I will not vote in November.
I have already voted. I sent in my absentee ballot a couple of weeks ago. In my mind, voting is one of the most important things a person can do. I don’t care how long I have to stand in line or how many pieces of identification are required; I have voted in almost every election since I have been old enough to vote. I would like to say I have never missed one but there have been special elections that somehow escaped my notice. I research the candidates and try to make the best decision possible.
This presidential election has had some interesting twists to it. The dive in the economy helped change the tone from that of just one negative ad after another to some real talking about priorities and issues. We finally got an issue that got us beyond the name calling and got us voters to take a look and ask ourselves if we trust this candidate or that candidate to get us out of this mess we are in.
In the Jewish community, it should come as no surprise that there are Jews who back the Democratic candidate Barak Obama and those who back the Republican candidate, John McCain. Each side is as passionate as the other about who would make the best President of the United States. The days in which Jews all voted in a block are long gone. It is a wonder that we can even talk about the “Jewish vote” any more as something different than any other group. We have soccer moms, hockey moms, NASCAR dads, seniors, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, Communists, Socialist, East Coast Liberals and Midwestern Conservatives. We have our own religious right and our secular left. The only things I can say about the Jewish vote is that we vote.
People talk about Israel as a concern for the Jewish vote. But again, we are all over the map when it comes to Israel. I don’t think that there are too many Jews who are looking to dissolve the Jewish state, but we certainly don’t agree on how Israel should conduct her domestic or foreign policies and how the United States should or should not deal with Israel as a matter of our own foreign policy. Should Israel negotiate with the PLO? With Hamas? With Hezbollah? Should we divide Jerusalem, give back the West Bank, exchange prisoners to get back Israeli kidnapped soldiers? Who should be negotiating with the Palestinians? What should or should not be on the table? Israelis themselves are split on these issues and the Jewish community in the United States is also split.
There are many who say that Jews should vote for their interests in the United States, and not look at foreign policy to Israel as a lone issue. There are many issues in this country that we have strong opinions about. We discuss in our communities issues like health care, the war in Iraq, taxes and governmental regulations. We are worried about sending our kids to college and if we can afford to keep our homes and if we will be laid off in the months ahead.
If Judaism has any issue with the current campaigns, it is in the area of personal attacks. That people disagree on issues is to be expected, but Judaism insists that we treat each other with respect at all times, even at the end of a very long and difficult election season. A campaign that criticizes the plans of an opponent should not be criticized because that is what this season is all about, what plan do we think is best for this country in the years ahead. If a criticism is followed by a different idea, then we should listen and be aware of the differences. It is another matter when there are personal attacks about things that happened long ago as if they have any bearing on where we are today. Everyone grows and changes and not one of us lives our life without some regrets about our past. Destroying the character of someone else is a serious sin. The politicians tell me that this kind of negative campaigning is what moves people to vote. If this is so, then we need to give the entire country lessons in civic and civil responsibility. If our government is locked up most of the time, it is because everyone is so angry with the way we talk to and about each other and have forgotten that compromise and negotiation are how things are supposed to get done. Forget about whether or not we should be sitting down and talking to our enemies, we need to remember that we need to sit down and negotiate with lawmakers from the other party. This is hard to do in our culture of screaming at each other the most hurtful names we can find.
I have seen people I respect repeat the most derogatory slanders that they have seen but not substantiated over the internet. I have seen good people worry about nonsense that is being passed around as true. The media regularly scolds the candidates and their parties for telling lies and stretching the truth in campaign materials. There is no reason to be passing on such dirt. Even if we get it from a reliable source we should not be repeating it to others. This is very wrong. If we want to convince a friend, a family member or a neighbor to vote for our candidate, then we should speak of policies and platforms. We are guilty of Lashon HaRa, evil speech, if we pass on to others the personal attacks even if we get them from a reliable source. It applies not only to the campaign, but in every aspect of our lives. Sending out slanderous emails to defame someone else is a sin. There is no other word for it. A popular actress in S. Korea committed suicide because of the hateful false things that were being said about her on the internet. That they are written is bad; if we pass it on, we are guilty.
I don’t advise any of the campaigns but let me leave with this one piece of advice. We may not be responsible for all the hate that is out there. But we know, first hand, the dangers of hate speech and ugly rumors. I hope that we will have the sense and the wisdom to know what to do when they arrive in our inbox – we should just press “delete”.
And we will be making the world a better place, one conversation at a time.