A article of mine about Alexandria Ocasion-Cortez, distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, can be read here.
There’s no point in further delaying the news. I will soon be officially announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Most everyone else has done so and I don’t want to be left out.
The official throwing of my hat (my weekday one, as it needs replacing anyway) into the presidential ring will take place at Hamodia’s sprawling Borough Park offices at a date and time to be announced.
I will be running on the Purim Party ticket, and am currently accepting applications for the position of running mate. My life mate, unfortunately, does not qualify, as she was not born in the U.S.; in fact, she obstinately remains a Canadian citizen, an alien (in more ways, perhaps, than one, since, as numerous immigration officials at Newark airport can attest, she lacks detectable fingerprints).
My personal qualifications are well-known. I was a candle in my kindergarten Chanukah production, and graduated both elementary and high school. And I have no felony convictions.
I have never knowingly employed undocumented domestic help, and have never worn blackface. There was that do-rag a few Purims back, yes, but there are no photos that I know of. (Should you have any, please be in touch with my fixer, the aforementioned Mrs. Shafran.)
My closet, although it’s cluttered, holds no skeletons, only an assortment of old ties biding their time until they are once again of fashionable width.
And so, I feel that I am eminently qualified to occupy the seat once occupied by the venerable likes of Millard Fillmore and Warren Harding.
My platform? Thank you for asking. I support universal health care, universal child care and universal common sense training, something I’ve long felt has been sorely lacking in American society.
I have no position on minimum wage, but support a maximum one.
The Middle East will be one of my top priorities, of course. I have a secret peace plan. No, of course I can’t offer it; if I did, it wouldn’t be secret, would it? (Common sense training would have made that explanation unnecessary.)
I also look forward during my tenure, to appointing Supreme Court justices who are practicing Orthodox Jews, ideally kollel-leit and BJJ graduates.
But my campaign mantra, with which I expect my supporters to drown me out at rallies when I start rambling incoherently, will be “Build the Wall!” No, it has not been copyrighted (I checked), and, in any event, it’s not a southern border wall I will be urging, but a northern one.
Yes, as you know, there is an urgent need for a 3000-mile-long impenetrable barrier between our mainland and Canada, to protect our beloved country from the dire threat poised to invade from the north – the forces of civility and polite discourse.
Now, Canadians are welcome to embrace such un-American practices in their own country if that’s really what they want. Hockey pucks to the head and beer overconsumption take a toll on a society. But the peril posed by an import of politeness to our own political sphere is frightening.
Name-calling and personal insults, after all, are part of the republic’s DNA. We must never forget our twin guiding principles, e pluribus unum and argumentum ad hominem.
When Thomas Jefferson called John Adams a “repulsive pedant” and a “hideous… character,” the gauntlet was thrown, and it was picked up by Mr. Adams, who labeled Mr. Jefferson a “G-dless atheist” and cast crude aspersions on his parentage.
Adams’ son John Quincy played the genealogy card himself, against Andrew Jackson, disparaging the latter’s mother; and Mr. Jackson made sure that the media, which wasn’t yet fake, called JQA’s moral behavior into question.
Memorably, Stephen Douglas’ supporters called Abraham Lincoln a “horrid-looking wretch” who was “sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper, and the nightman.” (“Nutmeg dealer”? I have no idea.) For his part, Honest Abe compared Mr. Douglas to an “obstinate animal.”
Teddy Roosevelt famously referred to William Howard Taft as “a rat in a corner.”
More recent examples of the glorious rudeness that imbues the American political realm from all its corners are readily available from news organizations, Twitter and local bars.
And, so, it is clear that we must do all we can to avoid a slippery slide into civility. Invaders from the north may only be targeting mudslinging today, but tomorrow it will be baseball, and before we know it, they’ll be coming for our guns.
So, if you care about the U.S.A., you know your choice!
© 2019 Hamodia
Back in 1947, a public relations firm called Whitaker and Baxter, hired by the American Medical Association, created a term to disparage President Harry Truman’s proposal for a national health-care system.
It was a stroke of PR genius, at the dawn of the cold war between the U.S. and the communist Soviet Union, when many Americans feared communist infiltration of the republic, to label Truman’s plan for universal health care “socialized medicine.” Nearly thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the phrase endures, along with at least some of the accompanying disdain it was designed to evoke.
