An unforgiving electorate invites mediocrity in office

Although we have nearly the highest property taxes in America, Englewood, New Jersey can barely afford to fix its own streets.

Power Outage 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Power Outage 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Readers of this column will know that last week my wife and I, thank God, married off our eldest child. What they may not know are the conditions we endured for several days prior to the wedding when a freak snow storm caused a power outage in our home town of Englewood, New Jersey, and much of the Northeast.
We were preparing for a wedding with a house filled with relatives from around the world who, freezing with no heat, light, or phones, thought America was a third world country. Compounding that feeling were the dilapidated roads, like Interstate 95 – one of the America’s premier highways – that passes near our home and that is so full of potholes and is perennially under construction so it is reminiscent a war zone like Kandahar. Add to that the staggering traffic in New York City, where it can take 30 minutes just to go around a city block, and my Australian, European and Israeli relatives came to the conclusion that America is teetering on the brink.
We were fortunate that, although the beautiful Rockleigh Country Club where the wedding was held itself lost power, internal generators allowed us to proceed with a magnificent wedding. But a few relatives who were supposed to stay for the seven days of celebration that traditionally follow a Jewish wedding left in the morning hours after the ceremony swearing they could no longer endure the freezing conditions to which our area of the country subjected them. They were right.
Yes, a freak snow storm in October is a challenge.
But this is the third multi-day power outage we’ve had in about half a year. These could have been easily avoided if our town had made the investment to run the power lines under ground where they belong, where trees can’t knock them out of commission and where they can’t dangle and kill small children, as tragically happened in our area in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
But although we have nearly the highest property taxes in America, our town can barely afford to fix its own streets, let alone move power lines underground. Most New York and New Jersey municipalities spend upwards of $23,000 per public school student and are locked into such expensive union contracts that they simply don’t have the funds to upgrade infrastructure. The roads in the New York metropolitan area are a disaster zone and will remain that way indefinitely.
While the world reads daily about America’s high unemployment rate and a staggering national debt that just about equals its GDP, what they don’t see is the dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure or the nightmare traffic jams in all its big cities. But government has spent so much money on so many wasteful and ineffective social programs that the funds to stop America from crumbling simply don’t exist.
Truth be told, we should by now all be sick of just complaining about the problems. The last thing America needs is more armchair pundits or television talking heads. It’s time we all did something about it.
WHEN I was a guest on the Glenn Beck Program a few weeks ago, he gave his version of the Ten Commandments, one of which was the obligation to run for elective office if you see your country suffering and more worthy candidates than yourself do not exist. This is probably what America most needs: courageous, principled, visionary and determined citizens unseating the do-nothing class of politicians who watch America crumble by the day yet continue to waste our hard-earned money on efforts that yield few results.
But anyone who has watched what has happened to Herman Cain the past few days will understand why few choose to run and we continue to see mediocrity in the political classes. We’re all human and fallible and most people have things in their past of which they’re not proud. The last thing they want is to be crucified by the media for previous mistakes.
If Herman Cain harassed women of course it should not be overlooked. These are serious allegations and the American people deserve to know that they are electing dependable, good and honest people.
But if we lived in a society that had proper values, including that of forgiveness, then Cain and many like him – if the allegations against them are true – could get up in front of the public, admit their mistakes, request forgiveness, change their ways and run for office. The fear, however, is that the political climate is so fractured, the public so polarized, the media so hungry for blood, that anyone courageous enough to tell the truth and ask to be pardoned for past sins so that they could serve their country would be dragged through the mud and humiliated.
Politicians like Bill Clinton – seen as flawed yet effective – remain highly popular, as does the memory of other seriously blemished men like Thomas Jefferson, Franklyn Roosevelt and John Kennedy.
America has to make a decision. Does it want the “perfection” of a Barack Obama, who rarely stumbles but lacks the grit to get American out of the morass of crushing debt and joblessness, or does it want men and women who can dig us out of the muck but who have dirt under their fingernails? The weekly Torah portion cycle is currently in the book of Genesis. It is a fascinating narrative of incredible men and women who achieved great things while simultaneously guilty of serious error, from Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to Jacob favoring Joseph over his other children and the tragic consequences that followed. Yet, these were men and women who built whole nations, serving as patriarchs and matriarchs. The moral of the story: righteousness is defined not by perfection but by wrestling with one’s nature to serve the public good amid one’s undeniable defects.
The writer has just published Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself and will shortly publish Kosher Jesus.