"An act of strength"

 
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By Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers and Pantsuit Politics. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
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We were honored to talk to Jason Kander, veteran of both military and public service. Jason served in Afghanistan before coming home to run for office and make national headlines for his work and vulnerability. These days, he is working to support veterans, ensure equitable voting access, and hosting his own podcast, Majority 54.

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Transcript

Beth: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone. Surprise. We're here a day early in your feed. We know that any of you are observing Memorial day today, and we fought that it was really important to go ahead and share our conversation with Jason Kander with you, which will touch on his time serving in the military. It's such an important part of his story. It's so relevant to how we think about the sacrifices that military members and their families make every day and it just felt right to us to share it on Memorial day with you.

Sarah: [00:00:29] Jason Kander is an attorney and a former politician and host of Majority 54, a podcast that helps Americans who vote for progress convince those who didn't to join our majority. Each week, Jason and his co-host Ravi equipped their audience with the tools needed to talk to their conservative friends and acquaintances, counter misinformation, and still maintain relationships. I think all of that should sound very familiar to our audience. So here is our conversation with Jason Kander.

Sarah: This is Sarah

Beth: And Beth.

Sarah: You're listening to Pantsuit Politics.

Beth: The home of grace-filled political conversations.

Beth: We're talking at such a time that is relevant to, I think, a lot of your experiences and I'm so glad that you're here. I've been thinking about this Memorial day and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and wondering if you would mind to start by telling us, I think a lot of people know that you are an army intelligence officer who voluntarily served in Afghanistan, I wonder if you would mind to tell us about just what a day on the ground there was like, and what were you thinking about while you were there every day?

[00:02:00] Jason Kander: [00:01:59] Sure. Great question. So I can tell you what a day on the ground was like for me. My job was a little unique. I was an intelligence officer, as you mentioned, and my job was anti-corruption and anti espionage investigations, which is to say it was my job to figure out which bad guys were pretending to be good guys within the Afghan government, Afghan military. There's several different classes of intelligence, right? You have like human intelligence, which is called the humins and you have signals intelligence, which is called Sigins and the commander I worked for there dubbed what we did, was not a real doctrinal term, but he dubbed what we did thugins because it was basically like we went around and developed relationships with thugs so that they would give us information on other thugs.

And so for me, there was really no typical day, but, you know, I would spend part of most days outside the wire, usually just with my translator, usually just the two of us. Sometimes there'd be a couple other folks there, but, but often it was just the two of us and we'd be [00:03:00] going out to meet with somebody. Sometimes it'd be with a group of people who we really couldn't know what their allegiances were for sure and so what I was thinking about most of the time when I was outside the wire was things like, you know, how many exits are there to this building? How far is it between me and the door? Uh, you know, how many doors are there in this room? You know, where can somebody come into this room and take me by surprise? How, how quickly can we get back to our vehicle if we need to that kind of thing, but also thinking about, you know, the more expected stuff within the job.

Like, what else do I need to ask this person? How do I need to build this relationship up? Who else might they know who they can introduce me to and what else might they know that, you know, US forces need to know to protect our forces or to deal with corruption or espionage or narco trafficking? So I was sort of like a gossip columnist in kevlar just roaming around, you know, trying not to get my head chopped off on YouTube, which I was successful at, which I guess is how I'm able to [00:04:00] join you here today. But, um, so that's what the experience was like for me.

The other aspect of it sort of in the drawing back to like, you know, more of a 30,000 foot view is that I was ther06, 07, and you know, I had commissioned meaning become an officer in 05, had, had gone in, uh, like start tried to go in and wanted to go in at the end of 01, but I had a knee injury and I had to rehab that. So I was actually fully enlisted in by 03 and then trained for a couple of years, got my commission and then went over there and what that means is I had commissioned with a bunch of folks. I had gone through training with a bunch of folks, some of which at that time were in Iraq and so at a global level, what I was also thinking about was in 06, 07, I remember thinking that I was really grateful to be in Afghanistan where I really understood why we were there.

When I came home, it was frustrating that a lot of people thought because the focus was so much on Iraq, then that a lot of people thought Afghanistan was like over and, you know, it was a [00:05:00] war. Per capita casualty rate was the same, uh, pretty much as Iraq and in some ways it was more dangerous so that was very frustrating but while I was there, I remember thinking you know, because I was getting emails from like my friends in Iraq who were going, you know, I lost a soldier today and it's very hard for me to explain to myself or to their family why?

So I felt grateful for that. And so back to the premise of your question, one of the things that I've struggled with in the last few weeks at people as people have been discussing, sort of where Afghanistan is in history is they've been likening it either to Vietnam or they've been lumping it in with Iraq. And frankly, both of those make me really mad because while there was a lot of mission creep in Afghanistan, and I think we should have left a long time ago, we were initially sent there to deny a safe Haven to Al Qaeda and to, you know, break up expel and disrupt Al-Qaeda's ability to perpetrate terrorist attacks against us and to [00:06:00] depose Osama bin Laden and like we did that. And so I think there are a lot of Afghanistan, veterans who are very frustrated, the way people are thinking about Afghanistan.

Sarah: [00:06:20] The experience in either Afghanistan or Iraq is so, so far away from the experience on the ground, right as Americans here in the United States. I think about Sebastian Junger's book,Tribe a lot. And how, like the farther apart those experiences are, the harder it is on the veterans and how different it is in a place like Israel, where people have, you know, mandatory military service and they see the impact on those like we're seeing right now when there's actually violence and it's affecting everybody's daily life and that they have lower rates of PTSD and they have less trouble reacclimating once they're out of service and I wonder if you [00:07:00] could talk about that. Like how hard it is to feel that experience is so far removed, that people don't understand it, that they don't understand your day to day and that even when the stakes are high and clearly communicated with Afghanistan, it sort of gets lost in this national narrative?