The A.M.A. ran with the medicine ball and distributed posters to doctors with slogans like “Socialized medicine … will undermine the democratic form of government.”
Fast-forward seven decades. Universal health care is shaping up to be one of, if not the, defining issues of the 2020 presidential campaign, and in some circles is being labeled “socialist.” And indeed it is, at least in the word’s more benign definition.
Some words or phrases, of course, don’t always mean what they might seem to on the surface. Like “Important!” in the subject box of an e-mail, which almost always means the opposite. Or “a service representative will be with you shortly” on a phone call, which usually turns out to be a bald lie. “Socialist,” too, doesn’t necessarily mean what it once did.
Back in the day, a socialist was a close ideological cousin of a communist. Socialism as a governmental system may have lacked the communist element of totalitarianism and total control of people’s lives; but it still placed ownership of all means of production in the hands of the populace, with members of society receiving what they need but having no incentive to work hard to achieve anything more.
But socialism as an all-encompassing, coercive system of government is something distinct from governmental programs aimed at providing safety nets to citizens. Like Social Security, for example, or Medicare or, for that matter, the public school system. All are “socialist” creatures, at least in the sense that they are government-run and aimed at ensuring certain benefits for the entire citizenry.
Universal health care, which has been endorsed as a desideratum by a number of Democratic candidates for the nation’s highest office, is “socialist” too, for sharing the same aim – here, to ensure that all Americans have access to doctors, hospitals and medications.
As it happens, though, even “universal health care” – reflected in the increasingly popular mantra “Medicare for all,” which is becoming the Democratic counterpart to Republicans’ “Build the wall!” – has different meanings. Or, at least, there are very different vehicles for achieving that goal.
The idea of providing health care to all Americans is simple enough. But there is a den of devils in the details.
For some, like Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, the way to go is a national, “single-payer” health system, in which private insurance is abolished. (As you might imagine, insurance companies are not fans of such a plan.) All sorts of costs born of the way insurance interests operate would presumably be eliminated, and medical care streamlined.
That’s the upside. The downside is that the insurance companies’ replacement would be the federal government. Frightening as that may be to some, and imperfect as such systems are in places like Great Britain and Canada, most Americans feel that the feds have done a decent job running Medicare. Back on the other hand, though, a “single payer” approach would likely mean higher taxes.
Other plans are mixtures of government and private insurers. In Switzerland, for instance, citizens buy insurance for themselves and pay deductibles, but the government subsidizes health care on an income-based graduated basis,
Then there is the approach of offering citizens discounts on government-sponsored health insurance plans, and expanding the Medicaid assistance program to include more people who can’t afford health care. That is the essential feature of something called Obamacare, the current system in place.
As in all large governmental efforts, achieving universal health care in the U.S. is a stupendously complex undertaking. But six out of ten Americans say it is the federal government’s responsibility to make it happen. The U.S., in fact, is the only wealthy industrial country in the world lacking such a system.
I’m not sufficiently proficient in assessing the necessary calculi to offer any opinion about which health-care path is the best way forward. What I do know, though, is that whatever approach ends up being chosen by the electorate, it won’t be the sort of socialism Americans once feared was lurking under the bed.
© 2019 Hamodia
Whiplash was a distinct risk for anyone trying to follow the story – or, perhaps, non-story – of the faceoff the week before last between Kentuckian high schooler Nick Sandmann and a 64-year old Native American, Nathan Phillips, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each was in town for a rally, Mr. Sandmann, a “Pro-Life” gathering; Mr. Phillips, an “Indigenous Peoples March.”
A short video of the younger man silently smiling at the older one as the Native American chanted and banged on a drum was offered to the public, with the smile characterized, and harshly criticized, as a disrespectful smirk.
Then a longer video emerged, indicating that the smile was benign, and that the two principals were not in conflict.
Or that they were even principals at all, as it became evident that both of the men were reacting to, and at least one of them being crudely insulted by, a group of “Hebrew Israelites.”
