Why I'm No Longer Running For President

October 24, 2020

On October 8th, 2019, I bought vargas2048.com in preparation for my presidential run three decades from now.

Is This A Joke?

I bought the domain as a way to commit myself to this path. I figured that by 2048, my kids would be in college and I will have had a fulfilling arc to my career. If I wanted to actually have a chance in winning, I needed to start early.

So no, it wasn’t a joke.

I didn’t watch any of the debates leading up to the 2016 election when I was in college. I had no opinion on the implications of a Clinton or Trump administration. My friends were telling me that a Trump administration would mean the end for America, and my family was telling me that a Clinton administration would mean the same. Given the choice between doomsday vs. doomsday, I opted not to vote for doomsday.

Despite disengagement in American politics, I found myself very much engaged with fraternity politics. How do you get 50 dudes who don’t always agree to live in a house together and get along?

These conversations were fascinating because the resulting decisions affected the members of the house, both present and future. They were often heated because people cared about the implications. When I graduated, leaving this bubble left an empty hole in my stomach yearning for that same level of passionate problem solving. That’s when I started to follow American politics.

Passionate debates surrounding various American social issues often resembled those I saw in college but at a much larger scale. I had a growing interest to tackle larger scale problems because of the difficulty that these problems present and the impact they have on others. Conversations surrounding sustainably improving education, reducing poverty, and increasing access to healthcare all seemed to circle the presidential race. I thought that the best way to involve myself in these problems would be to become president.

In 2019, an entrepreneur from the tech industry was gaining momentum in his bid for president. I disagreed with Andrew Yang on some policies, but I was inspired by his motivation. He was motivated to solve larger problems when he saw that his work at Venture for America was only “pouring water into a giant bathtub with a giant hole in the bottom of it”. The only way he could see these problems addressed was to run for president. Inspired by his campaign, I bought vargas2048.com.

Preparing My Campaign

Similar to how I view writing today, I saw the domain as a tool for learning. It was a way to force myself to write out my thoughts on various problems that exist in the world today. I thought this would be particularly useful since I did not find myself resonating with most of the discussed solutions.

I started with having the following 6 tabs:

  • Poverty
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Environment
  • Government
  • Foreign Policy

My approach was to detail my current understanding of why each problem exists and outline my strategy for tackling them.

I grew up with a very privileged childhood. My family was wealthy, I went to great schools, and we always had access to healthcare. It astounds me that we live in an age that this is not yet universally true, and I am motivated to give others the privelege I had growing up. Most of my time spent in political discussions are in those top three bullets. Consequently, I only had developed pages on those three, with the hope that by starting 30 years early my thoughts in these areas would refine over time.

In parallel to developing the site, I was following the 2020 Democratic primary pretty closely. I hosted debate viewing parties at my apartment, attended a couple of Yang-centric meetups, and checked relevant subreddits daily to stay up to date with the race. I spent so much time talking about it, I was believed into thinking that the candidates were actually a reflection of the ideas they were running on.

When Biden ended up just winning the whole thing in a landslide, just as everyone predicted a year before, I felt like a fucking moron.

I felt stupid for how much time I wasted. It wasn’t simply because Yang dropped out - the chances of his victory were beyond a longshot. But because the entire primary felt theatrical since the Biden nomination was inevitable. Despite other candidates outraising him 2-3x and despite other candidates having ravenous fanbases, when Super Tuesday came around the default safe pick dominated.

It became clear to me that to make any sort of impact on the status quo required an enormous amount of resources. Mike Bloomberg with all his billions and Bernie Sanders with all his young support could barely move the needle. All of those resources spent for nothing. I realized that for me to even reach Yang’s 1% success would require raising tens of millions of dollars and consume hundreds of hours of my time. If I was able to gather those resources, I started to wonder, what could I do with them instead?

I decided it would be criminally wasteful to spend those resources on a presidential run. With $200 million in funding, the amount Bernie was able to raise this election cycle, I would be able to hire 200 people for 10 years on a $100K salary to actually tackle the problems the campaign emphasized. To Yang’s credit, after not being able to implement UBI on a national scale, he is implementing his own limited form of it through his non-profit Humanity Forward.

I realized that there are more direct ways to spend my resources. On March 22nd, 2020, I decided to disable the auto-renew on the domain and abandon my short lived presidential run.

What Now?

After a brief stint of becoming engaged with the political theater that is our government, I’ve decided to disengage myself again. I stay loosely in the know through conversations friends of mine have. But I decided to unfollow almost all political accounts and commentators from Twitter. I am not voting in this election.

It’s becoming sillier to consider our arbitrary choice of misaligned “leader” to be our only way to contribute towards solving these problems. Only if who you vote for wins and if said person could overcome existing bureaucracies to implement a solution and if said solution actually achieves a desirable result, will that choice have made an impact.

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That’s a lot of big ifs out of my control.

The view extends past voting to include being in office. I realized that being president is more about the reality TV show you play with other main characters than it is about actually tackling large problems. It’s not just the president - those in Congress spend more than half their time fundraising instead of solving the problems they were hired to tackle. If putting myself in a position to tackle poverty or education is a goal of mine, then staying away from Washington would increase my ability to do so.

The impact that working on a startup aimed at public good is an expected value calculation the same way running for office is. There’s a chance the startup fails. There’s a chance that I don’t win the race. However, I’m finding more comfort in the former approach and previously wrote about how we should start changing how we view the public sector to include work done by those outside of the government.

So that’s why I’m no longer running for president. To focus on positioning myself to tackle social problems directly, rather than spend resources convincing people to give me a job that has been historically ineffective.

A special thanks to my friends for help with this article: Kyla Scanlon, Drew Stegmaier, Gian Segato, Michael Koutsoubis, Zachary Fleischmann, and Compound Writing


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