Here’s Wishing Jason Kander Strength — and a Speedy Return to Public Life
When Barack Obama was asked about the future of the Democratic party in a final White House interview, without hesitation he said one name: Missouri’s Jason Kander.
Obama likely recognized that Kander had the zest and charisma to enthrall voters, and that he could do so even across party lines, not unlike Obama in his own early years.
And then there were Kander’s accomplishments: first millennial to hold a statewide office, two-term Missouri legislator, secretary of state, best-selling author and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday (October 2) Kander issued a wrenching statement. Citing post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and depression from his time as an Army captain, Kander dropped his bid to become the next mayor of Kansas City. He’s also stepping back from his leadership role in Let America Vote, the nonprofit organization he founded to register voters and fight voter suppression.
“[A]fter 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me,” Kander said in an online post.
Among the thousands of shares and comments to the many articles chronicling Kander’s announcement, only a few dared to question how Kander’s four-month intelligence mission could result in such a condition. They were quickly silenced, a rare example of negativity not ruling online space.
Instead, Kander was widely lauded for his bravery and candor in speaking out. Among the first to offer praise and support was former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, in a tweet, said that by sharing his story Kander was “saving lives.”
But imagine if Jason Kander hadn’t been an Army veteran?
Without the distinction of service, he’d be less sympathetically supported. He likely wouldn’t be urged to make a speedy return to office, a subject he alluded to in his statement.
That’s because depression still carries a stigma, despite the many advances in public awareness about suicide and depression in general, and despite scientific breakthroughs in medicines and therapies that are restoring so many who suffer from depression to stable lives.
Military service can help to distance the person from the stigma of mental health struggles, although that is far from always the case. Society is still stingy with whom we offer grace. Depression is still too often seen as a character flaw.
Admitting to the ravages of PTSD, the debilitating cycles of depression, is not any more noble because the trauma was inflicted in defense of the nation rather than by violent incidents childhood, or sexual trauma.
Still, Kander hesitated to speak out, knowing that any admission of mental health problems can easily upend a political career.
The case of another Missourian, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, shows how. In 1972, Eagleton was chosen to be the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. After his bouts with depression — and hospitalizations that included electroshock therapy — were publicized, he withdrew from the race.
By coincidence, in 2016 Kander narrowly lost the election for Eagleton’s old Senate seat.
Finally, consider the truths that have only recently been revealed about one of the most storied statesman in U.S. history: Abraham Lincoln.
Scholars have argued convincingly that Lincoln’s “melancholy” was clinical depression. He was known for weeping in public, suicidal ruminations and withdrawing from others throughout his life.
But nobody would argue that the president who led the victorious Union in the Civil War and freed the slaves was in any way not up to the job. Indeed, some have argued that Lincoln’s inward focus, his brooding negativity and lifelong efforts against what was occurring to his physical body helped forge his deep insights as well as the aspects of his character that made him a national hero.
This is not to wish ill mental health upon anyone. But Lincoln, perhaps more than other political figure past or present, shows that we still have a long way to go in understanding mental health and in how we view those in the grip of depression.
Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.
© 2018, MARY SANCHEZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC
In The News
Two years ago, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House by nominating largely moderate candidates in swing districts who ignored litmus test issues like the Green New Deal and refused to be defined by extreme economic and energy policies like bans on fracking. Two years... Read More
When we were kids on the playground and there was an angry dispute, someone would always shout “majority rules.” And we’d vote. If the losers didn’t like the outcome, there were two options: punch the winners in the stomach or take the ball and go home.... Read More
The global COVID-19 pandemic, with all its devastating consequences, has reaffirmed why science must be at the center of policy considerations, political debate, and media attention. But, lamentably, it is often at the center for all the wrong reasons. Against a backdrop of growing tensions and... Read More
In case you missed the news, Joe Biden was elected president of the United States. With almost all ballots counted, Biden has more than 75 million votes and Trump some 71 million. The Electoral College isn’t even close. But Donald Trump still has not conceded, and... Read More
Forgive me for being the ant at the picnic. Certainly, this is a glad moment, an ecstatic and delirious moment. The election of 2020 has ended at last. Joe Biden is finally the president-elect and Donald Trump is finally consigned to the dank well of ignominy... Read More
Fans of Donald Trump typically say, “I wish he wouldn’t tweet so much, but I like his policies.” As you peel back more layers of the onion, they really mean they like his tax cuts and conservative appointments to the federal judiciary, but wish they didn’t... Read More