Those are black racists dressed in colorful caps and robes adorned with Jewish symbols who try to achieve a sense of self-worth by pretending that they are the “real Jews,” and white people “Edom.” They often appear with display boards inscribed with the English renditions of the names of the shevatim; they imagine that each of various African or Caribbean populations stem from a particular shevet.
Native Americans are assigned the designation of “Dan” by the befuddled members of the racist group, and members of the group, the later video showed, were rudely berating the high school boys, perhaps because some were wearing “Make American Great Again” caps. The “Hebrew Israelites” also tried to enlist Mr. Phillips, a member in their fantasy of the “tribe of Dan,” in their verbal attack on the boys and, at one point, berated him too.
Even after longer depictions of the interaction were available, the debate among partisan players continued, with some trying to sully the boys’ and their religious school’s reputations, and others gleefully attacking the many media that fell hard for the first, incomplete, narrative.
What emerges from the fracas is something that has been increasingly evident in recent years: truth is elusive.
The kernel of the problem is that facts are mediated by people, and people are subject to biases.
Reports tinged (or, at times, saturated) with writers’ prejudices have been colorfully labeled “fake news” by the president; for their part, fact-checkers have catalogued literally thousands of his own contentions that aren’t true over the past two years. It’s hard to know what can be believed and what cannot.
That’s always been the case, of course, but it’s getting worse. Much worse. Incomplete videos are one thing. Deepfakes, quite another.
If you don’t recognize that word, you’re not alone. It’s been around for a while but only entered the larger populace’s lexicon in the past year or two. Deepfakes are videos made with the use of special software that makes it seem that an identifiable person is saying or doing something he has not said or done. Sort of Photoshop for video on steroids.
The software, which is readily available and being constantly refined, superimposes existing recordings and images onto others, creating a realistic, but entirely unreal, action, speech or expression. The technology can be used to alter the words or gestures of a politician or other public figure, yielding the very fakest of fake news.
Last year, a doctored image circulated by gun rights activists and Russian discord-sowers purported to show a Parkland high school shooting survivor and gun control advocate ripping up a copy of the Constitution. What she had actually torn up was a bulls-eye poster from a gun range.
And Myanmar’s military is believed to have used deepfakes to ignite a wave of killings in that country.
Legislators have taken note. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned that “America’s enemies are already using fake images to sow discontent and divide us. Now imagine the power of a video that appears to show stolen ballots, salacious comments from a political leader, or innocent civilians killed in conflict abroad.”
Technology expert Peter Singer predicted that deepfakes will “definitely be weaponized” whether it is for “poisoning domestic politics” or by hostile nation-state actors to gain an edge on the battlefield.
The 24-hour news cycle and expansion of social media platforms only compound the problem. “A lie,” as the saying goes, “can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
Chazal teach that, when the “footsteps” of Moshiach are close, ha’emes tehei ne’ederes, “truth will go missing” (Sotah 49b).
Seems there’s cause for optimism.
© 2019 Hamodia
Every civilized human being is rightly outraged by things like the vicious murders committed by members of the international Salvadoran gang MS-13, the fatal beating of the 76-year-old Georgia resident Robert Page by undocumented Mexican immigrant Christian Ponce-Martinez and other appalling acts committed in the U.S. by people who were born elsewhere.
But anecdotes, even the most horrific, don’t necessarily lead to correct conclusions. Samuel Little, after all, who last year confessed to killing 90 women in multiple states over nearly four decades, was a born and bred American, as was John Lee Cowell, who stabbed two sisters, one fatally, in an Oakland, California train station. And Robert D. Bowers, the killer of 11 people last October at a Pittsburgh Jewish congregation, was another “all-American.”
Immigration issues, including the question of whether immigrants are disproportionately responsible for crimes, have been on the front burners of Americans’ consciousness for several years.
As Jews, we have good reason to favor, at least within reasonable limits, the welcoming of new Americans. Most of us ourselves descend from fairly recent immigrants, many of whom said Kaddish for other would-be Americans who were prevented by quotas and prejudices from finding refuge on these shores. But Jewish immigrants to the U.S. have overwhelmingly been law-abiding and contributors to the economic growth and well-being of American society.
What, though, about the current wave of immigration from points south? Are those Central Americans and Mexicans who aspire to living and working in our country of similar bent, and potential? Or do they endanger Americans’ safety and security?
