Before moving to Pico-Robertson, I spent three years in trendy West Hollywood, where I was the lone independent/conservative voice during an early morning schmoozefest at the Urth Caffé on Melrose Avenue. The term "aggressively liberal" doesn't begin to describe the political leanings of my cappuccino compadres.
But the conversations were sharp and alive, and they charged you up for the workday ahead. Even though our views often diverged, I enjoyed the company of my leftist mates and became friends with many of them.
The thing that stuck with me about my liberal buddies in those years was their extraordinary venom toward the Bush administration. Every cell in their bodies oozed contempt for the "reckless cowboy" who had become the sad emblem of their country. They craved a change in the White House more than a heroin junkie craves another fix.
Now sweep wipe two years later, and I'm sitting at a Shabbat table in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood with a group of politically savvy Orthodox Jews, and, not surprisingly, I'm getting a whole different take on who should occupy the White House.
Clearly, most of my Orthodox brethren are in the Republican camp. There are significant exceptions, of course, especially at the more liberal B'nai David-Judea Congregation, but it's fair to say that the majority of Orthodox voters are an ideological world away from my liberal buddies at the Urth Caffé.
And since almost everybody is assuming an Obama victory, I've been mulling over this crazy question: if you're a McCain voter, can you still feel OK about an Obama victory?
As someone who is friendly with both sides, and who has witnessed all the partisan hysterics, I think the answer is, possibly, yes.
First, after eight years of being on the hot seat, the Republicans can use a break. Let them be the ones who kvetch and throw the arrows for a change. Sometimes it feels good to say: "Here, big mouth, you think you can do better? Take the wheel."
And if we conservatives believe in fairness, it's only fair that Democrats should get their turn at the wheel. We've had our turn for eight long years -- and we should fess up to the obvious: America has veered off course, and it's a lot worse off today than it was eight years ago.
Let's review. Most of the world has stopped fearing us, respecting us or admiring us (let alone listening to us), which can't be too good for our national security. Israel is now surrounded by terrorist armies and a soon-to-be nuclear enemy, who has mocked and outsmarted the tough-talking hombres in the White House. The Republican president I voted for allowed hundreds of my fellow Americans to perish in New Orleans before waking up and doing something. His administration has been extraordinarily divisive and has alienated large and important segments of America. Surge or no surge, we've dropped $600 billion and counting to rebuild Iraq -- while our airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure have become an embarrassment. We are more dependent than ever on oil from terror-sponsoring nations. We've racked up record deficits, we owe a trillion to China, consumer confidence is at an all-time low, and to top it off, we're going through the worst economic crisis in 80 years.
Seriously, if the Republican White House were a corporation, it'd be drowning right now in malpractice suits from angry shareholders.
Instead, in all likelihood, it will suffer the political equivalent: it'll get voted out, and the opposition party will get voted in. That's democracy in action.
John McCain's candidacy -- even had he run a better campaign or chosen a different running mate -- was doomed from the start by its ideological connection to a failed and unpopular administration, a connection McCain could never credibly shake.
Which brings us to Obama. I've met Obama haters who are sure he's a disaster, and Obama lovers who are sure he's a savior. I think he's neither. For me, he's a decent, intelligent man who needs more experience, who's had some dubious relationships, and who has some ideas I like and others I don't. He also has an even-tempered and reflective nature that might have a salutary effect on a nerve-wracked nation. (And regarding Israel, let's be honest: having our biggest supporter ever in the White House hasn't made Israel any safer, or stopped Condi Rice from pestering Israel into making dangerous concessions. So I'm keeping an open mind.)
My key point, though, is this: regardless of how negatively one may feel about Obama or his policies, after eight years we conservatives deserve our failing grade, and our opponents deserve their turn at the plate. If you're not happy with that result, at least remember that it comes from something you love: free elections.
These same free elections might also help this country regain some emotional balance. For too long now, half of the voting public has been stewing in the political wilderness -- feeling angry and powerless, feeding only on the "red meat of outrage." This is not healthy. It breeds bitterness and cynicism. A return to a position of leadership would breed enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility among this alienated group, and encourage their renewed emotional investment in the country.
It'd be like a treatment of mood-stabilizing medication for a bipolar nation.
Republicans, if they lose, would get their own therapy: a chance to reflect on how they betrayed many of their own principles and on how they will need to evolve to stay relevant. They would go through the humble and difficult self-examination that only comes with the sobriety of defeat. If, like my Orthodox neighbors, they are God-fearing, they will see all this as part of God's plan, and they will work to renew themselves for the new century.
That would really be putting "country first."
As for me, if things get too heavy or lonely in the neighborhood, I might just check out my old buddies at the Urth Caffé and tweak them about how President Obama is messing things up.
Cross-posted at the Jewish Journal.
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