Great theater. Free admission.

Politics is not only the most civilized way of dealing with disagreements that occur in complex societies. It also provides good theater. Occasionally great theater, when it is possible to see contending elements with their roots in history and raw emotion, with implications for decisions fateful not only for individuals but for communities and ideological perspectives.
There are several performances competing for our attention. Us retirees can can a break from our other pressing duties to watch full time. Our working friends and relatives should plow on with earning their living, but take a few moments to watch the action on one or another stage.
Occupying Israelis are the early noises of a coming election. Voting may not occur until sometime in 2013, but the players are warming up. Most prominent in recent days are the entries of two high profile outsiders, each likely to attract votes, but each already earning boos from those who question their political qualifications.
Yair Lapid was expected to run. He is movie star handsome, bright, articulate with name recognition from years as a media personality, and the son of a media star and successful politician. Those wanting to probe his credentials can read the story of his late father, former MK and Minister Tomi Lapid, Memories After My Death. Yair authored the Hebrew version, and appears as coauthor for the English translation.
But what does he stand for? What party will he create? Who will he choose as his running mates? Commentators are speculating on all of this, as well as wondering if the media star is tough enough to create a political campaign, make the deals necessary to translate Knesset seats into places in the next government, and continue as policymaker.
Even tougher questions are being asked about another newcomer. Noam Shalit came to public attention as the father of Gilad, the soldier seized by Palestinians, held in Gaza for five and one-half years, and released in October. Noam did well as the family leader and front man in national and international campaigns to keep Gilad''s case on Israel''s agenda. He is soft spoken, comes across as a private person forced into the spotlight. He bumbled his way through an announcement of his candidacy in the Labor Party primary to select its Knesset list, whenever that will be.
Given his lack of political party accomplishments to date, it is hard to imagine that Shalit will parley his decency and name recognition into more than a back bench Labor Party seat, if that much. The party is noted for the ferocity of its internal politicking. Its various contenders will not step aside for an outsider, no matter how nice and how many votes his name, picture, and quiet words may attract.
The responses to Shalit as well as to Lapid included an op-ed item by one of the country''s most prominent political scientists, my colleague and friend, and long time Labor Party activist, Shlomo Avineri. The headline was "Neither Lapid nor Shalit deserves to be in politics." The sub-headline: "Many people who are impressed with Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich''s integrity will have trouble voting for her if Shalit is on her list. His place, with all due respect, is at home."
Avineri suggested that the next candidacy might come from the winner of a popular TV reality show.
"the teenagers (and some of their parents ) [will] know who he is . . . But the Israeli people deserve something better than such people who anoint themselves its leaders."
The Knesset Member who is arguably the most beautiful of the country''s politicians, Anastassia Michaeli, earned 24 hours of attention for a one act performance. She objected to the way a prominent Arab MK was chairing a committee, and in full view of the cameras splashed a glass of water on him.
The Knesset''s Disciplinary Committee suspended Michaeli from all parliamentary activity except floor voting for a month.The head of her party, Avigdor Lieberman, joined in the condemnation. Israel''s wags refer to Lieberman as Stalinist, due both to his origins and his manner of running the Israel our Home political party. Guesses are that Michaeli will not have a place on the party''s ticket for the next election. Lieberman also dumped the embarrassing Esterina Tartman, also an attractive MK with roots in the former Soviet Union, due to her being caught fibbing about an academic degree, and questions about a disability claim.
The Michaeli and Tartman cases should provide a heads up for Yair Lapid. They point to the problems of a prominent figure who enters politics as the head of a new party, and must decide which of the many unknowns anxious to join the list of candidates will bring assets or embarrassment. It was the embarrassments from one colleague that helped bring down the party created by Yair''s father.
No less thrilling than Israel''s recent performances are the Republican primaries in the United States. Mitt Romney has carried the label of obvious winner, but Newt Gingrich has unfurled a vicious campaign that may deal a fatal blow. A short clip and a half-four film attack Romney''s record as a capitalist carnivore who became rich and famous by destroying companies, towns, and the lives of individual workers.
The charges are ripe for the upcoming South Carolina primary. Southern Republicans used to be Southern Democrats, who coupled racism with populism meant to attract the support of the country''s poorest whites. As Republicans, Southerners may be rendered ambivalent by their populist roots and lots of poor voters, along with their present party''s traditional support of capitalism, free markets, limited government, and do what it takes to become rich. But even its supporters know that capitalism has its faults, and Republicans with family histories of populism may be led by the Gingrich campaign to strike a severe blow to Romney. How the campaign will work in South Carolina, and whether it will work outside of one of the South''s poorest states will be something to watch.
Nothing political exists in a vacuum. Among the various sub-texts in South Carolina and later will be reminders of Gingrich''s own dirty laundry, comprised of several marriages and adulterous affairs. And it is more than a two-person race. Strange is the word to describe other candidates and their performances so far in this primary season, especially Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. The pizza magnate Herman Cain is no longer on stage, nor is the Michele Bachmann. Rick Perry is hanging on, but his fingers may be tiring. There is still plenty to watch, while that other candidate moves toward a goal of one billion dollars to finance a campaign against whoever. Meanwhile, unemployment is down and the stock market is up. November is only 10 months away.