Jason Kander: [00:07:15] Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for bringing up that book because that's the best non-fiction book I've read in the last 10 years, Tribe by Sebastian Junger. Yeah. It's just tremendous and what it focuses on and I think what your question is getting at is that this huge civil military divide really contributes to the feeling of isolation among veterans and yeah, it's, I mean the best way to describe it, I guess is just by example.

Like for me, I'm writing a book about all this right now and so I've been thinking about it a lot and I I'm thinking about how, you know, all those years that I was running around the country, raising money, giving speeches, that kind of thing. I can remember so many times where you'd be sitting with, uh, just [00:08:00] one person who's a good person, a supportor, somebody who who's on your side and, and everything and maybe, you know, you're at their house after a fundraiser, you're in their office after an event or whatever and you know, you're getting to know them and at some point they might say something like, well, tell me, tell me a story about Afghanistan.

And, you know, I kind of had a pretty good little, um, rotating set of like three or four stories than I knew were a easy for me to tell, not, you know, not triggering, they wouldn't, they wouldn't upset me much and be sanitized and cartoonish enough to where they can handle it and the reason that I had that is because any combat veteran will tell you that you learn pretty fast the separation between the military and the civilian world in America is so great that, and you start to tell a couple of real stories, you can feel people recoil, and you can feel them change their body language and the way they think about you. Right.

And so I kind of would imagine [00:09:00] sometimes like fantasize actually about telling them an actual story, although I didn't really want to, but like about how they would actually react and a couple of times I tried it and they were very nice, but like really, what do you say to somebody when they tell you something that, you know, too, in their defense, like what do you say to somebody who tells you something that like you can't possibly comprehend?

And so that's, that's the kind of thing I think that, that book does a really good job of, of getting at is the idea that like, when we keep those two things so incredibly separate, it's going to lead to a couple of things. One is real isolation and a sense of loneliness among particularly a generation where we've, you know, the longest period in American history without mandatory service. So we go back to our lives, but we're apart from the people we served with and then on top of that, you know, a culture that doesn't feel any of the effects of war. It re it, it's how you end up with Afghanistan being the longest war in American history when, if [00:10:00] you went back to the beginning of the American story and wrote it from the start, like, obviously there's a lot of things you'd change, but there's no way you would write Afghanistan is the longest war in American history. Right.

Beth: [00:10:12] How did you think about that gap between military members and civilians before your deployment and how much did you kind of go into your deployment with your eyes open about what that experience would create for you outside of that context?

Jason Kander: [00:10:28] I thought about the gap a lot, because it's, it's kind of foisted upon you or at least at that time, it was cause I remember, you know. So I, I joined or made the decision to join right after 9/11 and, and joined, not that long after and at the time, I was just starting my first year of law school at Georgetown and the reaction I got from professors from, you know, other classmates and people like that and even some, you know, some of my family members, not immediate family members, but others was a well-meaning one, [00:11:00] but it didn't jive with how I saw the world at that moment, which was well things like, why would you do that you don't need to do that? Or the other one that would make me really mad is, you know, that's such a waste of someone like you with your education and all that.

And it really offended me because like, who am I to decide that, like, I don't have to go serve when we're going to war and also, you know, I come from a place, unlike a lot of the folks I went to college with, uh, much like where y'all come from, where you know, going into the military was a perfectly normal thing that people did after high school. At that point, I had friends from my little league team who were like already in the army at that point and so I remember that that really bothered me and it made me very conscious of that divide, but it also wasn't hard for me to be very conscious of the fact that the military itself was really aware of that divide.

I can remember on my way to Afghanistan, I stopped to get like equipment and that kind of thing in Doha, in Katar at an air force base there, because I was part of a unit [00:12:00] that you went through there on your way and I remember I was a second Lieutenant and this, uh, specialist like E four specialist enlisted soldier was, was driving me from like spot to spot as I got like my pistol and my, you know, all that stuff and I remember he said to me, he was like, cause this is a few years later. Right. And he says, he says, sir, what do you do back home? And I was like, oh, well, I'm a lawyer at a corporate law firm and he just stops and he looks at me and he's like, What are you doing here?

And I was like, and, you know, cause in his mind it had been ingrained in his mind that like, why would a guy like that be here? Right. Like when in reality, there were lots of people like that there, but back home, they ingrained that in him and I remember I was like, same as my, same as you, I'm a specialist, I'm serving my country and he just was like, whoa, that's cool. You know? But like, he wasn't like, oh, thanks for being here. Like, he was like, oh yeah, we're the same like, and, and so, I was really aware of that.

And then as far as eyes open, no, I don't think so like, in terms of the deployment, I mean, I was, so I was there in 06, so [00:13:00] I was twenty-five years old and of course convinced I was bulletproof, which is important, right. Because otherwise who would serve if it wasn't 25 year old, like people who think they're Bulletproof. Yeah. I had no clue and that said, I wouldn't change it either.

Sarah: [00:13:15] I think that reaction of why? Is something you encountered when you decide to run for office. I know when I ran for office, that was a reaction I got a lot. But like why, why would you, why would you do that? So first let me ask you, like, why, why did you come back and decide to get into politics?

