by Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg
In recent election cycles, greater influence seems to have become concentrated in the hands of a few - those who can afford to contribute large sums. We are fortunate to live in a vibrant democracy, but I fear that the race for the presidency has become more about who is the best fundraiser, not who would make the best commander in chief. With the corrosive and exorbitant amounts of money - now reaching into the billions of dollars - that will be raised to win this election, it is vital that we not lose sight of what is most important when deciding which candidate to support.
My own decision reflects the values learned from Jewish tradition, as well those taught to us as American citizens. We learned that the kind of society we sought to create was based not only on competition, but also on cooperation; on individual achievement, but also on social accountability; and on personal rights, but communal responsibilities as well. Judaism has taught us commitment to the values of ethical behavior based on our concern for the well-being of others, on caring for the needy and the weak and also on a shared responsibility to the common good.
In 2008, I felt that the candidate who best reflected these principles, both in his statements and his actions, was then-Sen. Barack Obama.
When President Obama was elected, many of us were disturbed to hear some politicians immediately proclaiming that their primary task was making sure that President Obama would be a "one-term president." I found that offensive because I thought, perhaps naively, that the role of our elected officials was to serve the best interests of our entire nation and all its citizens, to work together for the common good, not to undermine our legitimately elected president.
During the last four years, we have witnessed endless attempts to misrepresent the president and his policies through fear-mongering and prejudice, with unprecedented levels of partisanship and polarization, as a legislative paralysis that has led to a winner-take-all attitude. At the end of the day, the political bickering has created the atmosphere of a zero-sum game in which each side cancels out the other. In that kind of situation, we all lose.
I am saddened by the negativity that has taken hold of both parties. This toxic political rhetoric is detrimental to the country and to the political process as a whole. It brings out the worst in us and makes it more difficult to separate truth from fiction when trying to evaluate policies and positions.
To be honest, I have not agreed with every one of President Obama's positions, just as I have not agreed with all those of any president. I was concerned by President Obama's initial initiatives regarding the Middle East and his efforts to reach out to the Arab world. Many members of the Jewish community were equally uncomfortable with that early approach. His opponents quickly used it against him in an attempt to drive a wedge between the president and his supporters in the Jewish community.
Thankfully, the president listened to our concerns and adjusted his approach. His actions during the last three years have resulted in a relationship between the U.S. and Israel that is unquestionably strong, robust and unbreakable. The details of this relationship are undeniable.
As with any ally, occasional disagreements will arise. But looking at President Obama's record, no president has been more supportive of Israeli security. In this, we in the Jewish community must give him the credit and support that he deserves.
This election presents us with the important choice of who will lead us, but equally important, of how we will be led during the next four years. We must carefully consider which candidate will best represent the values and principles which have nurtured us as Americans and which best reflect our Jewish tradition. This choice should be based not on polls, but on their values, not on focus groups, but on their principles.
Our community and our country both pride themselves on independence, but it is our interdependence, our commitment to each other that will ensure that the future of our country and its principles will be strong.
This is why I believe President Obama is by far the one who continues to deserve our support.
Jeffrey Wohlberg is the senior rabbi emeritus of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., and former president of the Rabbinical Assembly.