The Rabbi Writes: What We Can Learn From 1984

The Jewish Humanist, January 1985, Vol. XXIIk Number 6

It’s 1985. 

It’s nice to know that the free world is still here and that Orwell’s vision of 1984 has not yet come to pass. 

What can we learn from 1984 (the real one – not the one that Orwell imagined)? What new and interesting things happened during the past year – or what old and important things happened that were reconfirmed by experience? 

In 1984 we learned – or relearned – that people prefer optimism. Political candidates who convey hope have a better chance of winning elections than political candidates who predict doom. The Mondale ‘tell-the-truth-and-face-the-problem’ approach is electorally self-destructive. The masses prefer vague messianic vocabulary to depressing news. Democrats who will run for office in 1985 or 1986 ought to remember that simple reality. 

We learned that elections are won on television. Presidential hopefuls who look bad or awkward on the ‘tube’ have little chance of winning. A crippled Roosevelt or a humorousness Hoover would have had a hard time taking the presidential sweepstakes in 1984. 

We learned that liberals have become politically inept. They have successfully alienated the historic allies that, at one time, gave them the power to win. Blue collar workers, poor whites, eastern and southern Europeans ethnics – many of them no longer feel comfortable in the Democratic party and with the designation ‘liberal.’ 

We learned that not everything Reagan does is wrong. The controversial Grenada Invasion, which overthrew a tyrannical Marxist government, has now yielded a free election and a moderate regime which enjoys public approval. Also the new tax proposals out of the Treasury Department are a commendable series of recommendations. They propose to shift some of the burden of taxation from the individual to the corporation and to eliminate many of the immoral tax loopholes the rich have exploited. For the  so-called party of the rich, the Treasury proposals are refreshingly fair.  

We learned that religion produces the worst terrorists. The suicide bombings of embassies and military installations by Shiite fanatics is a telling refutation of the fundamentalist thesis that religion improves morality. The ‘voice of Allah’ has become the voice of murder. 

We learned that, contrary to the predictions of many skeptics, democracy is not on the decline in the world. In Latin America, where, only a few years ago, right wing dictators and military juntas prevailed, the emergence of new democratic regimes is a startling transformation. Argentina, Uruguay and Panama have already made the change. Brazil and Guatemala are on the way. Perhaps military tyrannies are not the wave of the future. Perhaps there is the possibility of a democratic revival in the third-world countries that have experienced the economic failure of soldier regimes.  

We learned that, contrary to what Jeanne Kirkpatrick of UN fame said, it is possible for left-wing totalitarian regimes to reverse themselves and to become more liberal. China, the largest Communist country in the world, is now engaging in a rapid dismantling of its Maoist structures and glorifying the acquisitive behaviors of the bourgeois world. Only this past month both Marx and Lenin were summarily dismissed as being irrelevant to the problems of modern China. Will political wonders never cease?  

We learned that singers, in this age of political disillusionment, have the best chance of becoming gods. If Michael Jackson had decided to run for the presidency, he might have given Ronald Reagan a good run for his money, especially if teenagers have been enfranchised. We can expect an increasing number of movie actors, disc jockeys, television news commentators and rock vocalists will enter politics and be successful. Lawyers, beware! 

We learned that Jews can be fascists too. The over publicized victory of Meir Kahane is an embarrassing revelation that the Jewish people is ethically (sic) normal . We have our share of racist and religious bigots too. The one positive result of Kahane’s success may be that it will silence, at least for a while, the insufferable propagandists who insist that Jews are morally superior to other groups. 

We have learned that Jews, also, can prefer public welfare to self reliance. The shameful request of the Israeli government for more American money to sustain the present Israeli standard of living is an ironic proposal for a nation that prides itself on its self-reliance. Now is the time for a painful austerity. But the present Israeli government is unwilling to impose the economic diet the country needs. Short-run political advantages outweigh long-run survival strategies. 

We have even learned that the so-called resurgence of traditional Judaism may not be the whole story of what’s happening in the Jewish religious world today. The Jewish Theological Seminary, the rabbinic school of Conservative Judaism, which for years prided itself on its adherence to the basics of traditional law, defied the halakha and, imitating Reform, opened its doors to women students. The vision of females with tefillin may seem half-traditional (sic). But it really isn’t. 

Well, we learned many more things too. But enough is enough.