She has to show all that, in spades, at the debates and on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton needs to show off. She needs to eliminate all doubt that she’s the smartest person in the room. She’s a leader, and the other guy is a fake. And she needs to demonstrate that leadership over and over again.

And not just once she’s won on Nov. 8. Presidencies shouldn’t be something you get by default. She needs to make her mark and set the course. That’s why she needs to win, and not just be the other one standing when Trump falls.

You know who Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and the Roosevelts are. Most of you have no idea what Pierce, Arthur, Harding or Ford did.

Being the first woman President would certainly assure Hillary Clinton a place in history. But if she is to be remembered in 2116, she needs to assert herself on how she’ll extend America’s greatness.

That starts with this campaign, this final push for the White House. Yeah, Hillary Clinton can win by being not Trump. But that would not be enough for someone this talented. She needs to win by being Hillary Clinton, showing her vision of the nation’s future and inspiring people to follow her.

It’s a tall order. It’s not undoable.

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