Jay Michaelson
The Spiritual Foundations of Bushism, p.6

Of course, the Right also knows that, as important as "evil" is as a concept, the word itself is too extreme. So euphemisms must be used. Consider the opposition to Clinton, how it was couched in moral terms – not quite the word "evil" but words very close to it: dishonest, shameful, depraved, undignified. The Right knows that Americans are sick of prescription drug benefits, of "my plan" being better than the other guy's. Americans vote not for the better plan but for the better guy. Look at the last few successful presidents. Bill Clinton, a genius, won not because he proved he knew policy best but because his charisma and charm pasted clueless Bush Sr. and dour Bob Dole. Ronald Reagan, not a genius, won because he was an authentic Patriot, and people knew it. He lied and lied and lied, but he did so with such conviction (or obliviousness) and with such a positive, reassuring message ("Morning in America") that we all bought it. He radiated so much patriotism and security that he actually brought them to pass among the public.

But Bush is not the better guy. Not only is he the privileged, draft-dodging son of a senator – the quintessential boy who's born on third and thinks he hit a triple. His policies are, when seen clearly, mean, unfair, dangerous, and immoral. He's a bad guy, folks. He's either dumb, or selfish, or both. Let's not be extreme -- the latest canard of the Right is the image of the "angry liberal," apparently forgetting the Hillary-bashing and Clinton-hating of only a few years ago, which excelled all the foregoing anti-Bush rhetoric. But let's not allow the Right's moral outrage to exceed our own. Moral outrage works because it speaks in primal terms, in the language of good and evil. It speaks to fear, with the resonance of myth.

•     The Jewish Question

A religious system is meant to offer deep, spiritual critiques of our every day lives. Ethics scolds us for not behaving our best; religious ethics links it to our deep souls. So why has the institutional community been so afraid to see Bushian evil for what it is?

Duh – Israel. A friend of mine said recently "Some men think with their penises, and some Jews think with their Israels." There are many in our community who believe that support for Israel is the only issue about which American Jewish voters should care. If this is what Judaism has come to mean – preserving my tribe's land, first and foremost – then Douglas Rushkoff and others are right to wonder why we are bothering to preserve it. Now, on the merits, Bush has indeed supported Israel, but, based on the record, Kerry is at least as "strong a friend of Israel" as Bush is. And, as I have developed in detail elsewhere, I question whether granting the Israeli Far Right carte blanche to pursue policies that may lead to long-term crisis is necessarily in Israel's best interests. Bush has been very good for the settlers and other minorities empowered by his hands-off approach. Whether he's been so good for ordinary Israelis is another question.

But I question the moral stature of a religious community which cares only about its own interests. Now, to be sure, "Judaism" is so large that it can accommodate virtually any belief. It is easy to find sources that support a progressive political view, and easy to find ones that support a conservative one. Each side can argue about whose source-texts are more foundational, or more numerous, but neither will ever win. But while Dennis Prager and others bloviate about the moral failings of the Left, the mainstream Left of the Jewish community – i.e., everyone to the right of Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow – is silent. This is an outrage, and a chillul hashem. We cannot expect a political prescription from our religious tradition. But it is irresponsible not to apply our fundamental values – such as the nature of the yetzer hara – to contemporary political questions.

This is not a debate between conservatism and liberalism, because Bush is not a conservative. He is a Bushist: a self-interested opportunitist without principle. He is an interventionist when he wants to intervene, a big spender when he wants to spend, a trampler on states' rights when he wants to trample. These are not conservative values. So when we use the term ‘evil inclination,' it does not refer to a particular political view, but to policies which violate the Ten Commandments by stealing, lying, not providing for elders, and killing unnecessarily. And it refers to policies which run counter to fundamental Jewish ideals of justice (tzedek) by making our society less fair, and consolidating power and wealth in the hands of the most powerful and wealthiest.

It is sometimes said that Rev. Martin Luther King's greatest contribution to the civil rights movement, and the reason he was so successful as its leader, was his ability to wake America up to the Biblical offense of inequality. Dr. King saw, and preached, that racism was not just politically incorrect: it was, and is, an offense against God. Today's evils may not be as stark as those of forty years ago, but do we really think they are religiously irrelevant? And do we really think that we cannot communicate, to decent, hard-working, traditional people, the evil that we see today?

I am part of a tradition that is prophetic, legal, mystical, and rational. It would be amazing if it agreed with itself on anything. But remarkably, all of those streams within Judaism do tend to agree that life is difficult and we should do what we can to make it less difficult for each other. Is our current political culture fulfilling that simple mission?

[1]       [2]       [3]       [4]       [5]       6
Image: Mica Scalin

Jay Michaelson writes the political column, A Jewish Critique of Bushism in Jewsweek magazine. He is chief editor of Zeek.

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From previous issues:

Carrying Light into Dark Times
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Jews, Goddesses, and the Zohar
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