Richard Badenhausen: Kael Weston will lead by listening

Kael Weston

“Tell me your story.”

That’s the invitation Kael Weston, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in Utah’s 2nd District, offers to anyone he meets for the first time, whether in the classroom on the battlefield or while campaigning.

Having known Kael for a number of years after hiring him as a distinguished writer-in-residence at Westminster College on the basis of his award-winning book on his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe he has the experience, knowledge and compassion to represent Utah in Washington and help address many of the crises facing our country today.

First, Kael has already served notably in some of the most complex and war-torn regions of the world. As a State Department political adviser to numerous generals responsible for advancing American interests, Kael was responsible for facilitating communication between many different factions that had starkly different goals.

Successful diplomacy like this requires the capacity to listen carefully, understand cultural differences, and negotiate fairly. Has there ever been a time in Washington when we are in greater need of such skills?

Second, Kael has an understanding of the world beyond our own shores and can help repair the stained reputation of our great country. Can one have imagined four years ago that nations around the world would find our situation today so dire that they actually feel sorry for America, as a member of the Myanmar Parliament explained last week?

As a graduate of the University of Utah, Kael was fortunate to study international relations through the Fulbright program, the incredible legacy of the great senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, who understood that America was made stronger and the world safer when our citizens engaged the people of other countries instead of retreating behind walls in fits of paranoid nativism.

Third, Kael has an open-mindedness that ensures he hears all perspectives, that he will serve not just a narrow group of interests but represent all citizens in his district. One of the most popular classes he taught at Westminster was called the Global Voices of War, a seminar that examined the effects of war from all sides. Having served for so many years in countries whose lands have experienced military conflict, Kael understands that it’s crucial to hear from voices not often featured in discussions of war, like those of women, children, students, and members of religious minorities.

Fourth, speaking of students, Kael is someone who can inspire young people into lives of service, helping them understand that serving our country, as he has done, is a noble cause. After one person had spent the first semester in Kael’s class, that student said, “I am going to take every class he offers.”

Kael has a kind of quiet authenticity and moral centeredness that draws young people to him, in addition to an innate optimism about the world that students find attractive.

He is also one of the most humble people I’ve ever met, someone who never talks about his own accomplishments. For example, our students would never know that for his service in Fallujah, the State Department honored Kael with one of the highest civilian medals, the secretary of state’s Award for Heroism. Students sense he values what they have to say and will see the aspirations they have for their lives as worthy and noble.

Fifth, we need a congressmen in Washington like Kael who has made access to health care a centerpiece of his campaign, someone who can represent Utahns during these next two years when the current protections for preexisting conditions and low-cost insurance will be under ferocious attack, especially in light of changes coming to the Supreme Court.

The current administration has had four years to work on this problem and has accomplished nothing. The fact that it has been seeking to strip away these protections amid a global pandemic is beyond inhumane.

Finally, Kael believes in our country, in the American democratic experiment. He is someone who has lived a life of integrity in service of the U.S. in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Instead of avoiding conflict, he has run toward it in the belief that he could use his considerable diplomatic skills to improve the lives of those who are voiceless, to tell the stories that are so often neglected.

Utah deserves to be represented by politicians who lead through listening.

Richard Badenhausen

Richard Badenhausen is dean of the Honors College at Westminster College. The views expressed here are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westminster College.