Ascertaining if there is a significant relationship between crossers of the U.S.-Mexican border and criminal acts committed on American soil requires looking not at narratives but at numbers.
When comparing different populations’ crime rates, controlling for the size of the population is essential. And so, researchers plumbing that data look at the numbers of convictions per 100,000 members of a particular group. And the resultant numbers are striking.
Most law enforcement agencies’ crime data don’t include violators’ immigration status. But Texas, a border and law-and-order state, does; its police cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities at the Department of Homeland Security who check the biometrics of all arrestees in the state.
The individual liberty, limited government and free markets-promoting CATO Institute, formerly the Charles Koch Foundation (yes, that Charles Koch), has analyzed Texas crime data over the year 2015 – the most recent year for which all the relevant figures are available. It found that the criminal conviction and arrest rates for legal immigrants in most criminal categories were markedly… below those of native-born Americans. Even the conviction and arrest rates for people who immigrated illegally were lower than those for those who were born and raised in the U.S.
During that year, reports CATO, as a percentage of their respective populations, the criminal conviction rate for legal immigrants in Texas was about 66 percent below the native-born rate, and 50 percent lower than native-born Americans for illegal immigrants.
Limiting the findings to homicide cases alone, the conviction rate per 100,000 people for native-born Americans was 3.1; for illegal immigrants, 2.6; and for legal immigrants, 1.
There were also fewer larceny convictions of immigrants than of natives that year. (Interestingly, though, there were more such convictions for legal immigrants than for people who are here illegally: 74 per 100,000 for the former, 62 for the latter. For born Americans, the number is 267.)
All of those facts might seem counterintuitive, or at least counter-assumptive, but, surprising as they may be, they are borne out as well from the documented lack of any positive effect on crime rates in localities that enacted enforcement programs focused on deporting illegal immigrants.
There are many matters attendant to the issue of immigration that need to be carefully considered: What should be done about the more than three million “Dreamers,” undocumented young people who have been in our country since childhood; what should qualify as grounds for asylum; the economic impact of increased immigration (though it’s generally positive, low-wage workers may suffer if immigration numbers grow); how to most effectively and sensibly secure our borders; how to deal with those seeking to enter the U.S. as families; what kin should be permitted to join their legal immigrant relatives already here; and more.
All are legitimate matters for discussion, and none have obvious, straightforward answers. But in those conversations, one thing is, or should be, absent: the notion that immigrants, even those who have crossed our borders illegally, are more likely than good ol’ Americans to be criminals.
© 2019 Hamodia
Whatever one may think of incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she did not compare the victims of the Holocaust with the migrants at the southern border. A piece I wrote on the issue is at the Forward, here.
Self-proclaimed Nazi Arthur Jones, running as a Republican for a House of Representatives seat in a Chicago area district, lost handily. But he received more than 56,000 votes. Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner had urged district residents to “vote for anybody but Jones” and Texas Senator Ted Cruz advised voters to vote for the Democratic candidate. Still, though, 56,000 Illinoisans liked the Nazi.
And then we have, unfortunately, two successful candidates for Congress: Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis. Ms. Tlaib proved herself so antagonistic to Israel that the left-wing group J Street withdrew its initial endorsement of her bid. And Ms. Omar once tweeted the sentiment that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and prayed that people “see the evil doings of Israel.”
And the new representative of New York’s 14th Congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, once decried the Israeli military’s killing of Palestinians who were storming the Gaza border fence as a “massacre.” (To her credit, though, the 28-year-old later admitted that she was not an “expert on geopolitics on this issue” and promised that she would “learn and evolve on this issue,” so let’s hope she in fact does.)
Should I mention the reelection of Democratic Representative Danny K. Davis, who once called anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan “an outstanding human being,” and who, before finally issuing a condemnation of the Nation of Islam hater-in-chief’s “views and remarks regarding the Jewish people and the Jewish religion,” had explained that Farrahkan’s views on “the Jewish question” didn’t bother him? Well, I guess I just did. So I may as well add that he won 88% of the vote in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District.
