As I’ve written before, I have a problem with my name.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it. It’s just that, unlike Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, or Newt Gingrich, mine is anything but distinctive, so much so that I keep running into namesakes, starting with my college days when David Harris, anti-Vietnam activist and future husband of Joan Baez, surfaced.
For instance, when my family moved to our current home, lo and behold, our next-door neighbor turned out to be a David Harris as well, sowing confusion in the area and especially for the postman. But I was lucky, or so I thought. A package arrived and I opened it to find two tickets for a Caribbean cruise in my name. Not those phony come-ons with all the fine print, but the real deal. There clearly were advantages to our new abode, I concluded, until the phone rang and my neighbor asked if, by any chance, a package from a cruise company had arrived. So much for the dream trip.
But all this is small potatoes compared to my real nemesis. He even shares the same middle name, Alan.
Things turned tricky when he entered the Jewish world and began working with the American Jewish Congress. Here I am employed by the American Jewish Committee. Two guys with the exact same name and the very same initials of our respective organizations.
That was bad enough. Then, things got worse. He decided to join the National Jewish Democratic Council. That’s Democratic as in Democratic Party. He did so well there that he now heads it, which means visibility.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent a lot of years avoiding party affiliation or label, and, I should add, my organization’s tax-exempt status depends on strict nonpartisanship.
In fact, despite countless pleas, I’ve even refused to tell my beloved mother how I vote, lest she inadvertently reveal it to a friend or, worse, the hairdresser.
But now, my nemesis pops up in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal with some regularity, all the more so as the election season heats up and the Jewish vote is once again in play. There he is, at every step, lauding the Democrats and panning the Republicans.
And as sure as day follows night, each time he surfaces, I get emails from folks of the Republican persuasion along the following lines: “Aha, I suspected it all along. You really are a Democrat, despite your attempted cover. And AJC is just another one of those liberal organizations fronting as a nonpartisan group.”
Each note requires a personal reply, with, I might add, no guarantee of success. No, that’s not me, you see, that’s the other David Harris. I’m the nonpartisan guy.
Meanwhile, ironically, not a day passes that I don’t get emails from those on the left who accuse me and AJC of really being on the right, while masquerading as above the partisan fray.
As 2012 rolls around, here’s my secret wish: President Obama will recognize the talent and loyalty of David Harris the Democrat, and offer him an ambassadorship. I’ll even be happy to write a letter of reference on one condition – the post must be in Bhutan, Brunei, or Burkina Faso.
In the interim, I’ll just keep plugging along, avoiding the ideological straightjackets that more and more people seem to be wearing today in our frustratingly polarized society.
Take just one example.
The other day, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke in Washington on the Middle East. He said a lot in his remarks.
Jewish Democrats cherrypicked what they wanted to hear and lauded his comments. Jewish Republicans listened equally selectively and denounced the remarks.
The Democrats focused on Panetta’s reaffirmation of the strength and vitality of the U.S.-Israel relationship – “Our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”; American support for Israel’s security – “Our core commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge”; concern about Iran – “Our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons”; and the depth of his personal connection to the Jewish state – “My personal commitment to Israel goes back to my days as a Member of Congress.”
The Republicans dwelled on the various doubts he voiced about the actual use of the military option against Iran, wondering what signal it sent Tehran. They chided him for pressing Israel to patch things up with Ankara and Cairo, at a time when neither Turkey nor Egypt shows a whole lot of interest in moving closer to Jerusalem. And they were upset to hear him call for both Israelis and Palestinians to get back to the “damn (peace) table,” as if Israel hadn’t been sitting there all along while the Palestinians were a chronic no-show.
From where I sit, there’s truth in both assessments, heresy (or, should I say, Harrisy) though it may be to some, which is why I suppose I’m not about to join any partisan ranks anytime soon. I’ll leave the Democratic side of the ledger to my namesake, and wouldn’t be surprised if, given the ubiquity of the name, a Republican David Harris showed up sooner rather than later.
And all along, alas, I just wanted to be confused with the real David Harris – the fearsome linebacker for the New York Jets. Fat chance, I guess.