Lieberman Knows Whatís Best For Us

Barry Fagin

Colorado Springs Gazette

8-30-00

 

ďSo, what do you think of Lieberman?ĒLike every other Jew in Colorado Springs, Iíve been asked that a lot.Nobodyís asked me about Cheney.Come to think of it, nobodyís asked me about Bush or Gore.So Iím glad somebodyís been picked who gets people asking for my opinion.After all, I profess for a living.

 

I know what my grandmother would have said.ďOy, thatís just what we need.More trouble, more trouble, whenever we stick out our noses the goyim (non-Jews) will just make troubleĒ.If I had shared the experiences of her generation, Iíd probably agree.

 

My parents, however, grew up in a less threatening world. Longtime Democrats, they were delegates at the 1968 convention in Chicago, and I grew up thinking most families had Democratic presidential candidates as house guests.I know theyíre delighted with Goreís choice.

 

My own feelings are a bit less enthusiastic.On the one hand, thereís no denying my personal sense of comfort.Although itís a terrible double standard, Iím much more comfortable with religion in politics when the religion is my own.One difference is that I can see itís a double standard, and I can try to be wary of it.

 

Another difference, I think, is that Judaism, even Orthodox Judaism, is so different from the religions with which it is compared that many of the traditional objections to mixing religion and politics vanish.For one, only a tiny minority of Jews treat the Bible literally.In addition to the Old Testament, there is a long history of writings and interpretive commentary that are given equal weight in Jewish law.So those who are concerned about Biblical literalism have nothing to fear from Jews in political office.

 

Perhaps more importantly, Jewish tradition says that the Torah is the law for Jews, not for everyone else.We believe it points the way to a better life for everyone, and we hope to persuade others of its merits through personal example, but there is no precedent in Jewish law for compelling non-Jews to obey it.So citing biblical precedent as a justification for legislation is, in my judgment, profoundly anti-Jewish.

 

And yet, I find Lieberman a troubling candidate.For one, his commitment to civil liberties is vague at best.He has sponsored legislation in support of warantless wiretapping, and isa leading critic of American popular culture.Itís clear that he would have no qualms about using the heavy hand of government to regulate how Americans choose to entertain themselves.Fortunately, as a Jew he cannot and does not make biblical arguments for these views.

 

He also seems unwilling to discern when American armed forces should and should not be used: he has been an enthusiastic supporter of military intervention whenever possible.I was on a radio show last week with a Colorado state legislator, also Jewish, who pointed out that Jews have traditionally favored American intervention in the world because of our experience in World War II.Without American military might, Hitler could easily have won and annihilated our people from the face of the earth.I believe he is absolutely right.

 

But is every flashpoint in the post Cold War world a potential World War III?Is Somalia?Haiti?Bosnia? Iraq?Kosovo?North Korea?Chechnya?If the result of World War II is an underpaid American military that is obligated everywhere, one that is stretched too thin to do its job, one whose ethic of service compels its members to place their lives in harmís way without any thoughtful deliberation of whether their sacrifice is truly necessary, then the legacy of Nazism will be terrible indeed.A thoughtful Jewish senator would understand this.Lieberman does not.

 

Ultimately, Lieberman is like most other Democratic party figures:he believes he knows what is best for people, and has very little confidence in our ability to run our lives without direction from Washington.We canít be trusted with our retirement savings, we canít be trusted to send our kids to the right schools, we canít be trusted to help the poor, we canít even be trusted to watch the right TV shows.

 

I wish I knew why so many Jews, about 80% of whom will vote Democratic this fall, find this message so appealing.Some of us think that Tikkun Olam,the Jewish obligation to repair the world, is different from trying to run it.Jews like us, I suspect, may never know the answer.

 

Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a Colorado think tank.He is also a lay Torah Reader at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, and a recipient of the National Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU.