2016-06-30
There are many reasons why I--and 69 percent of American Jews, according to a recent poll--want John Kerry to be President of the United States, not the least of which is that he's extremely smart, a trait I consider fundamentally Jewish (sue me; it's the one stereotype I buy into), his beliefs and commitments comport with Jewish values, and he's proven himself to a be a real mensch.

But Jews don't need a whole lot of reasons to vote for John Kerry because the reasons to vote against George W. Bush are so numerous and compelling. To put it bluntly, the President's vision for the future is scary--for all of us, but especially for Jews--and his performance in office is a shande. (Yiddish for disgrace).

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, a first century sage, said the world rests on three pillars: truth, justice, and peace. All three have been grievously weakened by the current administration. Four more years of Bush-whacking and I fear the pillars will crumble and the world will be broken beyond repair. From a Jewish perspective, what concerns me most are the cracks in the pillar of truth because without truth there can be neither justice nor peace.

Truth is the foundation of the Jewish ethical system. To ensure and sustain this system, we humans are directed to imitate God's divine attributes, paramount among them lovingkindness, righteousness, and truthfulness. Rabbi Hanina Bar Hama, who taught in the third century, said the word on God's own seal is "emet," truth.

From George Bush's record over the last four years, one could surmise that the word on the Presidential seal is "lie," or dissemble, deceive, conceal or mislead, all of which have marked his communications with the American people, especially about the war in Iraq and the fight against terror.

The truth is, there were no WMDs in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, unarguably a monster, did not mastermind 9/11. Osama bin Laden is still at large. And we're no safer today because Homeland Security has color-coded our fear. While the Bush Administration talks tough and trumpets the arrests of low-level terrorists as if they were triumphs, the hunt for bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders has faded into the mist.

Meanwhile, we the people, and our debt-ridden economy, are captives of Bush's ruinous, runaway expenditure of blood and treasure in Iraq. The bill for his war is approaching $200 billion and, rhetoric notwithstanding, the facts on the ground rebut the President's delusional claim that freedom is proliferating there. The escalating street violence and the charade of an interim leadership hand-picked by the U.S. Administration, betray Bush's reassurance that democratic elections will be possible in January.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, observed in his Yom Kippur commentary that of the 44 generic sins we collectively confess on the Day of Atonement, fully one-quarter relate to the abuse of speech. Among those sins are "fraud and falsehood."

Our supposedly God-fearing President has much to confess in the category of fraudulent speech, not to mention his grave foreign policy mistakes for which more than a thousand Americans and thousands more Iraqis have paid with their lives. Yet Mr. Bush acknowledges no errors or regrets beyond a tepid "miscalculation" and a few "bad appointments." (Translation: whatever went wrong was someone else's fault).

The Ethics of the Fathers, the most widely-read tractate of the Mishnah, names the capacity to acknowledge the truth as one of the seven characteristics of a wise man. (Avot 5:9) Maimonides, the 12th century physician-philosopher, devotes ten chapters to teshuvah, repentance. But this President repents not and regrets nothing. His arrogance is imperial, his lies monumental, his hubris epic. Instead of the American dream, he's given us Greek tragedy.

In contrast, John Kerry, from his earliest days in the public eye, has proven his fealty to truth and his capacity for reconsideration and repentance, even when it hurts his cause or image. After fighting in the Vietnam War--commanding Swift Boats whose crews suffered 90 percent casualty rates--he returned from the killing fields to fight against the war. He dared to tell the American people the truth about what he had witnessed. At 27, risking his government career aspirations, and knowing his opposition to the war would make him the target of Nixon's dirty tricks (which it did), he spoke out nonetheless.

Recently, I watched clips of Kerry's 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That a 27-year-old could show such calm self-assurance and unflagging eloquence in the face of questioning by Senatorial legends Jacob Javits, Stuart Symington, and William Fulbright, astonished me until I realized that Kerry wasn't giving them spin or sound-bites. He was giving the Committee straight-from-the-gut truth-telling--and I'd forgotten what that sounds like.

Thirty-odd years later, we're in a different war with chilling parallels. Despite the Administration's non-stop spin and outright lies, the truth comes to us every night on our TV screens. The body counts and bloody pictures are there for all to see. American soldiers blown to bits by Arabs who see us as conquerors, not liberators. Dead children. Kidnappings. Beheadings. Prison abuses from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo. A growing, hydra-headed insurgency with no front lines and no stated goals other than to drive out U.S. troops. And now, alarmingly, the peril for journalists is so life-threatening that areas of Iraq are virtually closed to outside observers, so our last window on the truth may be shuttered as well.