Jason Kander: [00:13:33] Well, I was a little bit headed in that direction already. My, my family, we hadn't been political or anything, but like my parents had been public servants. They were juvenile probation officers and my dad was also a police officer and they had taken kids in whose families were struggling, who became my unofficial foster brothers. So I just grown up in a house where like, if you could do things for other people, that's what was expected and then, you know, I w I was a political science major and [00:14:00] like every kid at American, I was you know, getting on the, getting on the shuttle with my little intern ID badge thinking, I was definitely going to be president one day.

And, uh, and so there was some of that add in there too, but I think the big difference for me by the time I was actually running for office was it had gone from, oh, politics was interesting and I had really, you know, like, basically like backed off baseball, my first love in high school, because I fell in love with debate, which was like a huge deal. So like I was on that track, but I had up until, up until my deployment, I had seen that the way a lot of political science kids saw it, which was like, it's a game, right. I had my beliefs. I knew what I cared about, but it was the competition. It was, you know, and I thought of it that way.

And the way that Afghanistan changed me, um, the most in terms of running for office is, you know, I grew up pretty privileged. I mean, not, I grew up privileged and that was the first time in my life I'd [00:15:00] ever actually been on the receiving end of decisions made by politicians that negatively affected my life. Like there was no politician growing up that could have made a decision that was going to take food off my family's table or anything like that. But then, you know, you're in Afghanistan and you realize that, oh, we're going on this mission through the Jalalabad pass. We were supposed to have helicopters. We're driving. It's like the dangerous road trip in the world, even if there were no Taliban and there are Taliban and we should have helicopters and why don't we? Cause they're in Iraq.

And, and so that kind of stuff, or the fact that like I was in an armored, I was outside the wire nearly every day for some period of time, like at least like four days a week and I think I was in a vehicle that was armored about five times my whole deployment. So stuff like that made me realize it wasn't a long road for me to understand the connection between that and the fact that Medicaid had just been cut in my state and it was so that people could brag about, you know, the balancing in the state budget and stuff like that [00:16:00] um, and so they could cut corporate taxes and that kind of thing and so I just ended up seeing those one in the same.

So by the time I was knocking on doors in Kansas city in 2007, 2008, to me, there was like a very direct through line from Jalalabad road in Afghanistan to like Gregory Boulevard in Kansas City, you know. To me, they were one in the same to the point where, and this was a little bit of a PTSD thing in retrospect, where there was a pretty righteous anger flowing through me. Uh, for all of that.

Sarah: [00:16:30] I have to tell you, since you mentioned knocking on doors, you don't know this, but in my rotation of like 10 stories, I tell when, when I have to like go to talk to somebody thinking about running for office or before I'm merged class, I tell your coffee cup mugshot story. I think I've told it a hundred times, so I'm gonna let you tell it because it's so good and I think it speaks so perfectly to running for office and knocking on doors and the actual like candidate outreach that's hard for people to understand. I talk about it a lot. I've knocked on 5,000 doors. I know you knocked on way more than [00:17:00] that, but you have to tell, because I think it's so genius. So genius.

Jason Kander: [00:17:04] Oh, well, I'm really flattered by that. Thank you. Um, yeah, that was my favorite campaign, that first campaign, uh, for state representative, and we started knocking in August of 07 for a primary that was going to be in August of 08 and we were aware that there were myself and two other candidates. So we realized like having people remember who the heck it was, who knocked on their door, or if somebody knocked on their door, that was a challenge and this was before selfies were a thing. There was no such thing as a selfie. Like you could take a picture with somebody, but like, we didn't all have it on our phone and like, it was kind of an awkward thing that you would ask somebody to do, but we like bold right through that awkwardness and my wife and I, and we still kind of argue about it, who came up with what part of this, but basically it's probably mostly her.

What we came up with was I would, I would knock on your door and we'd chat for a few minutes and then, uh, I would give you a mug that had like my logo and my name on it, like a coffee mug and the thinking behind that was, Hey, even if you don't drink coffee, that's. You know, if you do, that's going into your [00:18:00] rotation and for the next year, you're going to see my name over and over again and if it, if you don't like, you're going to see it. Nobody throws away a coffee mug ever. So you're going to see it whenever you open up your cabinet there uh, and then what we would do is we would say, Hey, we're keeping a scrapbook of the campaign. Would you take a mugshot with me? And so then they'd be like, sure and so I'd have, like super cool guy, I had a digital camera strapped to my belt and

Sarah: [00:18:23] I didn't know that part. I'm adding that parts to my story.

Jason Kander: [00:18:26] Yeah. Because like there were no, I mean, I'm sure there may be work camera phones then I, I didn't have one. Um, but, but instead it was like, you know, a nice, uh, high Rez, little, little digital camera and I'd hold it out and the two of us would take a picture sometimes the first like 8,000 doors, my wife was there so she would take the picture and it'd be me and the voter holding up the mug with my name and logo on it, smiling, having a great time and then a week before the election, right? When like the negative mail was supposed to hit. Yeah. We, every single person who we did this with got a personalized postcard about why I was hoping they'd vote for me [00:19:00] and on the other side of it, Was either a picture of them or a picture of me. It was a picture of me and them or me and somebody in their household, smiling with my name and though, and then remembering that moment and, uh, yeah, we knocked on 20,000 doors so like, I mean, thousands of people got those individualized pictures and, uh, we were big underdog, but we won by a lot partially because of that.

Sarah: [00:19:22] So smart.

Jason Kander: [00:19:24] Yeah, it was cool.

Beth: [00:19:25] I was reading a New York times piece about your political career and was struck by how they described this phase of your career as very charmed and that seems so in-congruent to me to see the word charmed in a piece about struggling through PTSD and depression and I wonder how that in congruence might have been feeling to you during this period?

