Until you have sought Federal office there is no way you could even dream of the rigors of running. I am in its earliest stages and can barely believe the daily fundraising, phone calls to party delegates and leaders, grass-roots campaigning and meeting people (which is the part I love), and the challenges of balancing the professional and personal. You need to run a million things by lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. You're constantly on conference calls trying to figure the whole byzantine process out. And then you have the press pushing for your position on every aspect of life and policy (still, I prefer talking values and policy to fundraising!). And I'm trying to do all this while still finding time to write my regular columns and I'm finishing a book on a spiritual response to human suffering.
So why am I doing this, especially in a district where it's a tough uphill climb for me to win? Michelle Goldberg of Newsweek -- whose tough interview with me I enjoyed -- wrote a whole piece questioning why I'm running and why I'm running as a Republican. Some of it was deeply insightful, some of it slightly off course. But she is right that there is the further consideration that I am a Rabbi and by running as part of any party -- I am a Republican -- I immediately bifurcate my audience, not to mention remove the focus from some of my other endeavors like my brand new book Kosher Jesus, which has just been released, and my efforts to heal American families through relationships counseling.
But with all that, I am running because America desperately needs a values-voice in Congress -- or even running for Congress -- to steer the nation back to the real, rather than imagined challenges it faces. Values in America have been hijacked. Today they seem to be mostly about contraception, abortion, and gay marriage. These are distractions that are taking us away from lowering the divorce rate, reversing the trend of narcissism among youth, curbing growing materialism by recreating an American Sabbath, and having values courses in public schools as well as vouchers for school choice. By focusing on tangential issues -- however important they are to my Christian brothers and sisters -- we are slowly eroding the moral fabric of our nation. The world depends on America. It needs a robust United States. But we are getting weaker by not shoring up our own moral fiber.
These distractions have to end. Someone has to say it. I may lose the election. The odds to beat are tough. But I will fight like hell and make my case -- with God's blessing -- that America is too important a nation to the entire world to atrophy through inattention to core values or an obsession with culture war distractions.
And what are our core values and why, amid most of my friends and acquaintances being liberal democrats (I work in media!) am I running as a Republican? More than anything the central value of America is the importance of the individual. We rebelled against monarchist England because some unelected guy was telling us what do to. Who put him in a position of authority? Divine right of kings? Give me a break. G-d made all people in his image. We're all equal. There is no royal, blue blood. Not one among us is more important than the next. And the first nation in modern history to so firmly emphasize the infinite worth of the individual was America.
I love the American pioneering spirit. I love its emphasis on entrepreneurship and personal endeavor. I love its belief that human dignity comes about through self-reliance. The way we help the poor and the underprivileged -- and I have had my own very challenging times as well -- is to give them the tools to do for themselves rather than stripping them of dignity by creating dependence.
I love that America lives by the Biblical injunction of 'Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.' We have expended endless blood and treasure fighting bad guys around the world to protect complete strangers from genocide and slaughter. I believe that George W. Bush had, for the most part, a moral foreign policy that committed America to protecting the weak. I believe we have to continue - choosing our battle, to be sure, and not overextending ourselves -- to shore up personal liberty and freedom throughout the world.
I am running as a Rabbi and as a Jew.
Jews have contributed mightily to America and indeed even now there are outstanding Jewish members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. But beyond politicians who are Jewish, we need political voices that are Jewish, that bring Jewish wisdom, values, and tradition to bear on America's challenges. The universality of specifically Jewish values can bring so much healing to America. Let's shift the discussion away from social sexual issues which allow religion to be portrayed as extreme and focus almost exclusively on sex to values that promote the family, deepen our spiritual commitments, and make us more selfless and unified.
I wrote Kosher Sex over a decade ago to demonstrate to America the healthy, holy attitude toward sex. Sex is the glorious glue that brings oneness and intimacy to husband and wife who prior to becoming lovers were strangers. Let's get back to that positive message rather than always emphasizing sex as procreation, which is contradicted by Genesis 2:24 where it says explicitly that sex is designed to bring intimacy to a husband and wife. The more positive we are about the sex and its sacredness, the more we will influence people to utilize its power for positive, life-affirming goals.
I am a Republican because I believe the relationship between government and the individual to be inversely proportional, such that the bigger the government the smaller the person. I am part of a religion that believes above all else in choice. Judaism's emphasis on personal initiative, creativity, and entrepreneurship -- amid its steadfast commitment to charity, hospitality, and community -- has always appealed to me. Hence I am for lowering taxes, letting people keep more of that they earn, and encouraging them to be more personally compassionate and philanthropic.
But that does not mean that I am in lockstep with the party on all things. Indeed, my values are not. America must close its border and finally deal seriously with the illegal immigration issue. But there is a substantial difference between a man who illegally crosses the Rio Grande because he loves America, believes in its opportunity, and wants to send money home to his babies, to a terrorist who hates America and comes into this country to blow up babies. Judaism is a logical religion. It prides itself on rationality, even as it embraces the supra-rational. Rational approaches are a must for all problems. Deporting twelve million people is not rational and it is not human. Giving them a path to residency or citizenship, while imposing penalties for having come here illegally, is workable. Besides, they enjoy the bounty of America. They should pay their taxes and contribute to the nation. Sure, close the borders. That should have been done a long time ago. But deal with the people who are here and give them a path by which to contribute to this nation and pay their share.
I pledge in this campaign not to add to the growing partisan divide. I actually hate it. I love the United States of America. I don't want to live in China or Russia where, for all intents and purposes, there is one party. No, we need two parties. Two strong, robust parties that balance each other and add to personal freedom.
The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, said movingly that a bird needs two wings on opposite ends of its body to fly. It needs antithetical propulsion, wings pushing against each other, to lift off.
One of the reasons that I've decided to run was witnessing just how corrosive having one party in power in my city of Englewood, New Jersey -- all elected officials are Democrats - to the citizenry. We have some of the highest property taxes in the country and some of the poorest services. This is not a function of everyone being Democrats but a function of one party rule. I could not get my city officials to even take action against the Libyan embassy which is my next-door neighbor. And why should they when they enjoy complete political hegemony. That is never healthy for any municipality, state, or nation.
I will endeavor my best to come out of this race the same person who went in to it, albeit wiser and hopefully even more pure. My dear friend Mayor Cory Booker of Newark who is the most popular Democrat in New Jersey said to me, "Don't let politics shape you, Shmuley. You have to shape politics." I will try. Sometimes I'll succeed, no doubt sometimes I'll fail. But honestly, with all my heart and with God's blessing, I will try.
I intend to keep all of you fully informed about the political process and the campaign, what I learn along the way, what the process is like, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and try and extract something we can all learn from it.
God bless you all.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is running for Congress in New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. Last week he won the Bergen Country Republican Endorsement in a decisive vote. www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.