Senator Kerry was as misled by the Bush cabal as the rest of us, maybe more so because the legislative branch had every right to expect an honest assessment from the executive branch of the pros and cons of war. His votes sometimes were contradictory because the issues are complex, but also because it's hard to set national policy based on lies.

But as the truth has emerged and we've learned the full scope of Bush's deception, John Kerry has outlined a rational exit strategy with a timetable for withdrawal. Where Bush promises prideful rhetoric and open-ended military commitment, Kerry promises to extract us from what is fast becoming this generation's Vietnam quagmire. What's more, he has delivered his views with dignity and grace, without defamation or smears, or that smarmy expression of superiority we've come to recognize on the President's face.

"There is blunt talk like sword-thrusts,
But the speech of the wise is healing.
Truthful speech abides forever,
A lying tongue but for a moment."
(Proverbs 12:18-19)
George Bush's moment will end after this election because he has betrayed the American people. His obsession with Iraq has depleted our resources, strained our troops, and deflected our attention from other crisis spots around the globe. His effort to save face in Fallujah has upstaged the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iran, North Korea, China, Pakistan, and India. His campaign to pacify the Iraqi streets has yielded "collateral damage," bred new pockets of rebellion, and not incidentally, fanned the passions of terrorists whose hatred of America is inextricably linked with their hatred of Israel.

Iraq has become the tinder box of the Middle East. The fire next time surely will lick at the doorstep of the Jewish State and singe the cuffs of Jews everywhere. In three short years, George Bush has made the United States a pariah nation. He has destroyed international respect for America and squandered the good will that was showered on us after 9/11, and in so doing, has created a situation that is not, as we say, "good for the Jews." Bush talks big about supporting Israel but he's in the pocket of the oil companies and that makes me nervous, while Kerry has a 100 percent pro-Israel voting record.

Since the U.S. is Israel's pre-eminent friend and protector, anti-Americanism has become synonymous, in many quarters, with anti-Zionism. Israel-hating has taken the form of violent anti-Semitism in countries where, a scant four years ago, Jews felt safe. As the U.S. lost the moral high ground in Iraq, especially in the eyes of moderate Arab states, we've crippled our capacity to assist Israel on its path to peace; in fact, we've made matters worse. A president who originally called the war on terror a "crusade," and who allies himself with those who term America a "Christian nation" runs the risk of transforming a regional conflict into a religious war against the Muslim world. And if this happens, guess who gets caught in the cross-fire?

In this time of existential crisis, I don't want my Commander-in-Chief to be a smirking frat boy who strutted around on an aircraft carrier and declared our mission accomplished when the killing had barely begun.

I don't want the man in the Oval Office to be a Charlie McCarthy puppet who needs Karl Rove or Dick Cheney to feed him his lines.

I don't want the person with his finger on the red button to be a hale fellow who prides himself on not reading the newspaper but pores over "My Pet Goat" while the Twin Towers burn.

I want the button to be controlled by John Kerry, whose fingers, when they touch the Vietnam Memorial Wall, brush the names of men with whom he served, men who went to war for this country while George Bush got a free pass into the National Guard and stayed home. I want the Commander-in-Chief to be a man who was under fire in the Mekong Delta every day for months and knows what it means to wonder what you're fighting for and why the soldier next to you had to die because a president couldn't admit he was wrong.

I want the leader of my country to value books and ideas as does John Kerry--and almost every Jew I know. I want him to surround himself with advisors unblinkered by extremist ideology or Evangelical aims, and to defend the wall between religion and state so people named Cohen and Abdul-Rahman don't feel like aliens in a "Christian nation."

I want a President who supports reproductive choice and stem cell research because he values the life of fully-realized people over that of a fertilized egg.

And I want a President who respects civil rights, favors a ban on assault weapons, and cares more about the assisting the poor and protecting the defenseless--defined in Jewish law as debtors, widows, orphans, and "the stranger" (read immigrant)--than protecting $89 billion in tax cuts for one percent of the population, many of them Bush family friends.

But above all, I want a President who uses his pulpit to inform, inspire, and unite the American people, not to bully, divide, and delude us. I'm voting for John Kerry because I believe only the truth can keep our ship of state from floundering, and I don't want a liar for a captain.

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