But deserving as those developments might seem to be of a worrisome Jewish telegram, the less excitable among us might take solace in the defeat of the aforementioned Mr. Jones, and the loss likewise suffered by Virginian Leslie Cockburn, whose book “Dangerous Liaison” was described by a New York Times reviewer as “largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake.”
And in the downfall of Philadelphia area Congressional aspirant Scott Wallace, whose family foundation had donated more than $300,000 to pro-BDS organizations. And of John Fitzgerald, who aimed to represent a California district, and who not only called the Holocaust “a fabricated lie” but claimed the 9/11 attacks were a Jewish plot. (Sobering, though: 43,000 citizens voted for the crazed candidate.)
Further cause for optimism is the fact that, among the flipped Republican seats in the House, fully seven will be occupied (there must be a better word) by Jewish Democrats. And that there will be 28 Jews in the new House, five more than there currently are. And that, in the upper chamber, there will be eight Jewish senators, up from 7.
And that Representative Eliot Engel of New York, whose dedication to Israel’s security is long and unarguable, is set to become the chairman of the important House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mr. Engel’s counterpart on the Senate committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, another unabashed defender of Israel, was reelected too, as was Representative Nita Lowey, another staunch voice for Israel’s needs; and she is positioned to take over the House Appropriations Committee. No less committed to Israel’s security is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
What is perhaps the most heartening outcome of the recent races, though, is something that was pointed out by longtime political commentator David Frum. Writing in The Atlantic, he asserted that last Tuesday’s vote “administered enough Democratic disappointment to check the party’s most self-destructive tendencies.”
What he means is that, while concerns about the excesses and insanities on the fringes of the Democratic party are understandable, and despite the presence in Congress of Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, the party’s moderate, traditional base remains strong; and radical Democrats are likely to remain relegated to the sidelines, with little power or influence.
“There is no progressive majority in America,” writes Mr. Frum. “There is no progressive plurality in America. And there certainly is no progressive Electoral College coalition in America.”
Whether or not that will remain the case in the future, none of us can know for certain. But it would certainly be highly premature to send out a “Start worrying” telegram – or an e-mail with that advice in the subject box.
More fitting might be “Keep davening.” Always appropriate.
© 2018 Hamodia
During out-of-courtroom deliberations in the case – a civil one, in which a man who, it seemed, had burned down his store and was who was suing his insurance company for compensation – a fellow juror opined that the store-owner could have been at his place of business at 3:00 AM, where and when he was found, for entirely legitimate reasons. And that his being discovered, badly burned, unconscious and still holding a gasoline can, may have been pure coincidence. She also confessed to the rest of us her conviction that a famous entertainer, long gone and buried in Memphis, Tennessee, was actually roaming the earth incognito. I am not making that up.
The U.S. Constitution, despite what most people think, doesn’t guarantee a defendant the right to “a jury of his peers,” only to an “impartial” jury. And it is silent about any other juror qualifications, like basic intelligence. But I think a case can be made that a modicum of good judgment is at least implied by “impartial.”
Likewise counter to popular assumption, the Constitution does not mandate an explicit right to vote. A number of constitutional amendments prohibit certain forms of discrimination in establishing who may vote. But voting remains, in the end, a privilege, not an inalienable right like free speech or freedom of worship. That’s why voting can be denied to individuals who have not yet reached a certain age, or who are incarcerated (or even, as in some states, who have been incarcerated in the recent past). And why it could have been, as it was for many years, denied to women and members of various religious groups (ours included).
In contrast, more than 20 countries actually require all citizens to vote. (Please don’t give your local representatives any ideas!)
In the best of all possible worlds, were I king of the forest (as would no doubt be the case), I would require passing a test to qualify for sitting on a jury and in order to vote. The Shafran Voting Exam (SVE) would seek to establish basic comprehension of texts, simple logic and elementary familiarity with important issues and our political system.
Alas, in this yet imperfect world, the SVE wouldn’t stand a chance. Not with the history of “literacy tests” that, for many decades, were utilized expressly to prevent immigrants and blacks from voting.
Like the one selectively administered by Louisiana as late as 1964. It included questions like the following:
“Print the word ‘vote’ upside-down but in the correct order.” (Correct upside-down order?)
“In the space below draw three circles, one inside (engulfed by) the other.” (Three or two?)
