Hassan Shehadeh encapsulates the American dream. Currently a Freehold Township resident, he holds a senior position in a management role at Johnson & Johnson. Shehadeh immigrated at age 18 and earned a BS in Chemical Engineering followed by an MBA. Now, he is married with four children and leads a life that many idealize, but seldom realize. Never satisfied, Shehadeh is pursuing public office after — like many Americans — he witnessed the degradation that Donald Trump has brought to the Presidency.
We talked over coffee in a diner on Route 9 about his life, motivations, and ideas. Shehadeh comes across as a concerned citizen as much as a politician. Although he is motivated by the progressive ideals that constitute the modern face of the Democratic party, Shehadeh takes a different approach from his colleagues. He believes that there are bipartisan bridges to be made on health care, education, and environment. He rebuffs the For All family of proposals — which he characterizes as “trying to build sandcastles in the sky.”
Hassan Shehadeh is striving to be a candidate palatable to the bulk of New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District, a constituency with a Cook PVI of R+8. However, this should not be interpreted as a dearth of ideas or compromising of values. This is what Shehadeh sees as the best path forward to ensure stability for America, which is best characterized as progressive goals with a moderate approach.
Shehadeh is a natural conversationalist, and it was hard to delineate between pleasantries and interview throughout our evening together. However deftly, Shehadeh transitioned the discussion to immigration, a topic with national implications that are going ever more local with the Monmouth County sheriff defying the Murphy administrations order to cease cooperating with ICE.
We are a compassionate nation. We’re a nation that goes for human rights, for human dignity, and for immigration. The United States needs immigrants. There’s no question about that. So, why don’t we organize it?
Using an amalgam of firsthand experience and data, Shehadeh continues to assert that the vast majority of American immigrants are not merely coming out of a leisurely need for a change of scenery, but as economic refugees looking for a better life — as he himself once did. Seeing America through the lens of antiquity, the land of opportunity, Shehadeh rationalizes immigration:
If there’s an opportunity for you to come and work, legally or illegally, you’re gonna jump over the wall, you’re going to dig under the wall, you’re going to do whatever it’s needed. To come and get a job to support your family. That’s human nature. We need to make it more lawful and realistic for people to come here.
It’s hard to argue against Shehadeh here, too. Humans, adaptable in nature, will seek solutions to questions of survival regardless of legality. Further, there is already a strong reliance and integration of immigrant labor in bedrock American industries like construction, hospitality, agriculture, and food.
Shehadeh sees a remedy here by expanding work visas in both scope and functionality. His goal meets labor needs of industries by accepting immigrants on an as-needed basis. Shehadeh feels that this would be an actual remedy, not a bandaid, to our current questions of immigrantion policy while addressing the human rights issues we see at our border. Further, Shehadeh highlights the importance of litigating those employing immigrants illegally as a way to force compliance within the confines of the immigration system.
Why don’t we create a worker visa where immigrants can come here, apply for a work visa allowing them to work in an industry that needs then, and be legally in the country? Let’s make steps that can be actually implemented.
Between breaths in the conversation, Shehadeh keeps pace by quickly asserting “So let’s be honest, everybody is taking contraception.”
With further elaboration into women’s health issues, Shehadeh continues to preach accessibility and regulation. He believes in staunch access to abortions, birth control, and other health services. He supports federal subsidization of these services and inclusion on government health care plans.
I’m with women. We need to have accessibility to birth control, every available birth control. To healthcare, and to have safe abortion. You don’t want to go back to the 30s and 40s with abortion were done in bucher rooms. Women need to have access to abortions done by professional medical staff done in a professional medical location.
A caveat, however, is Shehadeh’s limiting factor of late term abortions outside of medical reasons like “the fetus is medically ill and cannot have a normal life or the mother’s life is at risk”. Currently consisting of ~1% of abortions, there is no universal definition for “late term” as when the fetus is fully-formed, but current medical consensus suggests this to be around 20 weeks gestation. Advancing medical technology is allowing fetus viability outside the womb at increasingly earlier points of gestation. Thus, the definition of “late term” will continue to be in flux.
We then moved to discuss international relations, a topic inescapable in Congressional conversations due to the proliferation of national security professionals in federal representation. Here, Shehadeh came to offer his most authentic insights.
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Harkening back to his life in Lebanon and the Middle East where he saw firsthand the implications of foreign interests on state sovereignty, it seems as if nothing has changed. Shehadeh bullets recent American endeavors: “We went into Libya. Libya is a disaster now. We went into Egypt and replaced one dictator with another. Syria, what have we done in Syria? It’s a disaster.”
Shehadeh’s sentiments of either incompentence or malfeasance in American foreign policy are hard to ignore, especially in the wake of recent investigative work done by the Washington Post exposing the futility, deception, and corruption behind America’s largest self-inflicted wound (outside of compromising with slave states during the founding). Shehadeh succinctly encapsulates both his forigen policy strategy and the current shortcomings of US foreign policy:
We need to go pure hearted intentions, not with our narrow economic intent going just to have influence… There’s no equality in this. Why do we want to force people to do what we want instead of letting people decide what they want and what’s good for?
