Elul Meets Political Season
I’m back in our legislative district state house race.
And you know what? I really think highly of my opponent. He’s a genuinely nice guy who is well-liked by people that know him. Whatever policies I may or may not share with him, that’s the important thing. We’re presenting sometimes overlapping, sometimes competing visions for a legislative direction, and that really should be the long and the short of it. I donated to his campaign (clean elections), that’s how grateful I am to be able to run opposite a good person.
I’ve watched the race between Bruce Poliquin and Jared Golden devolve into absurd levels of mud-slinging. I’m almost at the point where I will vote for neither. As a veteran, Bruce’s Facebook post indicating that Jared has only been on this earth for 35 years, and that in that time, Bruce has been a businessman and Jared has done nothing.
Nothing—except deploy to a combat zone as a Marine. It troubles me that so many Republicans, especially veterans, can be tone deaf to that kind of insult. If you can dismiss his service, they can dismiss yours just as easily when it suits. That’s something Bruce has never done and never will do, and it pays to be respectful and mindful of that.
For all the comity and tongue-lashing of the present administration that has emerged from the passing of John McCain, I find a more pressing religious reason not to engage in the politics of the small and the pointlessly vituperative.
The most easy answer is how seriously I take b’tzelem elokim, the fact that we’re all created in the Divine image (or we all emerged from the same primordial soup, or both). But that doesn’t stop me from mixing it up with people when I shouldn’t, say something in haste that I regret.
The Hebrew month of Elul is a month of introspection and penitence. It’s a time to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. G-d can forgive us for sins against G-d, but only those we have wronged can offer forgiveness for wrongs done to them. We blow the shofar, our ram’s horn trumpet, daily with the exception of Shabbos, so that Jews hear the call to repent and return.
I’m not interested in adding more of that to the list of things I’m trying to correct before the end of the Jewish year.
I hate politics. I run because I want to serve. I will happily disagree with a policy and tell you why I disagree with it. I’d rather tell you about a policy that I think will work and persuade you to come aboard. At no point, except in extreme cases (racism, antisemitism, or transphobia/homophobia), will I ridicule the closely held positions of someone else. I definitely will not insult or belittle another person who holds a different set of ideas.
I’m glad Elul and the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, overlap election season. My focus is on getting right with G-d and my neighbors. It shapes the tone of my political dialog.
You know who I will call out? The people who are unnecessarily nasty. The people who want to kick someone when they’re down. The hits keep coming for a friend this season. Even contrition and atonement aren’t enough. There are forces that will not be happy until the fertile soil of their lives is salted and nothing might grow again.
Or people that are so self-righteous in their beliefs that they would convince themselves that “tough talk” is in accordance with G-d’s law. My sense is that unless you’re G-d’s appointed prophet, and we have that in writing with signs and portents, and not just your word for it, you’re probably not as big a moral authority as you deem yourself to be.
This is a significant problem in an adjacent house race. I see all sorts of social values talk, not a great deal about substantive policy. It’s theatrically absurd, and we all see it, but we’re terrified to be insufficiently partisan and point it out. Unless we truly believe the same things, which is also horrifying.
This is the time of year when my people believe that G-d is closest to us. Our politics definitely need to reflect that. Stand up for what you believe, absolutely, but if you can’t do it without trying to dehumanize the other side, your message needs adjustment. This goes for anyone.
If you still do it, even though you know it’s morally abhorrent, because it “plays well with the base,” I’m reminded of Ezekiel – the Divine is looking for the person that will stand in the breach. G-d’s not looking for the person who can expand the breach.
Let’s get it right this election season. It’s not too late. Pledge to yourself, your higher power, your community, that you are not going to be an a-hole no matter how much the moment might carry you away. See the Divine image. Be the light.
L’shanah tovah tikatevu, may you be inscribed in the book for a good year.