Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the greatest show on Earth is coming to town.
No animal acts, just men and women demonstrating prodigious abilities, such as stretching and bending the truth into unrecognizable shapes.
Every four years, American presidential campaigns tour cities and towns, tantalizing audiences with unrivaled showmanship.
The performers — er, candidates — make promises that even they know cannot be fulfilled, boasting with the enthusiasm of carnival barkers hawking attractions under the big top.
Their pitch is whatever they think the rubes — er, voters — want to hear, even if that means changing their spiel along the way.
On Super Tuesday, March 1, primary elections are scheduled in Georgia and five other Southern states (along with primaries and caucuses in eight other states). Regionally, this has been dubbed the SEC Primary, referring to the collegiate athletic conference in which football is a religion.
In this, the nation’s most faith-driven region, candidates will invoke the phrase “Judeo-Christian values,” no matter any confusion about what it means.
Israel will be mentioned often, more to appeal to Christians, particularly evangelicals, than to these Southern states’ relatively small Jewish populations. The fewest such references may come from the lone Jewish candidate, who says little on this subject.
Speaking for myself, I cringe when a candidate tells a Jewish audience that he watched the movie “Schindler’s List” the night before, when another recalls his mother urging him as a boy to make Jewish friends because they would be loyal, and when a third makes light of the reputation of Jews as dealmakers. Then there is the candidate who donned a kippah bearing his name as an entrepreneurial rabbi asked him to say “Gut Shabbos” into a camera for promotional purposes.
What motivates candidates to do such things? Votes and money.
Jews are roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population but on Election Day make up about 4 percent of the voters. In a nation where 55 percent to 60 percent turnout is considered good for a presidential election, Jewish turnout is around 80 percent. Jews also make campaign contributions in excess of their percentage of the population.
Attention, pandering politicians: A photograph of you wearing a kippah does not impress me, nor does a grip-and-grin handshake with Israel’s prime minister, nor does your version of “Some of my best friends are Jewish.”
As for the pledge “I stand with Israel,” please articulate any substance behind that statement because it makes me want to ask, “Which Israel are you talking about?” Do you make the mistake of assuming that American Jews are monolithic in their opinions?
On the subject of Israel, former U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller recently offered a reality check on campaign rhetoric. “And the next president will soon encounter the reality that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is not some precious talking point or slogan on a pedestal, but a living breathing one where the interests of both countries can simultaneously collide and coincide,” Miller, who has advised both Democratic and Republican administrations, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
Some Jews base their votes primarily on candidates’ positions on Israel. I am not a single-issue voter. Yes, I am interested in what a candidate says — or actually believes — about Israel, but it is just one issue of consequence.
I also want to hear their thoughts on:
- How to improve the quality of public education.
- How to restore Main Street’s confidence in Wall Street.
- How to repair our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure.
- The role of religion in the public square.
- How to secure the nation without sacrificing the civil liberties on which it was founded.
- How to prevent the renewal of cold wars and cool the heat in existing conflict zones.
- Whether the Constitution is static or open to interpretation (not unlike the arguments about aspects of Jewish law).
Political campaigns, like a circus, can be entertaining, but elections have long-term consequences. So enjoy your popcorn but pay close attention to what the candidates say and do.