The Rabbi Writes: Bush or Clinton

The Jewish Humanist, October 1992, Vol. XXIX, Number 3

Bush or Clinton? 

Ever since the frightening Republican convention the choice has been very clear to me.  The economic agenda which won the victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980, has been abandoned.  The social agenda of the radical right, with its hatred of feminists, atheists, homsexuals and Jews, has taken its place at the center of the Republican stage.   “Family values” is the front cliche for all this hatred and meanness. 

The social agenda of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson will win the hearts of a large vocal minority of the American people.  But it is not high on the priority list of most Americans.  Most Americans are worried about the economy and about their jobs.  Most Americans belong to the vulnerable and battered middle class who are experiencing a fall in their standard of living and who are losing hope in the economic future of America.  Most Americans now belong to “unconventional” families where women are forced to work outside their homes and where the traditional support systems are no longer available, even through prayer.   

The setting of this election is a terrifying economic recession.  This recession does not appear to be a short-run relapse like the recessions of the past.  It is a symptom of a major structural fault in our economy as it encounters new technology and international competition.  People are frightened and apprehensive.  They need to be assured about their jobs and their homes.  They need hope.  That was the genius of Reagan.  He always conveyed hope. 

This election has been both tedious and exciting.  The endless primaries were tedious.  The arrival and departure of Perot was exciting.  Perot was a major threat to both Bush and Clinton.  He seemed to have the power to galvanize the moderates among both the Republicans and the Democrats around a single candidate.  The moderates are the American Center, the largest potential political bloc in this nation.  The moderates are the people who are wary of the social agenda of the Right and the welfare agenda of the Left.  The moderates are the American middle class whose support is essential for a presidential victory.  If Perot had brought them together into a third party, he would have radically altered the character of American politics.  But he turned out to be an enormous disappointment, a billionaire eccentric with megalomaniac manners and with a skin too thin for ordinary politics. 

Of course, political campaigns are no cup of tea.  If an age where television images dominate and privacy is impossible, running for public office is akin to running naked in the streets with all your warts and pimples exposed.  There is no question anymore that is outrageous.  There is no personal detail that the public does not have the right to know.  Democracy and equality have removed any possibility of remaining a mysterious aristocrat.  Sleeze is the gossip of the masses turned into a political weapon.  You have to be a monk, starting in the womb, in order to plan a successful political career.  Or you have to be bland enough to have avoided doing anything interesting. 

The Republican concession to feminism is to have two wives offer their endorsement of their husbands.  Women blame the “kosherizers” of the social agenda.  Mean spirited Marilyn Quayle and her limited husband are two of the best reasons to vote for Clinton.  What if something should happen to Bush and these two darlings of the religious right should take over the White House? The thought is terrifying. 

Now the Clinton alternative is not all roses.  Clinton is an attractive, bright man with enormous political savvy.  He is smart enough to know that victory goes to the candidate who captures the Center.  Roosevelt sailed to victory with the Left and the Center.  Reagan made a winning team out of the Right and the Center.  Clinton has to do what Roosevelt did.  And he has a recession to help him get to the White House. 

Clinton’s stand on the social agenda is clear and morally correct.  He is in favor of privacy and personal choice.  He supports the protection of those who deviate from the traditional norm. 

His economic program is more vague.  He wants to tax the rich and relieve the burdens of the middle class.  He wants to use the government to mobilize the economy and to create jobs.  He wants to save money by reducing military spending.  He wants to replace welfare with workfare. 

All of these goals are commendable.  But they do not really address the central overwhelming problem, the crushing burden of debt which eats up more and more of the national income.  With an aging population the greatest burdens of our society are the middle class entitlements for health and retirement that expand relentlessly.  Continuing that process will not be easy, especially with the promise of unusual health care.  The test of his success, if he is elected, will be to stimulate the economy sufficiently to meet the challenge of these burdens. 

In the end, I support Clinton because I will not support a candidate who has sold his soul to the radical right and its reactionary social agenda.  I do not know whether Clinton will be better for the Jews than Bush.  After all, the reason the Shamir government fell and the peace initiative of Rabin could begin was, ironically, the relentless pressure brought by Jim Baker to resist the demands of the Israeli Right.  But the Israel agenda is not the major issue that we American Jews must confront in this election.  We need a president who will not be the prisoner of the crazy Right or the crazy Left.  We need a president who is willing to live with social changes that cannot be reversed and confront the fundamental economic issues that frighten the American public.  We need someone who will project sanity, caring, intelligence and hope.   

Given the options, Bill Clinton is our best choice.