It isn't easy.
Deciding what is right or proper is one problem.
Deciding about preferences is another.
Most people don't do it well.
It's not simply a matter of following one crowd or another, and expressing the slogans that politicians and activists use to campaign for or against a candidate or a program.
If we are talking about judging someone wanting to become--or remain--a national leader, or promoting a matter for public policy, there are great challenges and a host of pluses and minuses that can be used in deciding about him or her, or a program on offer.
Simple problems do not reach the government agenda. Politicians leave those to citizens to solve for themselves.
Choosing someone, or doing something for the number of people who comprise the citizens of a country is one of life's most difficult challenges. It involves persuading several clusters of people with different backgrounds, needs, desires, and prejudices. The problems explain why politicians speak in grand generalities, e.g., in favor of "change," "justice," or some other meaningless symbol, and why they must hide their true intentions--if they know what they are--and lie to one group in order to keep appealing to them and others while they may realize that they cannot deliver what they promise.
Speaking truth is a grand goal. We learn not to lie. But political realities are something else. You don't like the word lie, then think of dissimulation, or not telling all the truth, or speaking in generalities that hide more than they reveal.
If one's platform is the world, or if one hopes to deal with the leaders, media, or opinion leaders of other countries, one's tasks are even greater. The crowd being addressed has their own hopes, needs, prejudices, and established political alliances. It's unlikely that a national politician seeking international support can get very many of the varied audiences on board, insofar as that politician must at the same time maintain the support of people within his or her own country.
Democratic politics being an open activity, with freedom of expression and organization, there is no shortage of claimants for office or for determining public policy on one issue or another.
The clamoring of them all makes a lot of noise, not very much of which is reliable information that is worth pondering in order to decide on one's own choice of who or what to support.
Readers may have tired of these abstractions, and are swearing about academic nonsense.
It will help to consider two issues that have produced a fair amount of passion in my mailbox.
One is the condition of Israel's Ethiopians. The problems claimed by activists (Ethiopians and others in their behalf) include the failure of most to have reached Israeli levels of income, housing quality, and other goodies, and experiences of poor judgement, indifference, and even meanness on the part of Israeli officials and citizens.
Prominent among the complainers are overseas Jews who contributed money and otherwise worked in behalf of getting Israel to extract Jews from Ethiopia and to integrate them in Israel. Joining the activists in their chants of dismay and accusation is easy, but it skips over a number of issues that defy judgement.
It's too late to revisit the question about the Jewishness of the Ethiopians, and whether they qualified for immigration to Israel. They are here, largely due to decisions that relied more on inspiration than certainty about stories that might be nothing more than myths about long past events in parts of the world not well known. DNA testing may not solve the issue, but one reading of results is that they do not support the claims of those inclined to find Jewish backgrounds wherever they look. Test results vary, but on some of them Ethiopian Jews test like other Ethiopians and ethnic groups from the Horn of Africa, and not like Jews from elsewhere.
One can accept those here, but also see value in the responses of others. Among them are Orthodox rabbis who insist on a symbolic conversion and putting the kids in religious education in order to assure that they will be Jews. Parents who don't want the Ethiopians mixing with their own kids in school or youth groups may justify charges of racism. Those who charge Israelis generally with racism on account of family violence and other crimes prominent among the Ethiopians overlook the personal problems likely to be encountered in moving between vastly different societies.
Americans or Israelis who haven't spent time in a Third World village (not counting what they see on the Disney Channel or a guided safari of game parks) should admit that the nuances may exceed their grasp.
Americans who damn racist Israelis should think of friends, relatives, and maybe themselves who responded to integration and busing by sending their kids to private schools, including Jewish schools.
We can tell inspiring stories of Ethiopians who have done very well, and sad stories of those stuck in the morass. There is also a continued drum beat that Israel must be more open to a group of Ethiopians labeled "Falash Mura," whose qualifications for immigration are especially problematic.
Anyone wanting to sort out the issues in the murky corner of history occupied by Ethiopian Jews may begin with this link.
Those who argue that Israel should accept Ethiopians whether they are Jews or not should also sign on for accepting the poor of the world as their neighbors, paying for their transport, and providing grants to cover living expenses for several years.
One of my own lessons of cultural gaps between us and the Third World came in a village on the slopes of Mt Kenya, when I spoke with a man about my admiration of his country's concern for wildlife.
His less than friendly response, "A leopard ate my grandmother."
Another came in an Afghan village, when a local asked me how long it took to travel by bus to America. He did not know about the oceans.
Benyamin Netanyahu provides other examples of what makes for difficult judgement.
He is widely blamed for Israel's morass.
Others ask, What morass? We're living well.
Are we, or is this a claim resembling that of the mythic person falling from a tall building, and heard saying, "So far so good?"
Think about a national leader dealing with a population that has had the experience of Israelis, with antagonists who want to turn back history by five or seven decades, Israelis who think that would be a good idea, other Israelis who want to clean their country of non-Jews, and the leaders of other nations who demand political changes that many Israelis have concluded are impossible.
Present judgments about Bibi deal with a high wire act keeping the balance between several political parties with a hair thin majority in the Knesset. Already we have heard from one member of Bibi's own party (a largely unknown Knesset back bencher) threatening to unseat Bibi's government if he doesn't get an appointment as minister.
The cartoonist of Ha'aretz tells part of the story by showing the heads of several parties and Ayelet Shaked being served by the Prime Minister and eating well, while senior MKs of Likud are outside and looking for their meal in the garbage.
Politics, and political judgement is essential to life in a democracy. It can be fun and instructive, but ought to be done with a recognition of complexities that should keep us from high intensity.