Election season is revving up. Some candidates are dropping out - notably, Barry Garodenchick who vied for Queens borough president and Isaac Sasson from the 24th City Council race. Petitioning time is here. Petitioning is the archaic ritual, where someone on behalf of the candidate or candidates themselves, must gather x number of signatures from members of his/her own party in
order to qualify the candidate to be on the ballot. This practice, more suitable for a century ago in rural America where people knew each other and the "Mrs." was home all day, is out of place in modern times, but petitioning we still must do, if there are to be any candidates on the ballot, according to the laws currently on the books here in NY state (one of the last to maintain this kind of system).
I am one of those petitioners this year, as I have been for the last few, and I have had my share of snarky comments directed at me, telling me how much of a bother I am to them. The other day I had someone, a young man no less, come to the door while audibly chewing his food, telling me that it's rude of me to come during supper time. I said "I'm sorry, but there is no other time". I seemed to hear him say "I'm sorry" but of course he would not reconsider and take out 30 seconds of his sacred supper time to sign a petition sheet.
Thankfully, there are quite a few nice people who basically carry the day. Petition time is generally accepted to be approximately from 5 PM to 8:30 PM and since it is done in the summer season there is plenty of sunlight at those hours. Most doors, however, go unanswered and one can only speculate how many people are (rightfully) afraid to answer the door to a stranger (even if he's nicely dressed), how many don't want to be bothered and how many people get home even later than 8:30 from work.
Society demands a lot of a candidate just for the privilege of getting on the ballot in order to then to be able to compete with the other candidates to win the office. Once in office, the responsibility is immense to lead with conviction, wisdom and honesty. Many public servants or politicians (a less magnanimous term), of course don't live up to this responsibility. Some take bribes or shamefully just do whatever it takes to be elected into office and then do what is expedient for themselves and their financial sponsors, whether it hurts society or not.
We know all the stories from Richard Nixon, Shirley Huntley to Vito Lopez. There are so many it's
really hard to keep track of them all. Unfortunately, it seems that our current White House with it's agencies underneath it, are involved in such scandals. Comparisons have been made between our President and President Nixon which I believe are justified. I feel that Barack Obama is a Richard Nixon type (with a little more charm perhaps), in the sense that his winning an election is paramount to everything else. The motivation behind all three current scandals seem to fit the central theme of an effort on the part of our current President or his minions to win him a second term in the White House.
Benghazi-gate is quite possibly the result of a terribly disorganized State Dept and a Secretary of State who didn't know how to prioritize crucial communications. However, seeing the astounding lack of response from our Commander in Chief for hours even after he knew that our ambassador was missing and the consulate was under attack, hints at a deliberate attempt on his part to minimize the gravity of the event. This must be interpreted as his wish to wipe away the image of an Al-Qaeda vibrant enough to attack our consulate on Sept 11, two months before his election. It can also be said that Secretary of State, Ms. Hillary Clinton, also had to know of the cables reaching her desk of the urgent requests for a viable security arrangement for the consulate and she also chose to ignore it. They both acted like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. Al-Qaeda was not supposed to be a threat to us according to the President with his campaign slogan "Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive".
The scandal of the IRS had to do with an agency which was empowered to, impartially, collect taxes in order for our government to function but instead, targeted certain non profit groups with conservative leanings to make it practically impossible for these groups to be authorized to raise funds for their cause. How is it possible that the IRS was not acting directly or indirectly to do the bidding of the White House to cripple these conservative groups from forming an opposing force to the campaigning efforts of the President? Our President has made derogatory statements about the Tea Party and Fox News and set the tone for the IRS to behave in this way, even as much as Richard Nixon did not order the break-in at the Watergate Hotel but his minions knew what he wanted done.
Our President was shielded by his chief counsel and chief of staff from knowing about the problem or the IRS and Ms. Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations, knew about the problem as early as mid 2011 but never did report it to the President. IRS commissioner, Douglas Shulman, was notified of the complaints against the IRS by a number of Congressmembers from 2011 through 2012 and despite having visited the White House a total of 157 times during the Obama administration, according to his testimony he never discussed those complaints with the President.
The third scandal involved the Justice Dept which ordered widespread surveillance on AP (Associated Press), Fox News reporters and James Rosen in Particular, who reported on leaks from a government source about North Korea's latest threats of more Nuclear tests in response to U.S. sanctions. This surveillance was done in a manner that would intimidate the press from doing its job of freely reporting similar news items that would not be flattering to the administration. Such actions were ordered directly from the Attorney General, Eric Holder, though he denied under oath, that he knew anything about it. Holder is under fire to defend himself against perjury or at the very least, how he was unaware of such a widespread unscrupulous practice by his department.