“Spell backwards, forwards.” (Wha?)
And a “wrong” answer to any question, the test states, “denotes failure.”
There is much controversy today about alleged “voter repression,” also ostensibly aimed at depriving targeted groups of Americans of the ability to vote. I’m not convinced that the presentation of identification, even photo identification, is an onerous requirement. Nor do I find updating voter rolls – what opponents of the process call “purging” them – in any way objectionable.
To be sure, there is no evidence whatsoever of widespread voter fraud, as has been charged by some. But at the same time, reasonable measures to ensure that voters legally qualify to vote don’t disturb me.
But things like what happened recently in Georgia do.
Jefferson County officials made 40 African-American senior citizens get off a bus taking them from their assisted living facility to a polling place to vote early.
Why? Well, take your pick. Either because one of those who arranged for the bus was the county Democratic Party Chairwoman (although she acted in her capacity as a pastor and made no voting recommendations); or because, as the county administrator explained, “Jefferson County administration felt uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party” (although approval of the bus trip by the facility had been obtained beforehand).
There is, of course, a third possibility, but far be it from us to consider it.
And so, unfortunately, the Shafran Voting Exam must be quashed on arrival. The bigots of years past, and of days present, have ruined it for us all, having given the very idea of earning the privilege to vote the worst of reputations.
© 2018 Hamodia
All she ended up sowing were vegetable seeds in the South Lawn garden (where Mrs. Trump has graciously carried on her predecessor’s tradition of hosting children to help pick ripened veggies).
The motto Mrs. Obama planted in the political garden in 2016, though, during the most negative presidential campaign in recent memory, didn’t bear much fruit. Hillary Clinton lost, and bellicosity in subsequent political campaigns spread like poison ivy.
And not only among Republicans. The aforementioned Mrs. Clinton recently said that “you cannot be civil” with the Republican Party because it “wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”
And former Attorney General Eric Holder offered his own riff on Mrs. Obama’s credo, suggesting that “When they go low, we kick them.”
Then there was Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat, who sent out a mailer with photos of President Trump and Adolf Hitler with an “equals” sign between them.
And so it goes.
Ah, but then we are graced with the likes of Amy McGrath, who is challenging the incumbent, Andy Barr, for Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District seat.
Never mind which candidate is the Democrat (okay, Mrs. McGrath; but she’s happily married to a Republican), or even which is better qualified (no opinion). Regard only the resplendent fact that the lady has forsworn negative ads.
You read that right. Despite the fact that her battle is uphill, that her district favored President Trump by 15 percentage points and that Mr. Barr crushed his last Democratic opponent, Mrs. McGrath has refused to attack him or his policies.
“It’s time for a new generation of leaders who aren’t afraid to go against the grain and run a campaign that the voters can be proud of,” she told the Lexington Herald Leader.
“I refuse to win,” she wrote in a social media post “at any cost.”
Mr. Barr, regrettably, has not reciprocated the blow for civility. Although Mrs. McGrath is a former fighter pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and holds moderate positions on all issues, her opponent and his supporters have launched verbal and video salvos at her, at times blatantly misrepresenting what she stands for.
Campaigning for Mr. Barr recently, President Trump declared that Mrs. McGrath is “an extreme liberal chosen by Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters and the radical Democratic mob,” and that she “supports a socialist takeover of your health care; she supports open borders; she needs the tax hikes to cover the through-the-roof garbage you want no part of.”
Her response: “Mr. President, you clearly don’t know me. Yet.”
Whether the optimism in that “yet” will prove to have been justified is not knowable. But, examining the candidate’s actual positions on health care, immigration reform and taxes, one sees her first sentence’s point.
Social scientists say that there is little evidence that attack ads yield more votes than informational ones, but campaign strategists and conventional wisdom clearly feel that they do.
Negative ads are certainly noticed. “Voters universally decry negative ads,” says Erika Franklin Fowler, the director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes political advertising. “But we are biologically attuned to pay more attention to negative information… We remember negativity more.”
Among the “biological attunements,” or natural human inclinations, the Torah warns us against is the acceptance or propagation of negative portrayals of others. Leaving aside the particular halachic parameters of lashon hara, hotzoas shem ra and rechilus, they are unarguably pernicious things in any context.
