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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Why a Jewish Democratic Leader Attacked Sheldon Adelson

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

It would be proper for Harris to apologize to the Adelsons, even as he disagrees with them utterly over their politics. Full disclosure: the Adelsons have given my campaign $10k. But with or without their support, I am running a campaign largely based on universal Jewish values, one of the greatest of which is gratitude, and we who claim to be Jewish leaders must live by our own teachings.

The same might be said of a moral man like Senator John McCain who has been criticizing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, in general, and Sheldon Adelson for his Super PAC spending, in particular.

I respect Senator McCain as a genuine American hero and a devoted public servant. But his railing against Super PAC spending seems to ignore his own thirty years in the House and the Senate where he has enjoyed all the privileges of incumbency. Officeholders have a vested interest in condemning external political interference since their mandate is to preserve the status quo. Notice that while McCain wants to impose limits on outside political contributions, he does not want to subject politicians to term limits. Thirty years is, after all, quite a long time to be in office.

I’m a challenger in a Congressional race in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. It’s easy to see why incumbents in the Senate have had an eighty percent reelection rate, with incumbents in the House being reelected at an even higher and truly staggering ninety percent rate. Indeed, no more than 5 to 10 incumbents lose their seats every two years. OpenSecrets.com, who have a disturbing chart about incumbency, sum it up well: “Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, and usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.”

Bill Pascrell, against whom I’m running, has been in the House for 16 years. While I run against him I have to find a way to support my family (you’re obviously not paid by your campaign), raise money from people who think that as a challenger I am a certain underdog, build name recognition, and try to reorient all those who are afraid that if they come out and support me openly Pascrell will retaliate against them (you can’t imagine how many people have told me this, and I assume the same is true in other Congressional districts).

But while Pascrell runs he is paid his full Congressional salary with all its perks, is allowed to do franked mail (thinly veiled campaign pieces aimed at raising positive name ID) at the taxpayer’s expense, and has a huge complement of congressional staff to assist him. And though they are not involved in the campaign, they still make life a heck of a lot easier. Most importantly, there is the pork barrel spending that an incumbent can claim to have brought into his district, and these huge investments have the practical effect of simply buying business and voters off with money their representative says he brought from Washington. Gerrymandering further leads to approximately eighty nine percent of all districts being dominated by a party and giving the challenger from the other party little hope of prevailing.

No wonder that of 435 Congressional districts, only 15 are considered toss-up seats. Beyond that, only 46 of those seats even have a chance to change hands.

All this should be kept in mind before one swallows Senator McCain’s arguments uncritically. Citizens United, flawed as it is, is still not as flawed as a ninety percent incumbency, which makes you question the very foundation of American democracy.

And if the McCains of this world want to stop people like Sheldon Adelson and countless other concerned citizens from shaking up our politics, perhaps they should at least be honest enough to either promote term limits, or live by self-imposed limits and simply not run in the next election.

To this challenger it seems a little unfair – not to mention a touch hypocritical – for professional, life-time politicians to call for money-men to limit their contributions when those same politicians refuse to put any limits on their own Congressional or Senate terms.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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