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Opinion Eric Holder: I won’t run, but I will fight to elect the right Democratic president

Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. in Washington in February 2018. (Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post)

Eric H. Holder Jr. was U.S. attorney general from 2009 to 2015.

There is in the United States today a crisis of leadership — caused and perpetuated by an administration that uses fear to stoke divisions and lies to support broken policies. It would be easy for Americans to grow pessimistic — but as I’ve traveled to 25 states over the past year, I have found that the people of this country are better, and more caring, than these small-minded leaders would have us believe. The civic awakening we have experienced since January 2017 must become a sustained movement to reshape the future of this nation.

Though I will not run for president in 2020, I will continue to fight for the future of our country through the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and its affiliates. For too long, Democrats have lost sight of the state and local races that shape the day-to-day lives of the people we serve. With state legislatures set to begin drawing new voting districts in 2021, what happens in those races over the next two years will shape the next decade of our politics. Our fight to end gerrymandering is about electing leaders who actually work for the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. I will do everything I can to ensure that the next Democratic president is not hobbled by a House of Representatives pulled to the extremes by members from gerrymandered districts.

At a Feb. 6 hearing on voting rights, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said he would "fight until the death" to make sure every citizen has the right to vote. (Video: C-Span)

Who should that Democratic president be? With the depth and diversity of the current field of candidates (and those who may still join), we will have a host of good options.

I believe we should pick our nominee based on the following criteria. Does this person have a clear vision for the nation that meets the challenges of today and the uncertainties of the future? Is this a candidate of integrity whose honesty will help rebuild trust in our institutions? Does the person have the capacity — both mental and physical — to handle the rigors of the Oval Office? Does the candidate have the experience to revitalize a federal government that has been mismanaged at home and diminished abroad? Will this person have the ability to inspire the American people and bring us together?

In evaluating potential nominees, we should remember that creativity is not limited to the young, nor wisdom to those who are older. We must measure our candidates not by their age, but by the vitality of their ideas.

This moment also calls for transformative policies. Now is a time to think big — but to be wary of purists. I believe the candidates must lay out their plans in a few critical areas.

Inspired by our history as the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, we must restructure our economy in a way that promises economic security for the middle class, creates genuine opportunities for upward mobility and attacks the income inequality of this new Gilded Age. And we can’t have a better economy for working people without a health-care system that guarantees universal coverage.

We are running out of time to deal with the existential threat of climate change. It is a moral imperative that we mitigate the damage that is already happening, take wide-ranging steps to reduce carbon emissions, and commit to being a net-zero carbon emitter within 10 years. This is our generation’s moonshot.

The next president must fight for comprehensive, humane immigration reform that recognizes that we are strengthened by our diversity.

The recent First Step Act was just that — a first step. It must be followed by much more sweeping criminal-justice reforms that end the costly and illogical “tough on crime” laws that have swelled our prison ranks but have not done enough to keep our communities safe.

Our next president should prioritize the healing of the nation — and not be hesitant in identifying all forms of bias and discrimination, nor be meek in seeking their elimination. Americans must recognize each other as partners and not adversaries.

Lastly, we must restore the core of our democracy and protect voting rights. There is nothing more fundamental to the well-being of our nation than the right to cast a ballot in fair elections, free from foreign interference. The Republican Party has used voter ID laws, gerrymandering and purging of the voter rolls to undermine that right, while doing nothing to protect our electoral system from another foreign attack. We must reconstruct the Voting Rights Act to ensure that every American has a full and equal say in our democracy. This is the defining civil rights issue of our time.

I know there will be disagreements during this primary season — and I will not be shy about sharing my thoughts — but Democrats should heed the words that President John F. Kennedy was tragically prevented from delivering on Nov. 22, 1963: “Our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. . . . Let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our nation’s future is at stake.”

The party should never lose sight of our primary objective: making sure a Democratic president is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. I will do my part to help make that possible, while leading an effort to ensure fairness in our democracy.

Read more:

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