It is not just the Arabs who are having their spring. Here in the United States Americans are calling their government to account like never before.
Driving to JFK airport early this morning for a flight to Los Angeles, I discovered that the cost to cross the George Washington Bridge had jumped from $8 to $12. The decision was made by the Port Authority without any input from the citizenry. The Triboro Bridge was then another $6.50 to cross, and these in two states -- New Jersey and New York -- which both have nearly ten percent income tax (on top of the approximate 35% federal income tax), large sales tax, and the highest property taxes in the nation. Apparently none of these taxes cover the maintenance of an old bridge for which you have to pay exorbitant fees that keep on skyrocketing up.
You begin to understand why Americans are so fed up with their inept government and out-of-control bureaucrats and politicians who, no matter how much money they raise in taxes, still have not enough.
I have never seen a time like this in the United States where the populace is so angry with their government. Congress has an approval rating in the low teens and President Obama, who just three years ago was christened the American messiah, has become so irrelevant that his address to a joint session of Congress on his jobs bill had to be delivered outside of prime time at 7pm because Americans preferred to watch football. And why listen when nearly every speech he delivers on saving the economy involves his predictable remedy of spending tens of billions more with no palpable benefit.
The shockwaves generated by Bob Turner's win in New York's ninth district, which hasn't had a Republican congressman since the 1920s, are waking both parties up to the fiscal accountability Americans are demanding of their governments. Families are struggling. Jobs are scarce. Parents are wrestling to put food on the table. Still our politicians can't get over their addiction to spending and wasting Americans' hard-earned cash.
What is at stake is the rugged individualism upon which America was founded and through which it has prospered. America is a compassionate society that has built strong safety nets to care for those in need. But this was never meant to be a first option but a last resort. At the core of American values is the dignity of the human person and the knowledge that people do not want to be supported by anyone but themselves. Humans desire innately to produce more than they consume, to live lives that are a blessing rather than a burden to others. It's the first lesson that responsible parents teach their children. Make your own bed. Clean your own room. Do your homework and ask for assistance only when necessary. Get a part-time job even as a student so as to assist the family with paying tuition. And it is this basic premise that voters are committed to firmly reestablishing on a national level before the country goes bankrupt with entitlement programs run a-muck.
It seems incredible that President Obama still doesn't get the message, speaking instead about renewing school buildings for billions of dollars, as if shiny new paint is an adequate substitute for teaching young Americans the value of self-reliance.
And this political tone-deafness is leading Americans to challenge their government with a gusto that leaves politicians ensconced in previously safe seats running for their lives. When I moved back to the United States after living in England for more than a decade, I settled into the town of Englewood, New Jersey, and simply got used to paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in property taxes, even as I had to earn a Ph.D. in what the sanitation workers would remove in my trash and what I had to schlep to the dump myself. I grew accustomed to the potholes in the streets outside my house and driving down the road as if in a lunar module traversing pock-mocked craters. I submitted, as did so many citizens, to the bullying of bureaucrats who issued citations and even threatened arrest warrants if the wrong type of vehicle was parked in my driveway.
But the times they are a changin'. There is a backlash in our city -- still inadequate but a backlash nonetheless -- against the sky-high taxes that keep on rising every year. More citizens than ever are challenging their assessed property values as they struggle to keep up with their impossibly high taxes.
Since about 1982 the City of Englewood has not even challenged the Libyan-Kaddafi compound's right to be exempt from property tax. Overtaxed citizens were required to pay for the Libyans police protection and trash removal, even as Kaddafi embarked on a program of bombing airliners and killing American servicemen in a discotheque in Berlin. But the silence of the citizens is dissipating in favor of outrage and pressure is finally being put on our elected council to force the Libyans to pay their fair share, especially since they already enjoy an exemption on their Ambassadorial residence in Manhattan. No New Jersey citizen should be expected to finance in whatever measure a terror-sponsoring government in its midst and it is an absolute disgrace that successive Englewood-elected leaders have required their citizens to pay taxes that supported Kaddafi.
Kaddafi may now be out of power, but where is the outrage against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveling to the United States yet again this week to peddle his Jew-hatred, threats of Israel's extinction, and insipid theories of American collusion in the attacks of 9/11. Who gave this man a visa?
In August, President Obama signed a presidential order barring entry to the United States for individuals "who organize or participate in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of human rights." The initiative was championed by the President's Chief Advisor on human rights, Samantha Power, the world's foremost voice against genocide and a woman for whom I have enormous respect. It was she who was largely credited for American action against Kaddafi. But then why is Ahmadinejad, who calls for Israel's obliteration and mowed down his own people in June 2009 when they rose against him in the streets of Tehran, permitted to come to our shores?
And how sad that NBC News sanitized this killer with their 'day-in-the-life' puff piece that portrayed a man threatening a second holocaust as a caring leader dedicated to Iran's poor, when in reality he has unleashed his thugs to murder and brutalize those in Iran whose only crime is seeking the right to stand up to their fraudulently elected leaders.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's new book, "Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself" (Wiley) will be published later this month, followed by Kosher Jesus (Gefen). He is the founder of This World: The Values Network. Follow him Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Dedicated to the Memory of Machla Debakarov
Follow Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RabbiShmuley