Credit: Justin Sullivan — Getty Images (R); John Lamparski — Getty Images

“If Only” — Who Should Have Run for President

We’re wasting this election. I know there are Hillary supporters who disagree, who are looking at the Trump-nado occurring on the right and celebrating the fact that most likely we will witness a truly historic moment in November as the first female nominee becomes the first female president-elect. There are party-faithful on both sides who view the election as only having value for its end results.

But every four years we have a chance to debate who we want to be as a country. For once, politics is allowed to come out of its C-SPAN relegation and enter the mainstream dialogue. The Kardashians, The Bachelor and T-Swift take a back seat (somewhat) while we discuss the variety of values and beliefs that make up our nation. For a solid year we get to experience a “West Wing”-esque level of public discourse in which we readjust the compass our nation is following and try to steer ourselves back in the right direction. At least that’s what is supposed to happen.

We’ve been spoiled the last two elections. Not only the primary contests, but the general elections themselves have featured politicians that were able to justify and explain their beliefs in a way which fosters debate. Obama, McCain and Romney, while abominable to members of the opposing party, at least led our nation in debating where our compass should point. Now we just have two candidates flicking the needle back and forth, just to watch us spin.

I, like an increasingly expanding portion of the country, am an independent. I don’t want an election with one candidate barreling towards victory while another plays in the mud. I want to have two intelligent, driven and passionate candidates explaining why they believe the viewpoints they represent are the correct ones. And I believe we could have had that this year, just not from anyone who threw their name into the ring. And so, here it is. My “could have been” picks for the 2016 election:

Republican — Nikki Haley

Trump isn’t a Republican. He isn’t a conservative. It’s abhorrent that he’s the party’s nominee and much smarter people than myself have written on what the crumbling mess of the GOP is going to have to do in order to rebuild after the dust from the Trump-bomb has settled. As much as it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, the GOP at its core carries honorable principles. They’ve been on the wrong side of history lately, but there are still those within the party who are honorable and capable politicians. At the very least there’s one. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

If the Republicans conduct yet another post-mortem after this election, I’m pretty sure it will be a single line reading “Why the hell didn’t we look at Haley?” The daughter of immigrants from India, Haley is the latest rising star of the GOP. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity (checking the evangelical box), Haley is tough on immigration, calls for voter ID laws and has been a central fighter against the Affordable Care Act. She was tapped to give the response to Obama’s last State of the Union. She has guided her state through tragedy and has been a crucial voice in improving race relations there, including finally getting the confederate flag removed.

She also knows the problems that lie within her party. In her rise to governor, she had to endure racism and sexism from other Republicans (CNN refers to the slurs hurled at her merely as intra-party “clashes” which is making a molehill out of a mountain). Rather than abandon her party, she stood strong and has worked to improve it from the inside.

If you’re a Democrat, you probably strongly disagree with many of the policies advanced by Nikki Haley. I’m not picking a Republican candidate I think Democrats would vote for. I’m picking someone who would be able to explain why she holds the values and beliefs that she does in a way that would allow those on the other side to understand her position despite disagreeing with it. Nikki Haley would have made an amazing candidate, not only because she is qualified to hold such an office as the president of the United States but because a debate between Haley and the Democratic candidate would be more than an insult-riddled shouting match.

And can you imagine if the GOP nominated an Indian-American woman who was raised Sikh?

Democrat — Joe Biden

I am certainly biased here. I love Joe. I connected wholeheartedly with Leslie Knope when she found herself speechless in front of the Vice President. I know he’s run twice before, both times unsuccessfully. And I completely respect his decision not to run a third, especially after the death of his son Beau. But man it would have been amazing if he had.

For starters, most of the attacks being thrown at Hillary serve to show just how solid of a politician Biden is. He has not used his positions and power for personal gain (his personal wealth is reported to be in the tens of thousands, compared with the Clintons’ millions). He has not flip-flopped on issues for political points. He has many more years experience in foreign policy than Clinton and it is believed that his plan for a Roman-esque separation of Iraq into a three-part federation could have prevented many of the region’s problems today. Even having Biden in the primaries would have allowed us to elevate the conversation.

In an election in which speaking off-the-cuff has been praised (in Trump’s case), while candidates who seem too scripted and robotic are receiving ridicule (I’m ignoring the inherent sexism in the remarks about Clinton’s abilities as a speaker), Biden’s propensity for going off script could be a huge bonus. Not only does it allow for surprising moments that keep things interesting, it shows that Biden is speaking openly and is giving an opinion that hasn’t been filtered through a team of speechwriters first.

Finally, Biden’s strongest area is his approach to the economy. He’s one of the few politicians in a significant position calling for the banks to take responsibility for their actions leading up to the recession and has instituted a bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility. With Bernie’s socialism contrasted by Trump’s unmitigated market free-for-all, Biden and his vision for the middle-class would have been a breath of fresh air that Hillary just never seemed to be able to offer.

Biden vs Haley. I’m sure we would still be hearing the “choosing between the lesser of two evils” line from anyone with whom we bring up the election. But it wouldn’t be as often, and it wouldn’t be as justified. And while dinner table discussions would still be mostly made up of “facts” gathered from extremist sites peddling baseless rumors, at least the debates happening on TV in the background would be fighting to set us back on the right course.