And they derive from pernicious places, small-minded hatreds and prejudices. When comparisons of President Trump to Hitler are publicly offered or partisan players gleefully declare “owning the libs” as their highest aspiration, we as an electorate – and a society – have moved from holders of reasoned, if different, views to crazed boxers in a ring, trying to out-bloody one another.
I don’t know which candidate will be the better representative of Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. Either, I suspect, will probably do a good job. But whoever emerges the victor in that important race – the majority party in the House, of course, is in play – it is heartening that a candidate opted to buck the trend of seeing the debasement of an opponent as a necessary part of the path to success.
© 2018 Hamodia
But if you did reside in that relentlessly sunny part of America, you would probably be somewhat suspicious of Mr. Campa-Najjar, not only because he is only 29 years old but also because he has a Palestinian father and a Mexican mother, lived as a child in Gaza and once attended an Islamic school in San Diego. And if that didn’t dissuade you from pulling the lever for him, there is the fact that his father served as a Palestinian Authority official.
And his grandfather was Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar, a “Black September” terrorist involved in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Equally disconcerting to some, Mr. Campa-Najjar worked as Deputy Regional Field Director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, and subsequently worked for the Obama White House.
His opponent, Mr. Hunter, has bravely publicized all that, and recently warned in an ad that Mr. Campa-Najjar is working, along with alleged Islamists, to “infiltrate Congress” and so represents a “risk we can’t ignore.” The district’s base is solidly Republican and the incumbent is expected to win.
That, despite the fact that Mr. Hunter and his wife have been indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations and conspiracy. They allegedly used hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars to pay for things like luxury vacations, fast food, theater tickets, racetrack outings, alcohol and family dentistry bills.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was sufficiently upset at the allegations, which he called “deeply serious,” to remove Mr. Hunter from the three House committees on which he sat.
But Mr. Hunter has denied the charges, and the choice between him and Mr. Campa-Najjar would seem a stark one.
Only it’s not. While nuance and fairness have largely left the electoral building, they are not yet entirely expired. So let’s try to revive them for a few paragraphs.
Not that his religion should make any difference, but Mr. Campa-Najjar is a proud Christian, and has described himself as “an apostate” in the eyes of Islam. His father, during his stint in the PA, spoke out in favor of peace with Israel and renounced hatred for Israel; and the candidate himself, who was born 16 years after his infamous grandfather was dispatched by Israel, has denounced his elder and terrorism in the clearest terms.
As to the Middle East, Mr. Campa-Najjar supports Israeli sovereignty and, referring to his family’s fleeing Gaza, asserts that “To achieve peace, Palestinians and Israelis will have to make the same personal choice I’ve had to make: leave the dark past behind so that the future shines brighter through the eyes of our children.”
Mr. Hunter’s insinuations that Mr. Campa-Najjar is a Muslim and a threat to America were dismissed as “absurd and classless” by Nick Singer, the challenger’s (Jewish, as it happens) communication director.
I’m not endorsing any candidate here. Were I a resident of the San Diego suburbs, I would do some real research on the positions of Messrs. Hunter and Campa-Najjar on various issues, and base my voting decision on my judgment about which contender is more in line with my priorities.
But the facts of Mr. Campa-Najjar’s ancestry would not be part of my calculus. There was a time when Orthodox Jews were suspicious, often rightly, about black candidates for public office. But some of our closest and most reliable public service allies today are African-Americans.
To be sure, there are currently Congressional candidates with Middle-Eastern or Islamic backgrounds who seem beholden to anti-Israel constituencies – people like Rashida Tlaib in Michigan or Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. But a sign of political maturity and savvy is rising above generalizations and being able to distinguish among members of various groups.
What’s more, even candidates who may have said wrongheaded things, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, should not be written off as enemies. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez hastily criticized Israel’s use of force against protesters in Gaza but later admitted that she is “not an expert on Middle East affairs.” and vowed to “learn and evolve” on the issue.
How her evolution will unfold will have to be seen. But being able to learn and evolve on issues – including the judging of candidates solely by their ethnicities – is most certainly a praiseworthy thing.
© Hamodia 2018