Jason Kander: [00:19:48] Yeah, it felt, um, in-congruent. So it was a great way to put it, but in a way I w I, you know, professionally, there's no doubt I was, I was charmed, but at the same time, like, [00:20:00] as you all know, like working in politics, I worked my ass off. Like, that's why, you know, it, it tended to look that way, right? Like, like this book I'm writing right now, um, we changed the title, but the initial working title was, it was ironic. It was an ironic title. It was The Natural, um, because so many people would regard me. They were like, you know, he's just naturally very good and what they didn't see is like, no, I was, I was driven by a lot of things. One of them was trauma, but also by, you know, the good things like desire to serve and, and to help my country but I was very driven.

I mean, I knocked on 20,000 doors in that first race. We put 90,000 miles on my campaign, managers Ford escape in the secretary of state's race. We, you know, went up against somebody who was funded by a billionaire, in a state with no campaign limits in that first statewide race and we were raising like, you know, 50 bucks at a time and we outraised him like, Hmm. I got there by I put in the work, but it did at one point kind of all come together in [00:21:00] this weird moment that you could describe as charmed. Right?

I mean, I, I just barely lose this Senate race in 2016 that I was never supposed to be in at all and we outperformed by 16 points and it was all this and that was like this weird constellation prize where like, I felt like I'd let everybody down, but all these people were going well, this seems to be the only guy who's figured out how to win votes of Trump voters without like pretending to be a conservative and and I described that moment as like, you know, I was supposed to take some constellation from the idea that I'd come up from the bunker after like a nuclear event and I was supposed to be excited that the seven survivors had turned to me and been like, we think maybe you're in charge. And, and, uh, and so that was a strange thing.

And then, and then like a couple months later, president Obama gives his last interview as president and calls out my name as somebody who gives them hope and next thing I know, like. We've started Let America Vote and all of a sudden I'm like, I think maybe I should be running for president is what I, and other people are thinking and the next thing I [00:22:00] know, I pretty much am and then I'm like realizing that all these problems I've been having, that I've been keeping to myself for years, I'm starting to, to be forced to accept the reality that it could be post-traumatic stress. I knew that something was wrong and I should have dealt with it earlier like when I got back and if I had, I don't think it would have gotten as bad. I mean, it's like, I know it wouldn't have it.

I describe it as like, if you break your arm, right and then you say, look, I'm, I'm just gonna roll with it. Right. Well, like in 10 years, you're not gonna even be able to use that arm right whereas if you break your arm and you go to the doctor and they said it like you're throwing a baseball again in like six months. Right. And that's who I that's where I could have been, but I wasn't and so, you know, I had had all these symptoms, violent nightmares every night, night terrors is what they were and then emotional numbness and self-loathing and shame and hypervigilance, like feeling, you know, I [00:23:00] mentioned earlier, like part of my day-to-day was like knowing exactly where the exits are like that didn't really end for me.

Like, and you know, my staff only knew me after I came home. So like, they didn't know, like to them, it's just Jason doesn't like when people sit behind him in meetings, like, okay, it's no big deal. Right. So there's nothing they would have known to do about it. So that's what was going on. And it just got worse and worse and worse and I was self-medicating with this quote unquote charmed political career. So I had this idea, a mix of a lot of things. One of them was like the endorphins of all of a sudden having hundreds of thousands of followers and being friends with all these famous people and like somebody who was self-loathing because of all these symptoms that I didn't think I had earned, I got, I didn't have a right to these symptoms and I was having them. That was like a little thing in my life that maybe made me feel worthy. Right.

And then now I'm giving big speeches and I'm getting ready to run for president. In my mind like I've got to save the world in order to redeem myself [00:24:00] and I remember the moment for me where this kind of, there's two moments where this kind of hit home. I gave the keynote speech at like the biggest annual fundraiser of the democratic party in New Hampshire. Um, this was in early 2018 to give you an idea. This was like the, okay, this guy is running for president speech, right? Like it was carried live on C-SPAN road to the white house. My parents watched the whole 45 minutes selfie line from home on their couch live.

Right. The year before me, I think the keynote was, uh, Joe Biden and the year after me, it was Elizabeth Warren and I was the keynote. So like, this was the thing, this was the mountain top. People from all over the country who were close friends of mine, like from the mayor of Kansas city to whatever everybody had come in for this and honestly, like it went well. Like I was good at that stuff. I crushed it and I knew it and it felt great and usually that would have lasted me like a couple of weeks and by the time I got on the plane the next morning, I just felt like empty and, and that was like a huge, it was like a very scary moment because I [00:25:00] realized if this high isn't lasting, then my tolerance is built up and this is not good and within a few weeks, I had decided like, I'm going home. I'm going to run for mayor of my hometown and I'm going to find redemption in serving my neighbors.

And the other promise I made to myself was I'm going to go to the VA. I had not yet acknowledged to myself that it was PTSD, but I was like, nah, something's really wrong, gonna go to the VA. I'm gonna go to the VA. So I go home, I start running for, uh, for mayor, which brings me to like the second major point, which is I didn't keep the promise to go to the VA but again, everything seemed to be going great. My, my book came out, it was a New York times bestseller. The podcast was, uh, you know, like it had started out at number one, but it was still like one of the top ones, you know, top podcasts in the country. That was all going great. I, we sold 25,000. T-shirts the day I announced the campaign. I mean, it was like the best way to run for local office objectively, right?

