Troubled Waters

The debt deal approved by Congress and signed into law by President Obama leaves us feeling slightly seasick. The queasiness may disappear after a while if those charged with taking the next steps to right our dangerously imbalanced economy miraculously do the right thing. But in our gut, we fear the more likely scenario, as the waves grow higher and more threatening, and we realize what a mistake it was to steer our damaged ship through such compromised waters.

To get overly parochial for a moment, this is not good for the Jews.

Obama deserves his share of the blame for waiting far too long to assert effective leadership, in dealing with both an obstinate Republican opposition (did he really expect any other kind?) and a Democratic party that is in partial denial about the tough choices ahead. There was too much scolding and not enough of the skillful negotiating tools that successful bargainers know how to employ. For Washington to emerge from this episode bruised and pessimistic is hardly what the buoyant, post-partisan president promised when he strode into town two years ago.

But if Obama was shaky on process, he was dead right on policy. This was, indeed, a time for ambitious moves, and the fact that House Speaker John Boehner was too cowardly to secure his side of the “grand bargain” is one of the central reasons for our deep sense of dread. Even more worrisome is the ideological blindness that has struck too many Republicans, who continue to believe that the only way out of this crisis is to emaciate government and destroy public services in the utterly vain hope that a small cadre of ultra-rich Americans (and campaign contributors) will suddenly decide to create a zillion jobs. As if that’s happened anytime this century.

So why would the prospect of continued political stalemate and wrong-headed economic policy be bad for the Jews? To begin with, because we are Americans. We have flourished here like nowhere else in the Diaspora, due to America’s religious tolerance and economic openness, but also because this is a nation that aspires to ideals of social justice and communal responsibility that overlap so comfortably with Judaism’s concepts of community, empathy and sacrifice.

The Republicans are tossing those values overboard with reckless abandon. It makes us worry what will be next.

Second, because a weakened America will lead to a weakened Israel, no doubt about it. Everything from military aid to diplomatic muscle is dependent on this nation being strong and sound financially. Taking baby steps to reduce federal spending without taxing the ultra-rich and tackling entitlements diminishes the possibility that Israel’s most essential ally will retain its leading role on the world’s stage. Those who support the zealots on the right — unfortunately led by the highest-ranking Jew in Congress — only because they are perceived to be “pro-Israel” are dangerously misguided.

This is the wrong time to be a single-issue voter. America needs broad-minded courage and a renewed spirit of compassion and sacrifice if it is going to weather this crippling storm. And it needs this from all its citizens.

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Troubled Waters

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