Counterpoint: Where are our leaders?

The officials we choose reflect the collective character of the country.

david forman 88 (photo credit:)
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Before the Democratic US presidential campaign began, Hillary Clinton was considered her party's presumptive nominee. Then along came a relatively unknown challenger, Barack Obama, who, after a laborious and grueling battle, managed to subdue the well-oiled and well-connected Clinton political machine. Obama's victory was primarily due to his message of hope and change, his oratorical skills, his fine-tuned campaign and his overall charisma. But he got some help from Hillary's husband, former president Bill Clinton, who seemed to falter on the campaign trail, losing much of the star quality and personal luster that catapulted him to the presidency in 1992. Many political pundits blame Bill for Hillary's failure to ultimately secure the nomination. His legacy, already significantly impaired by his illicit affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, was further damaged. I always felt that Hillary should have divorced her husband when his sexual tryst with Lewinsky came to light. After he undermined her bid for the Democratic nomination for president, it seems now would be an opportune time for her to send Bill packing. If that were to happen, I would suggest that Clinton do right by his jilted intern, Monica, and marry her. Why - to salvage his political career and rebuild his legacy. Being Jewish, Monica could move to Israel and be granted automatic citizenship under the Law of Return that confers citizenship upon any Jew (barring a criminal). As her husband, Clinton would also be granted citizenship. Israel imposes no restrictions on a citizen born in another country, which means Clinton could seek public office. His natural charm worked wonders on us, and he worked assiduously to achieve a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis loved him, as did Palestinians. He would win the premiership hands down. Although possessed of some blatant moral deficiencies, in matters of domestic and foreign policy Clinton's presidency was inspired - marked by intelligence, fortitude and reason. He surrounded himself with competent individuals, not the political hacks who occupy seats of power in our government or know how to blackmail the coalitions to satisfy their narrow and self-serving interests. In Israel, party loyalty is rewarded above intellectual acumen and practical astuteness. Bill Clinton - rogue that he is - dwarfs any of our politicians. Indeed, our leaders are corrupt, bungling and far more ethically challenged than Clinton ever was: a finance minister charged with embezzlement, a president accused of rape, defense and justice ministers convicted for sexual misconduct and a prime minister likely to be indicted for fraud. Even worse, all the above were failures in their fields of responsibility. It's unbelievable, it's shameful, it's intolerable. YET, WE suffer from another baffling phenomenon. While we may lag behind much of the Western world when it comes to recycling, we are far ahead regarding recycling failed leaders like Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. However worn, wasted or decrepit they are, we drop them in a leadership bin, compress them, repackage them and churn them out for reuse. We would be far better off discarding the present crop of political apparatchiks than seeing them pasted back together for more use, or should I say more abuse. As American folksinger/satirist Tom Paxton wrote: "What did you learn in school today, Dear little boy of mine? I learned our leaders are the 'finest' men. And we elect them again and again. That's what I learned in school today. That's what I learned in school." But, worse than our enthusiasm for recycling disastrous leaders is our willingness to tolerate certain personalities to head political parties - ones with gangster-like resumes (Arkadi Gaydamak, Shmuel Flatto-Sharon and Avigdor Lieberman), marionettes who can't make a move without the consent of their religious gurus (Eli Yishai and Avraham Ravitz), bigots (Effi Eitam and the late Meir Kahane), or an extremist demagogue (Azmi Bishara). People of integrity wind up in the political trash can (Dan Meridor, Avraham Burg, Benny Begin, Ofer Pines-Paz, Yossi Sarid and, I bet, Tzipi Livni). Tragically, we have been left not only with a cadre of moral derelicts to choose from, but with a host of political buffoons to vote for. However, we, the citizenry are to blame. We get what we deserve. The leaders we choose reflect the will of the voters and the collective character of the country. Further, we have accepted a parliamentary system that fosters ineptitude. Because there is no representational form of government where our elected officials must respond to their constituents, not only is the Knesset a breeding ground for incompetence, but also for corruption. The most important form of checks and balances - public accountability - does not exist. What this country desperately needs and deserves is a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." But this can only happen when we, the people, begin to assert ourselves. There was a time when we believed that social protest and political activism could change the status quo. Motti Ashkenazi led a revolution after the Yom Kippur War that brought an end to Golda Meir's government; the 24-hour-a-day vigil for those killed in the First Lebanon War, held across the street from the prime minister's residence, drove Menachem Begin from office; and the 400,000 who stood in Kikar Malchei Yisrael in Tel Aviv to protest the Sabra and Shatilla massacres established the Kahan Commission that returned Ariel Sharon to his farm (even if temporarily). Why weren't there hundreds of thousands of us calling for Ehud Olmert's immediate resignation after the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War? Failing to have done that, why did we not fill the public squares in every city demanding that he vacate his seat as prime minister because of the increasing evidence that he is an out-and-out thief - well before his belated announcement that he won't compete in the Kadima primaries, which, in the end, could leave us to suffer him as a caretaker prime minister for who knows how long? Where were we when one woman after another came forward to say her "j'accuse" against Moshe Katsav? Why did all those who voted for the Labor Party not scream bloody murder when Amir Peretz appointed himself defense minister? Somehow, we have become numb, retreating into our own private worlds; thinking that we can somehow protect ourselves from being morally stained by such discreditable leadership. However, had we been engaged, we might have changed the political atmosphere in the country, thus saving us from heartache and embarrassment. Perhaps then, those who run for public office would know that they would be held ethically and politically answerable for their actions and behavior. Until we collectively step up to the plate and say "no more," we may have to fantasize that our salvation will better come from outside - from William Jefferson Clinton.