Keeps on Ticking by Rabbi Zell
Every fourth January, a significant proportion of the people in this country fall into despair and in some cases becomes incensed because of the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in this nation’s capitol. We call this democracy.
This week marks the fourth presidential inauguration taking place since I moved to Dallas to serve as rabbi at Tiferet. I would be less than genuine if I were to say that I was always happy or even satisfied with the people’s choice. Nevertheless, I have long accepted the following which I believe is beneficial to share with others:
Any and every individual voted into this nation’s office, deserves to be given an opportunity to lead before one decides whether the new leader is a blessing or curse. Furthermore, when making that choice, one ought to strive to be as objective as possible. This would of course require (gasp) ceasing to listen to news channels, as their newscasters spew skewed news. Impartiality seems to have gone the way of the public payphone. However sad it may be, it appears as though Americans are no longer interested in the truth; Americans are interested in having their preconceived notions validated. To prove the point, I once wrote an article (tongue and cheek) on how headlines would have appeared in six leading newspapers, reporting the Egyptian army drowning in the Sea of Reeds, while the Israelites crossed on dry land. One would have thought that six totally different events had taken place! Personally, I begin each day by reading op-eds of leading newspapers, very much aware and attuned to the predilections of the contributor. In other words, I consider the source. Op-eds do not report the news. Op-eds present opinions of events, behaviors, and people, that are currently in the news or were at one time in the news. Reading Op-eds affords the luxury of digesting information and pondering. Watching or listening to radio or television does not.
Three times in my life, have I had the opportunity to spend time with the Governors of the state where I lived. I even asked one of the Governors to take a walk with me, which she did. The Governors I saw on a one-to-one basis, were nothing like the Governor portrayed by the media. And yes, those Governors were from both major political parties. I cannot help but feel, that the same applies to Presidents as well. Behind closed doors, Presidents are real people who put up with mishigas (garbage), sit down with people they loathe (often for good reasons), and settle for bills far from the ones they conceived of originally. Usually, any ill will that is theirs, is directed at others in the government. If Presidents personally wish us no evil, how can we find it in our hearts to wish them evil? For those of us who place great importance on how any administration relates to Israel, we often fail to realize, that the priorities of an American President and the priorities of an Israeli Prime Minister do not always coincide. And it would be unfair on our part to expect any two Presidents to behave in the same fashion toward the Jewish state.
It has been well over a half-century since American news commentator John Cameron Swayze introduced the phrase “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” into American homes. Ostensibly, Mr. Swayze was hawking Timex watches. Upon deeper consideration, Mr. Swayze may have been making a statement about this country. Whereas totalitarian regimes either implode or are overthrown, Democracies have been known to be able to take a licking and keep on ticking. Within the last sixty years, Americans have witnessed a presidential assassination, a presidential resignation, three presidential impeachments that did not lead to convictions, as well as a president that never ran for office and was therefore not elected. Yet, never did the United States of America miss a beat. Aside from insufferable governmental bureaucracy as well as intolerable governmental ineptitude (seemingly incurable diseases that afflict both political parties), my concern and fear are not what any president of either party will do. My concern and fear are what any president of either party will either fail to do or be unable to do. While it is true that law-abiding citizens fear rioting, as they well should, it must not go unnoticed that rioting seldom, if ever takes place because of the President’s political affiliation.
It has been a long-established practice at Shabbat services to ask for HaShem’s blessing for our country and its government. Included in this blessing is the President. I am not aware that the siddur has any political preference. Regardless of how we cast our ballot let us allow the incoming President to lead. Let us not fall prey to the lack of objectivity that has infected the media. Let us realize that behind closed doors, one typically finds an individual much different than the one seen in the public eye. And let us remember, that regardless of who occupies the White House, America keeps on ticking.