Like I had a hundred percent face recognition. I [00:26:00] announced for mayor and then I went on Seth Meyers. Like it was nuts and it should have been my most fun campaign because every campaign I've ever had before that I was the underdog and now it was like, it was different than that and I was miserable and I was getting worse and worse and worse and I was pretty panicked about the fact that this wasn't working and I was getting more and more angry and I was depressed. That was a new symptom, somewhat. I'd been having that for a little while, but it was getting really bad and then the real sticking moment for me, uh, was I had had some suicidal thoughts for a while, but now they were getting pretty bad and, uh, and so that's when I called the VA crisis line and like hit the ejection button on everything.

Sarah: [00:26:44] Wow. I think that's so powerful. You know, I encountered you the first time, along with a lot of America with the ad you made, where you put the weapon together and take it apart blindfolded and was just blown away and it's like, what happens? Right? When somebody has a number one hit [00:27:00] and they've been plugging away in the clubs for years, trying to get that recognition and they hit the number one hit and it's like, well, look at them that making it big overnight, you know? And you're like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

And I think what's so hard about politics is, and I think the way you speak about this is so, so great because it's lots of things are true at once. You were connecting, you were figuring out how to reach those voters. President Obama wasn't wrong about you? You know what I mean? And you were doing it for quote unquote right reasons. There was service there and also as someone who's run for office, it is an ego trip. It's just, it. There's no way to avoid it and I think like people, when people talk about politicians, it's like, they get that to a certain extent and I think what always gets lost is that both things can be true. Like it is true that you are motivated out of a love for your neighbors and a love for service and also that it's an ego trip, but it does weird, weird things to your head as well. You know what I mean? I think that that's, what's so hard is you just wanna be like, no, but it's [00:28:00] both and guys.

Jason Kander: [00:28:01] Yeah, you're totally right. Um, because when you think about the incentive system or at least the metrics of how you can tell whether or not you're going to be in a position to influence more things, which is, you know, when you run for office, there's something you want to influence or some set of things you want to influence something you want to see changed. Well, the way to get there is you gotta have more people know you. You gotta have more people want you to be in charge and there, and it's really hard to manage, like am I trying to have more people know me at this point so that I can change this thing, or am I getting lost in having more people know me so more people know me?

And one of the things I always think about is like, there was a period from about the last month of my Senate campaign to when I stepped back from everything where the measurement became, like the only measurement we really had that we knew we could count on was like the length of time in the selfie line, after an event. Which is when you think about it is like a really [00:29:00] messed up thing to measure, right? Like, because it started like with a month ago in the, in the Senate race, all of a sudden, like.Like we had to schedule time for selfies after an event like that, we were like, oh, that's kinda new and then by the time I'm like, you know, at the peak of like getting ready to announce for president, like it's like 45 minutes or an hour of selfies afterwards and you're like, Ooh, I must really be getting somewhere.

And part of me like, I felt really gross about being aware of that and keeping track of it but I also knew that that was probably in terms of what I could witness on a day to day basis. Probably the best way to measure whether I was cutting through and yeah, it's definitely much better for your mental health to not be thinking about how many people want their picture with you. Like, there's no way that that's like good for you. You know what I mean? It's not what caused my mental health issues, but it was just not a good coping mechanism, you know?

[00:30:00] Beth: [00:30:08] You use the word redemption a couple of times.Which is interesting to me, because I know someone who served in Afghanistan as a lawyer, who was a corporate lawyer back home, who was the kind of person that we always thought would run for president, you know, and, and he uses the word redemption and I noticed watching him when he came home, what a struggle it was for him to be driven by this sense of redemption, even though he believed in the mission in Afghanistan, he said a lot of the things you've said. It was clear to him who the good guys and the bad guys were and what we were trying to do, but to be greeted as this hero coming home and have this really intense sense that he needed to atone for something, I just wonder if you could talk a little bit about that because I I'm sensing that might be more common than, than we realize.

Jason Kander: [00:30:58] Yeah. It's a great question. [00:31:00] For me, it, it comes from two things. One, it comes from just the fact that like, A lot of people who have experienced trauma, whether it's going to war or, you know, losing somebody close to them or a car accident, a sense of a need to redeem themselves. It's just a very common theme I've since learned so that's a big part of it. But then the other part of it is I think very particular to the military and this is something that, you know, I've talked about a lot and I'm glad I have, because a lot of people have come to me and said, you know, I haven't had anybody else give voice to that and it really helped me understand what was going on with me, which is, and forgive me, this takes a second to explain.

There's a, a really necessary form of brainwashing in the military and I used necessary, I used the term necessary on purpose, and that is that from the moment you get off the bus and basic or whatever, they begin to grind into you the notion that whatever you're doing is not that big of a deal. Most people, or a lot of people are doing [00:32:00] stuff that is much tougher than you and I say necessary because if you had not ground that into me in every point in the process, well, then, you know, I would have a real hard time going back into the rooms where I didn't know if I was going to get out of those rooms, I'd have hard time doing that over and over again and like close friends of mine who, who experienced war in a different way would have a lot of trouble going back on the next patrol after getting shot at or losing somebody on the one before that, or in my case, I I'd have had trouble, you know, going out on another convoy or whatever.

Right. Cause you're aware of the danger, but what your and, and you're aware of the difficulty, but what you're also fully believing is that it's not that big of a deal because other people are doing much harder things and a buddy of mine described this to me once he said, man, somewhere, there's a world war II vet sitting in a VFW hall explaining yeah, I was in the first wave at D-Day, but I was in the back of the landing craft. It's not a big deal. Right. And they ground that [00:33:00] in to you and that's important. They got to do that, or we can't do the job. The problem is they never, they don't turn that off.