The scandals, put simply, are thus: 1) The President did not protect American personnel overseas in order to portray to the American electorate that we are not being threatened from a enemy force he supposedly eliminated 2) The IRS was acting as a campaign arm to stifle Obama's political competition by stifling its ability to obtain funding and 3) Obama's Justice Department intimidated the press from doing its job of reporting stories that were not flattering to the Obama administration. These breaches are grave and if proven to be tied to willful acts of self interest from our President, would certainly be grounds for his impeachment.
The ramifications of such misconduct, if true, could be applied to other scenarios as well. The President could downplay any threat to the U.S. or its allies, if such a threat could be perceived to undermine the accomplishments of his administration. What were to happen, for instance, G-d forbid, if he were to risk Israel's security by downplaying the threat of Iran's nuclear capabilities so that his efforts with respect to sanctions and diplomacy should not be diminished? We know that the IRS targeted non profits who were favorable to a philosophy towards Israel that was counter to the administration's, with endless and intrusive questioning, thereby delaying their formation. What would have stopped the IRS from harassing non profits who were committed to telling a story about Iran's nuclear power that was contrary to the President's? What would stop the Justice Dept from harassing press from truthfully reporting Iran's capabilities that was a version contrary to what the administration was claiming?
It should not take an outright affront of an American President to Israel's security for our community or for any of Israel's supporters, to become alarmed. It should not take an outright affront to our religious institutions for people of faith to become alarmed. People should not only mobilize when their ox is gored - rather, when anyone's ox is gored. When a President and his agencies are corrupt such as are the current ones, what is important is that politicians on all levels from across the country need to speak out against it. Therefore it is incumbent upon the whole community to elect politicians in local, state and national elections who have the conviction to speak out against wrong doing wherever that may occur. That's why it's crucial for every civic and religious leader to stress the importance of civic and political engagement. We need to elect decent people into all levels of government!
So getting back to petitioning - I must say that it's something that we all find annoying but so is going to
the dentist and we go because it's essential for our dental health. I will say, despite it not being politically correct, that it is not uncommon for immigrant citizens to be suspicious and cynical of things political. A disproportionate number of them do not want to sign petitions and a small minority even express hostility upon being asked to do so. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for some of our own frum community to act the same way.
Many such inclined, are mysteriously very hard pressed for time and can't manage to find 30 seconds to sign their own name. "Bad time" they'll say. Some of the frum young people will outright say (as the immigrants who are new to this country) that they don't sign petitions. "Do you vote?" I ask them. "Yes" is the reply. To which I say "so if no one would sign the petition, you would have no one to vote for because none of the candidates would qualify to be on the ballot." (Not really, because then NY would have to change the law but meanwhile others are just doing the work for the non-signers). At that point it just becomes "well, I'm not signing".
Having said that, many immigrants and members of our community are as cooperative and as sweet as can be and wish me "luck or hatzlacha" even though I am not even running! That is all the more reason why I say that the members of our community who are enlightened and refined need to show the way to the others. Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva should educate the congregants and the students that if they want Torah and its splendid precepts to be fostered and encouraged in a society that it's essential for old and young alike to take part in the political health of its government and hence the community.
I am truly heartened to see that the new social service and kiruv organization and emerging force in the community, namely Chazaq, is taking on new frontiers in the way of exposing candidates to the community. I attended a small gathering of community activists who came to hear candidate Peter Vallone Jr., running for borough president, speak about his vision of what he could do for our community. He spoke of tax credits to help out parents with yeshiva tuition. He also spoke about his faith and of his support for the state of Israel. I must say that I did not take to his candidacy at first because I perceived a certain 'cool cat' aura about him but after hearing him speak on multiple occasions, I am now convinced that he is a genuine person of character. Similarly, Ms. Cathy Guirerro, running for city advocate who has addressed the Va'ad Harobonim, with great reception I might add, is also a woman who understands the value of faith based organizations and the win-win situation when the government supports their efforts. I'm also looking with interest to see what becomes of Alex Blishteyn's campaign, a young lawyer with Republican and conservative leanings, who will be opposing Rory Lancman's bid in the General Election for the 24th City Council seat.
We need people with strong character and clear vision, people who aren't afraid to bring their background of faith to the challenges of the modern world. The problem with the Left is that they threw out traditional beliefs to accommodate the changing times but the basic precepts of decency, faith in a higher power and loyalty to one another should never be abondoned. Communities are in a partnership with government to achieve this. Such partnerships were never avoidable and certainly not in a modern age. This is what our wise and enlightened folk need to teach to our cynical and not so enlightened brethren in our community.