What does the Republican Convention mean for Jews?
Not much – for two reasons.
First off, the conventions, Republican or Democrat, are virtually meaningless. This is true for Jews and non-Jews alike. They are so tightly scripted, you might as well add in the laugh and applause tracks from the Price is Right. We’ll hear the narrative each candidate wants us to hear, the media slanted in his direction will declare the speeches inspired, and the opposing Spin Doctors will say, “it was predictable, but passible.” Such is the jaded view of anyone who has lived through a couple of these, seen the movie Wag the Dog, and lives in the shadow of Universal Studios. Folks, it’s all about the sound and light show (this year I mean that literally – the Republican Convention will have two musical stages, 13 video screens, and a $2.5 million dollar theatrical main- stage). Conventions highlight style points, “can I imagine this guy as president”, but let me save everyone the money and time, with all the stagecraft that goes into these things the answer is “yes.”
Secondly, when it comes to the Republican party, Jews largely prefer to stay behind the curtain. Of course there are exception. Here are two interesting examples: Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s first female governor is a Republican and is jewish – she’s running for reelection. And there is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who became popular as Michael Jackson’s rabbi, and is running as a Republican in North Jersey. In the current congress there are 13 Jews in the Senate, not one is a Republican (both Joe Lieberman and Bernard Sanders are Independents). On the House side, there are 26 Jews, all Democrats, save one, Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor. However, behind the curtain there is Sheldon and Miriam’s $10 million plus as well as millions more from other conservative jewish power-brokers.
To my eye, these numbers are stark. There is disproportionate (to population) Jewish representation on the Democratic side, and disproportionate dollars on the Republican side. While I expect that others will respectfully disagree, I read the above stats as follows: There is an innate comfort for Jews in the stereo-typical positions of the Democratic Platform (social responsibility that begins by lifting up the bottom) that does not exist for Jews who embrace the individual liberties, and “hands-off” mentality of the Republicans.
There are real issues that separate the positions. And, Israel is certainly a hot-button issue, but what does it mean if they court your donations but keep you behind the curtain? I’m not sure. Still, I’m reminded of an ancient caution:
“Be careful in your relations with the government; for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of stress.” – Pirkei Avot 2:3 (200 C.E.).
A few posts ago, while the Supreme Court was still hearing arguments on the legality of the Healthcare Act, I said, “If the Supreme Court strikes-down the Health Care Act, and we have to start health care reform all over again, instead of fixing the imperfect beginnings that are already underway, I’m just going to freak out.” So, it has passed, as a tax and not under the Inter-State Commerce Clause, but in any case, now we’ll have it- Obamacare (properly referred to as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
What does this mean to congress? Not much. And that’s the nature of sinat hinam, baseless hatred. The rabbis of the Talmud said that it was for baseless hatred that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 C.E. If the Democrats like something than you can be sure the Republicans will hate it, and vice versa.
This type of tit-for-tat bickering is not just exhausting for the country to watch, but it’s downright destructive for our society, which, before politics became so partisan and divisive, prided itself on the strength of our diversity.
Consider the classic cautionary tale about why Jerusalem was destroyed. There was a mix up on the invitations to a party. Two men whose names sounded awfully similar each thought that they were the rightful guest at a party. The problem is that that hated each other, couldn’t stand each other, and nobody set them straight. Even the sages that were present at the affair said nothing. You can read the whole story here, but to get to the juicy part, one of the men incited the Romans against the Jews. He told Caesar to send the Jews a goat to sacrifice at the Temple, a goat that would seem perfectly fine by Roman standards, but that the Jews would find blemished, unfit as a holy offering at the ancient Temple:
The Rabbis wanted to offer it, despite its disqualifying blemish, to preserve good relations with the authorities.
Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus said to them: “People will then think that blemished animals may be offered upon the altar.”
They wanted to kill the person who brought the animal, so he could not go and inform on them. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus said: “People will say that anyone who places a blemish in a sacrifice should be killed.”
RabbiYochanan said: “The humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolus destroyed our temple, burned our sanctuary and exiled us from our land.” (Gittin 55b-56a)
By analogy, the debate regarding Obamacare , even after Chief Justice Robert’s tie-breaking vote to affirm the legality of the law, is likewise so toxic that it feels like we’ve been boxed in. In truth, nobody loves the law as it stands, Democrats wanted more, and Republicans in the House have already set a date to repeal it (July 11th).
What we know will happen with this admittedly (by everyone) imperfect law, is that when the cracks start to show, Conservatives will say, “we told you so.” You can set your clocks to it. And, they’ll be right.
But here is where we should learn the lesson of baseless hatred: When the costs rise instead of fall, or coverages shift in ways we did not predict and do not want, let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s just make more calculated adjustments.
The truth is, the middle is messy. The law that was passed was built on the Centrist idea that a few steps forward are better than waiting for the perfectly crafted bill to be born, which would never have happened in the polarized system we currently have. When we become intrenched, clinging to one good ideal over any other (“I will never raise taxes”, “Everyone should have healthcare coverage”) we freeze up; we fail to act in the best interest of those we care for, and when that happens, society’s moral compass falters.
Republicans should not waste time trying to repeal Obamacare (a repeal will never pass the Senate even if it passes the House), they should be trying to improve it, and Democrats would be wise to listen to them.