The United States’ pretexts of getting involved in the Middle East is to spread democracy, human rights, and all the nice things that we would like to say. But, let’s have a review. Where did the United States in the Middle East get involved and democracy flows or human rights flourish? If anybody can give one country that the United States, at least in the Middle East, got involved in human rights and democracy flourish, I’ll be happy.
Generation after generation have witnessed catastrophic failures of heavy-handed American influence, and Shehadeh’s perspective represents a growing train of thought regardless of political alignment; a shift from American interest-focused policy to something more altruistic. However, for America to remain the global hegemony, and for citizens to enjoy the fruits that they have grown accustomed to, considerations will have to be taken.
Next, Shehadeh shifts focus to domestic challenges, comparing current political tribalism seen in American politics to the Lebanese, his homeland. Professing the need for moderation and conciliatory actions, Shehadeh warns about current actions carrying far-reaching implications
Extremism is like an adrenaline rush. It’ll boost you for a minute, after that you’re going to crash and that’s what we’re doing now. The Republican are getting their boost from Trump and the Democrats from AOC. But, the thing is, we’re really building for a great division down the road.
Calling for moderation, Shehadeh is unhesitant to push for the need to work across party lines “The Democrats pushing left, the Republicans pushing right… Everybody can fight, but it takes a really strong person to really compromise and reach across the lines” although quick to acknowledge the shortcomings of such an approach “even as a Democrat if you tried to there’s nobody willing to take your hand on the other side and reach back”.
This is a popular calling card for contemporary politicians seeking to differentiate themselves from modern partisanship, but the thought of a unified America grows more distant.
Reflected in Shehadeh’s approach is the growing political divide fueled by decades of economic changes best seen in the urban and rural divide that coincide with political beliefs, education levels, and economic status. Accelerated in 2008 by the rise of Barack Obama and the financial crash, we’ve since been given The Oath Keepers, an explosion in the Patriot Movement ranks, and the formation of Atomwaffen Division.
These three are only waves among the bigger sea of insurgent hate groups rising throughout the United States. They represent the growing disillusionment with the current order and dissension about American identity. A resolution, pathway forward, or even understanding seem to be undefinable in this moment with Democrats and Republicans living very much in separate worlds.
I mean, if a disaster hits New Jersey is it going to impact the Republican and not the Democrat? Is it going to impact the Democrat, not the Republican? Is a disaster not going to impact everybody? It’s going to impact everybody and that’s why we have to figure it out. Whatever happens to the US, it’s going to impact both people…both parties. And, is nobody thinking in this manner? It impacts everybody…just wake up.
Inescapable from the rise of American far-right movements is a coinciding trend of isolationism among Westernized liberal countries, a trend that Shehadeh attributes to American’s abdication of the world stage degrading the post-WWII order:
When Obama came, he promoted one world in a way in which we all cooperate. When Trump came in, he destroyed this in his first day. And now that’s why you see the rise of nationalism and isolationism across Europe because they think ‘If the U.S., why not us?’
Instead, Shehadeh prefers empowering the bilateral and multilateral agreements — including multinational institutions — that have presided over international relations since 1945. More direct, Shehadeh advocates for world superpowers to negotiate among themselves as he feels those within their sphere of influence will follow.
If you start with the players that make a difference then everybody will fall in place.
Looking to restore domestic unity, Shehadeh possesses the same feelings about American exceptionalism abroad. “Whether we want to admit it or not, the US is kind of leading the world.”
Pointing to American economic power as a lever for direction on the world stage, Shehadeh diagrams his foreign policy: “From an economic standpoint, everybody wants to deal with the U.S. and the U.S. can influence everybody in the world with the economic power that we have.”
Shehadeh — keeping consummate with his desire to restore normality to the powers that have preserved a semblance of stability — maintains an evenhanded approach by exploring other domestic policy options. First, in the face of wealth inequality akin to the Gilded Age, he looks to balance tax policy.
I’m a proponent of increasing the corporate tax back to 36 percent. Everybody was promised increased salaries, everybody was promised increased research, everybody was promised a return of jobs. None of that happened. What we’ve got is stock buybacks.
“Let’s treat every income as an income”, in reference to the capital gains tax, “Why should I be working making say $150,000 and pay an effective tax rate of 30 percent when somebody making millions and hundreds of millions pays an effective tax rate of maximum 20 percent?”
Shehadeh feels that all Americans should enjoy a livable minimum wage indexed to the cost of living by each state.
Sharing contemporary Democratic views on gun control, he advocates for reforms in the licensing process as well as regulations on certain purchases supporting “having a lengthy application, a lengthy background check, and provide a reason of why need such a weapon… . If it’s for hunting okay, but you don’t need a 30 bullet magazine for hunting.”
On environmental issues, however pragmatic, Shehadeh looks for actionable items to enact regarding climate change as opposed to pursuing the Green New Deal. He plans to first address the harsh reality for many residents of New Jersey’s shoreline. The impact of increasingly powerful storms is undeniable. Science has gone to show that climate change is causing an increase of weather event severity.
I would like to push buildings further back from the shore. I know that everybody loves the shore, but what’s the point if every three to four years you’re going to spend two or three hundred thousand just to go fix your house?