Like when you leave, nobody's like, You know, I mean, they've made some efforts at this, but, but it's very hard to sit down with somebody and be like, okay, actually, that was a really big deal and not that many people did that and even if they did, they'd have to really work to get that in there. So for me, a lot of that sense of redemption was a need for redemption was, you know, I deployed one time, had a lot of friends who deployed a lot longer and a lot more often. I didn't get hurt when I left. I left people behind. They were friends of mine who were staying there. Yeah. There are Afghan people I worked with who are still there if they're still alive and so what ran through me was this insatiable desire to try to live up to that.

And, you know, you mentioned your friend came home and felt like people treated him like a hero and you know, for me, like I think what added to that a little bit was people treated me, you know, great. You know, Hey, thanks for your service and all that but on top of [00:34:00] that, like here I was. I was running for office and yeah, like I don't regret or begrudge myself that I talked about who I was, I was, I was and I'm a soldier and it was a job interview and I talked about that, cause that may that's really who I am, but there was definitely a part of me that like, if you're, if you're talking about that and your cast as you know, the Afghanistan veteran every day and you feel deeply inadequate as it turns out, every veteran does, and that's a really dangerous mix.

And so for me, I finally got to a point where I realized I'm not going to feel redeemed this way. Like, I, I actually, I remember consciously thinking when I was getting ready to run for president, I remember thinking, okay, I'll run, maybe I win and then I'm going to be in there and thinking I got to get reelected and I've got to be the most transformative president and make all sorts of amazing if I don't like, if I don't save everybody and I just remember consciously realizing, yeah, I'm not going to ever, I'm not going to feel better. So, and the difference is now like [00:35:00] post therapy and in a, in a stage of post-traumatic growth, like, I don't feel that need for redemption anymore. It sneaks in there occasionally, but like, I actually feel like I've done enough and I, and I like what I do, and I think I'm making a difference and I kind of put it as like America and I are square, which is a big deal for me.

Sarah: [00:35:17] I mean, you know, a word we've been using a lot here is integrating. How do we integrate things? Like we don't do that in any area of American life. We're definitely going to need to post COVID, but you hear people use that stuff, that language all the time. Well, I was really like, yeah, I had a job or I didn't get sick or I got COVID and I went to the hospital, but I lived, or like, I mean, it's just like, we're always, always doing that. We have such a difficult time, I think. When we talk about this a lot. Like again, post COVID post the election post, the insurrection posts, like how do we integrate these experiences, how do we say this is like exactly what you said. I'm not trying to I've. I see that what I went through was hard. I can name that. [00:36:00] I know you said America and your square, but how do you get America to post-traumatic growth? Because I think that we have a lot of trauma.

Jason Kander: [00:36:07] Man. It's a fantastic question. I think all the time about the people who've worked in the healthcare field over the last year and, and I talked to them and they like a lot of other people who have experienced traumatic things will talk to me about it and they will almost every time utter the same words as a disclaimer to me, which are, uh, you know, I wasn't in a war or anything and I always stop and I'm like, my brain does not know what your brain experienced. They are unaware of each other, in fact, and that's what I had to learn, right because I always had people around me who I could look at and go, okay, well, well that guy lost a leg that got, you know, and it took a long time. It took therapy for me to realize like, oh, that's actually irrelevant and so I think that's really important.

I think two things, one, we got to get that across that.Ranking trauma is a complete [00:37:00] waste of time, uh, for any individual or for our country. Um, but the other thing that we have to get across in terms of getting people to a place where they will get help for the things that they need is we we've done a real good job of getting the message across that asking for help is an act of strength, not of weakness to where I think a lot of people, even if they see it as a little cliche, can repeat that, uh, and understand it, what we have not really done a great job of is getting across that it actually makes a big difference.

There's not that many examples in the media, like on the screen or on TV, or even in the news of people who went and got treatment for mental health and feel much better. What is usually portrayed are people who are in the throws of it, or people who say that they have a mental health issue and somebody else's like shaming them for it. Like God bless AOC for what she did after, you know, January 6th, like coming out and being like, no, this was traumatic for me. I think that that probably made a huge difference in the lives of a [00:38:00] lot of people on both sides of the aisle who may never admit it in staff and in, in the member, you know, among members and everybody who was involved there, that stuff really matters.

And for me, like the reason I'm writing this book that I'm not plugging. I mean, it comes out in like a year. Um, but the reason I'm writing is cause like that's the book I needed to read 10 years ago and it's not just because it's about the story of going through this, but because like with PTSD for instance, there's pretty much no examples of characters in mainstream media, whether fiction or nonfiction of people who are in post traumatic growth. There's lots of examples of people. I mean, we, you know, just about anybody could tell you what the stereotypical PTSD character is, but nobody can tell you what, what the post-traumatic growth character is.

And I realized that while I feel fortunate to have been able to do, you know, do the good deed or whatever the heck. I mean, it was really just necessity for me to have played a role and the good deed is or whatever, to have played the role where [00:39:00] I made it more okay for people that say they need help. Well, now I really want to make it where people understand that it actually helps because I got halfway through therapy, my regimen at the VA and was feeling much better and then I started feeling real guilty about it and I remember saying to my therapist, wow, well, did I even have PTSD? Why am I getting better when most people well don't? And he was like, what do you mean most people don't?

