Thought for the Day - Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer - 07/11/2012
Thought for the Day
I am very relieved that America has finally chosen its next
president and it’s about time too. After a year of relentless campaigning the candidates have collectively spent close to 3 billion dollars, clocked up thousands of travelling miles and addressed hundreds of rallies. It’s a gruelling process and it self-selects the most tenacious, focused and driven of candidates. US Presidential elections are not for sissies.
And yet, while emotionally draining and physically demanding, campaigning is easy stuff compared to the actual job of President of the USA. Candidates make promises. Presidents make decisions. Campaigns highlight the possible, administrations must decide what is plausible.
And the thing about decision making, especially in a country of over three hundred million souls is that whatever the decision, you end up offending an awful lot of people. It’s not for nothing that Presidents tend to leave office a lot greyer than when they entered.
This is alluded to in the Bible in the story describing the death of Moses. Based on a close reading of the text the rabbis contrasted the passage with that describing the death of his brother Aaron. When Moses died the passage implies that he was not universally mourned unlike Aaron who was. The reason for this was because Aaron was not responsible for making leadership decisions. He was High Priest, a religious figure whose realm of responsibility was confined to ritual devotion. Moses however was as much a political leader as law-giver and no leader is ever universally popular.
And so the challenge for Barack Obama is not to shy away from making necessary decisions even if they cost popularity. Seeking popularity is a necessary evil, a means to gain high office; it should never be sought for its own sake by the holder of such an office.
Americans are a complex people. The great novelist John Steinbeck wrote that this is because we are ‘a breed selected out by accident,and so we’re over-brave and over-fearful, overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed; we’re over- sentimental and realistic. The description is as true today as when Steinbeck wrote it in the 50s. We have great strengths and great weaknesses and nothing exposes them like a national campaign. It is up to President Obama to lead America in such a way that harnesses its strengths and minimizes its weaknesses. May God grant him the wisdom and courage to succeed.