Two men are back-to-back in front of a white background.
Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Ethan: A few weeks ago you and I took our dog and pony show on the road, as we often have, and spoke to a room of 150 high school leaders participating in Dirgo State (Formerly Dirigo Girls State and Dirigo Boys State).

Phil: Worth the $5-a-gallon gas to get there. What a great group. Gives me tremendous hope for Maine’s, and our nation’s, future.

Ethan: When Pat Callaghan, our intrepid moderator for the evening, asked us if we thought President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump would run again, you answered, “I hope not.” The room stood and cheered for two minutes. Besides cheering your excellent deadpan delivery, I was struck by how sad it actually made me. To think that the leaders of both our parties (although, truth be told, I think the crowd was more cheering the thought of Trump not returning) are so uninspiring as to garner a standing ovation for not running makes me less hopeful, not more.

Phil: While I appreciate the praise for my delivery, the applause was more like 20 seconds. However, I do concede they were decidedly more to your side of the aisle.

Ethan: When I mentioned “Tucker Carlson” and “Yellow Journalism” in the same sentence, the standing ovation went even longer. But either way, I am not sure a rematch of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, or Barack Obama and John McCain, would have elicited the same disdain as what we heard. What do you make of it?

Phil: I think young people are tired of us. The most recent iteration of White House occupants have not solved the problems or appealed to their sensibilities in the same way as perhaps John F. Kennedy, Reagan, or Obama did. When then-Gov. Reagan defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter, he lifted my party and a whole generation of young people out of the morass we felt over Richard Nixon and Vietnam. I think the same occurred for your side with Obama after the controversies of Bill Clinton and then the Iraq War.

Ethan: Yes, no doubt. Transformative figures both. But do we really need transformative figures to avoid standing ovations against incumbents? What about simply workhorses who are doing their best fighting for what we believe in? 

Phil: You and I may crave workhorses, but those kids want something more. Honestly, I meant it when I said, “I hope so” to those youngsters. The best thing for our country would be for Biden and Trump to step aside and to let the faithful of each party choose their leaders. It may be a face we have seen before, as we had with Reagan, or it may be someone who has never run for president, as it was with Obama. 

Ethan: I give Biden more credit than you do for being a workhorse, but you may be right. That said, be careful what you ask for. Bernie Sanders is making clear he’ll run again if Biden decides his legacy is complete. And the kids love Bernie!

Phil:That’s why we have state caucuses and primary elections. I think most voters want their party’s voters to nominate someone who connects with them at a personal level and leads for the people like Reagan and Obama did.

Ethan: July 4th is a reminder that our freedom requires us to engage in the election process. Let’s hope that this coming presidential election presents voters with a leader who inspires standing ovations for what they have accomplished, not for stepping aside.

Phil: Inspiration. Just like those youngsters gave to us.