And I was like, well, I mean, like, I can't think of anybody who I've seen, who has it in like they get a lot better. I had a couple of examples of people in my life, but like mainstream media, I didn't, I didn't see it. And he's like, yeah, that's the problem. Nobody ever portrays that and he pulls out a bunch of studies and he's like, look, the majority of people who commit to the work and commit to the program and do the homework, they get better and it doesn't disrupt their life anymore. Wow. I didn't know that I was months into PTSD treatment and I didn't know that I was supposed to get better.

Beth: [00:39:56] And that's just like, it's kind of infuriating, right. Because [00:40:00] we know that if there is a, a complicated job to do the United States, military can probably do it and knowing that that so many people suffer from PTSD and that treatment really works, I wonder at what point we will assume that people need that treatment instead of asking them to recognize it on their own and take the initiative to reach out for help on their own.

Jason Kander: [00:40:26] Yeah, I think it's, to me, it's like, it's a slightly different question. It's when will we start integrating into the entire initial entry process education about what PTSD is, what it looks like? Like for me, you know, I never really got that. I mean, the closest I got to that was, I remember a chaplain came in and spoke to us during, uh, intelligence training and was like, and he said something good. He said, PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation and that was like, For the most part, all we ever really got, and I hope that's changed now, but [00:41:00] when I think about like what PTSD therapy was for me, half of it was, you know, pretty intense therapeutic work and homework, but half of it was like going to school.

I mean, it was just, my therapist was like a professor. He stood at the whiteboard and he took what I said, my symptoms and drew lines from them to think, you know, and just educated me on how the brain worked and how my brain worked and I think often about how, what if that was just a mandatory part of training? What if just once a year you had to go in and relearn that stuff. Well, boy, you would spot it in yourself a lot earlier and you'd spot in one another and you'd be willing to give yourself the license to go get help for it.

Beth: [00:41:41] It Just doesn't seem to be a leap from I mean, the military does onboarding really well in a number of other ways. It seems like a systematic onboarding and offboarding approach to this would almost certainly make a huge difference for people.

Jason Kander: [00:41:56] Right? Absolutely and actually going back to Sebastian Junger's [00:42:00] book. It's one of the things he touches on, but also the importance of like what it is to return to civilian society and how we go about that and, you know, he has this idea that it gets into toward the end of the book that I'm kind of working on with him and some others on maybe making it a reality at some point, which are veterans town halls that are like reverse town halls. Like it's not like they show up and answer questions. It's like, you demonstrate your patriotism on a certain day, every year, but you go and you listen to the veterans, talk about their experience and you don't talk, you just listen.

Instead of showing up to a fireworks display, you show up and you listen and the idea being that, you know, if more of our society understands what people are going through, they'll feel less alone and everybody will be in a much greater situation to help them to use a word we used earlier reintegrate back in.

Sarah: [00:42:55] Can we take a hard turn here? We'd like to shift on Pantsuit Politics

Jason Kander: [00:42:57] Yeah it's getting kinda heavy. So yeah, [00:43:00] go ahead.

Sarah: [00:43:10] Ever since this interview has been on the schedule, I've been dying to ask you about what you think as the, you know, the Obama endorsed red vote, Obama endorsed red vote whisper, red voter whisper about what you think about James Carville's recent interview, where he talked about what politics and faculty lounge, uh, verbiage. Did you hear about this interview?

Jason Kander: [00:43:32] No, but. I probably can guess.

Sarah: [00:43:35] Yeah. He basically was like woke politics is killing the democratic party. It's all about jargon. The best part of it to me was he said, why do we take a bigger hit on AOC than they do on Marjorie Taylor Green when Marjorie Taylor Green and AOC are not the same. The worst thing you can say about AOC is like some of her stuff's a little idealistic. They are not the same so why do we take a bigger hit for her than they do for Marjorie Taylor Green? And his argument was we're too invested in the [00:44:00] jargon where, uh, You know, I'm trying to think, what else am I leaving out, Beth?

Beth: [00:44:04] No, I mean, I think that's, I think that's a good that he said the Republican party is about slogans and the democratic party is about jargon.

Jason Kander: [00:44:12] So I, I really like Carvel, which is something that you say when you A, believe in or B, about to disagree with him.

Sarah: [00:44:18] Well we had a lot of people that were like, I really don't like James Carville, was fully prepared to disagree with him, but dang it. I think he's right.

Jason Kander: [00:44:26] So here's my thing about this is that he is not wrong in some respects uh, but he is another, so the. And again, like I didn't see the interview. So the fact that we have a tendency to talk to one another, I mean, this jargon thing, I don't think woke is the problem, but I think that the problem is that we tend to speak in an echo chamber without realizing that we have to communicate outside of it. Now, the thing about that is where I think most people in the party go wrong is they think that when [00:45:00] somebody says something like what I just said that what I mean is that we can't go too far to the left. That's not what I mean and that may be where I suspect that's where Carville and I would disagree because I don't think that winning over like the suburbs and the excerpts of Kansas city, or, you know, you know, uh, of Lexington or Puduca, I don't think that the issue there is. Not going too far left.

I think that it's just talking about things in terms of how they affect people's lives. I actually think that liberal policies sell extremely well when you sell them, like you're talking to people individually. Here's what I mean cause I'm kind of rambling. Let me give me an example. I think that most of politics is about four things and they all have to do with one thing and that's your family and what it is is that people want four things for their family. They want their family to be happy, to be healthy, to be safe and to be nearby and every single political issue comes down to that and [00:46:00] when let's go to like 2016, when people read litigated and they think they actually write, make the arguments like, well, Trump, what he said on trade that's what won people over. As if people in St. Joseph, Missouri are sitting down with a spreadsheet and going well, you know, I like what Trump has to say about NAFTA and here's how he differentiates from.

No that's not happening but when he goes on about that in 16, what people in St. Joe might hear is him saying my kid might not have to move to the coast to get a good job, which means my family can stay together longer. So my point is we should, like, we are not that far apart, actually as a party, like when you talk to like the average Republican, the reason that they lump AOC in with whoever Claire McCaskill, you know, and that's two who disagree a lot, but they don't see them as any different and the point is like, They're not that wrong. We're not that different on these issues. The problem is we've got to recognize that when we're talking to people [00:47:00] in the middle of the country or in the, in the Southern part of the country or in any ruralish part of the country, we got to remember that what everybody's trying to do is make it so that their kids don't have to leave so that they can be near their grandkids.

And know that like, People in their thirties and forties would like it if they don't have to move so that their parents are 20 minutes away so that they don't have to pay for a nanny. They'd like it if their street were safe, if they don't have to worry about guns and if they have access to a doctor and good schools. Now that all sounds like a stump speech, but really it just comes back to your family being happy, being healthy, being safe, and being nearby and as a party, I think we tend to do a really, really good job on healthy. We're very good at that one. We're getting better at safe. We haven't really mastered happy, but we are whiffing big time still on nearby.

Now I think the Biden campaign started to figure that out in a big way, and it made a difference in winning but at the end of the day, we're all just worried that our kids are going to have to go to Chicago or New York or LA or San Francisco or somewhere [00:48:00] like that in order to get a good job and we don't want that. My kids are six generation Kansas Citians, and I would really like them to raise seventh generation Kansas Citians cause I just want to live near them and, and so that's where Carville and I disagree. It's. You can't in a party this big, you can't get people to not represent their district.

You can't get people like, how are you going to tell somebody that is worried about a primary, not a general that they should be thinking about winning elections in the second district of Missouri in the St. Louis suburbs. That's literally not their job, but what you can do is instead of trying to find a way to create distance between you and them, and therefore divide your party and divide your coalition, you can just be like, yeah, I do stand for the same thing as, let me tell you why. So like when people bring up transgender bathrooms, you don't have to like find a way to distance yourself because you probably don't disagree with your colleagues in the left. Instead you just say, I don't know why the other side wants to discriminate against people's kids. I think that's wrong because that's [00:49:00] how somebody from Missouri or Kentucky would say that and then people go, oh, I can, I can understand why they're saying

Sarah: [00:49:04] that. Yeah, I agree.

Beth: [00:49:07] So we're going to air this episode near Memorial day, which I think is really complex and I think every year people are searching for understanding of Memorial day that honors and respects military families and the numerous kinds of loss that people can suffer because of service and I just wonder how you personally conceptualize Memorial day?

Jason Kander: [00:49:29] I think about Memorial day as it's, to me, it's, it's very much about people who we've lost, uh, or like in the military. Um, and, uh, it's also about for me and I know this isn't right directly in the meaning of it, but like a couple of people I know who got really severely hurt, um, and to the point where their lives were changed and so personally on Memorial day, I do this thing called the Murph challenge, which it's a crazy workout that, [00:50:00] um, Michael Murphy, who was a Navy seal who posthumously received, um, the medal of honor, uh, did this workout with this seal team and it's, you can look it up. It's. I don't want to like sound completely unrelatable.

Um, so it's, it's a pretty intense workout, but to go back sort of to the Sebastian Junger Tribe theme of this episode, I think of it as a little bit of like a purification ceremony, return ritual. So I do it on Memorial day and the first time I did it, I just suffered through it. Ever since then, I do it more with thinking the whole time, uh, very mindful about the meaning of the holiday and about individual people. That's how I think about it but I also think a lot about how well, while it's not veteran's day and it's not a day for you, you know, to go and thank people for their service. It is a day to honor the service of others and that can mean that can mean doing things for veterans.

So this is a way for me to pivot into my day job. I'm the president of Veterans Community Project. I'd encourage [00:51:00] people to look us up @veteranscommunityproject.org, because Memorial day may be a great day to become, I guess, a sustaining supporter of the organization because we are serving veterans increasingly, nationally and we're tackling veterans homelessness and so I'm fortunate enough to have the best civilian job I've ever had and it's one where I get to put my fellow veterans at the forefront of my life every single day. Now.

Sarah: [00:51:24] That's lovely. Thank you so much for coming on our show.

Beth: [00:51:27] Thank you very much.

Sarah: [00:51:27] We really appreciate it. Tell people where they can find you.

Jason Kander: [00:51:29] Yeah. Thank you. You got it. I was gonna say you got to keep this part in, you know, they'll be like, why did we book you if you weren't going to promote your podcast? I was just having such a good time. Yeah so I still have my podcast. It's called the Majority 54 and it is you know, a, a similar mission really to y'all's and that it is about helping people maintain relationships with people in their life who disagree with them while also persuading them to join the majority of Americans who vote progressive. So you can find it wherever you find this podcast. It's called the Majority 54, and you can find me on [00:52:00] Twitter and Instagram. I'm @JasonKander.

Sarah: [00:52:02] And we definitely want to have you back to talk about voter suppression and your new book when it comes out.

Jason Kander: [00:52:06] That sounds great. Thank you very much.

Beth: [00:52:08] Thanks so much to Jason for spending time with us today. We're going to let this conversation stand on its own. We hope that all of you have some good reflective time as you observe the Memorial day holiday. We'll be back with you as normal on Friday. Have the best week available to you.

Beth: Pantsuit Politics is produced by Studio D Podcast Production.

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612 episodes