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Under the Illusion

Is the more likely explanation based on the “R” next to his name and the “D” next to Adams’s?


In a recent piece in his newly launched newsletter, Slack Tide, one of America’s great writers, Matt Labash, writes:

When people ask me what I am, I often tell them “tired.” Then, when they specify that no, they were asking about my political orientation, I tell them the same thing, as it’s still applicable.

To be less glib, I like to call myself a mildly disillusioned conservative. The only reason I don’t classify myself as a severely disillusioned one is that to be severely disillusioned, you have to be illusioned in the first place. And I harbor almost no illusions. I regard nearly all politicians not as worthy repositories for my hopes and sunny optimism, but as necessary evils.  As a breed, they are generally too ambitious, too demagogic, or too into self-preservation at all costs to say anything much worth listening to.

I’ll say “amen” to Matt’s words, especially the tired part. And like him, I have few illusions about either side of the political spectrum, even though some people still have this split-screen mindset in which the left side of the aisle is populated by legions of nose ring-wearing druggies and Che Guevara clones, while across the aisle, it’s a monolith of clean-cut, clean-living folks straight from the set of Father Knows Best. It’s the Green Berets versus the Red Berets, and it’s the stuff of fantasy.

To help people overcome this political, rather than optical, illusion, they might want to meet the many Dems in Congress, centrists and left-leaners alike, who are veterans of the military, police, and FBI, hardworking business owners and family people who truly love this country and have sacrificed for it very considerably. They, like their counterparts on the right, are, as Labash puts it, no more than a necessary evil — but they’re not evil.

And while they’re at it, they might want to drop in on some of those Dems’ GOP colleagues who are a rogue’s gallery of philanderers, tax cheats, and worse. Some of them chickened out of serving their country, but others might even be veterans, like the GOP’s leading candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, who — like the party’s leading Senate candidates in Georgia and Missouri — stands credibly accused of violence against his wife and children (and wrote a novel with graphic depictions of the same).

Florida’s GOP Senator Marco Rubio has called his Democratic challenger, Congresswoman Val Demings, a “far-left extremist.” Yet she and her husband are both ex-cops, and each headed the Orlando police department. As National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger observed, “And the thing about calling someone like Demings ‘radical left’ — what language are you going to have left over for the radical left? You’ve robbed us of words, of tools, that make sense.” You can do the research yourself, but what it will show is, in brief, that the two parties’ delegations are remarkably alike: Mostly a collection of decent, patriotic and well-meaning but flawed human beings, with some assorted bad apples and plain kooks mixed in. Both advance policies that, at different times and in diverse ways, are to the benefit or disadvantage of our community.

Both have a cohort that believes things that are dangerous for our community, and both parties have been cowardly in shrinking from putting them beyond the pale. And then there’s Labash’s on-target observation about politicians in general being ambitious, demagogic, or self-interested creatures.

But while I have few illusions about politicians, I still can get disillusioned by those who put them in office: the voters.

Let’s look at last week’s mayoral election in New York City, pitting Democrat Eric Adams against Republican Curtis Sliwa. Adams won in a landslide, but according to news reports, the largest frum community outside of Eretz Yisrael voted 55 percent to 39 percent for his opponent.

I don’t know all there is to know about Eric Adams, and I’m sure there’s what to critique, as there is for most politicians. But he’s a former police captain who ran on an anti-crime platform; he’s a pragmatic centrist Democrat, not a progressive ideologue. He’s a Democrat in a Democratic city, so he can get things done, but he also concertedly sought the frum vote, campaigning in the very neighborhood that voted him down by 16 percentage points.

His opponent is a walking caricature and has been for the last four decades: a bloviating attention hound — with an actual red beret. He belongs nowhere near Gracie Mansion, but in the studio apartment he shares with his fourth wife and 16 cats. More than all that, though, he’s the candidate who, at a public meeting of residents of Rockland and Orange counties, railed about

able-bodied men who study… Talmud all day… and then all they do is [have children] like there’s no tomorrow and who’s subsidizing that? We are…. They don’t vote the way normal Americans vote… They’re being told by the rebbe or rabbi this is who you vote for…. If somebody comes in and tries to take over your community lock, stock, and barrel and break all the rules and expect the tax dollars to go to their community, and they’re taking away from you,… then you got to righteously stand up and say no, it ends right here.”

He wasn’t speaking about Orthodox Jews in Teaneck, either, but about the type that overwhelmingly reside in that “largest frum community outside of Eretz Yisrael.”

Agudath Israel of America expressed outrage over his remarks and called for him to repudiate and apologize for his words, but he responded only that he was willing to meet with Orthodox Jews to “resolve our differences.” He fumed that “the moment you bring this to somebody’s attention, you’re called an anti-Semite.” That’s about right.

So, to sum up, in a city whose 7-1 Democratic voter advantage made Adams a near shoo-in, voters in its largest frum community decided to go on record as opposing him in favor of the clownish candidate who spewed hateful words aimed directly at them.

In his victory speech on election night, Adams said, “It doesn’t matter if you are in Boro Park in the Hasidic community, if you’re in Flatbush in the Korean community, if you’re in Sunset Park in the Chinese community, if you’re in Rockaway, if you’re out in Queens, in the Dominican community,

Washington Heights — all of you have the power to fuel us.” I don’t know if by the time he made that speech, he already knew how Boro Park had voted and was just being gracious, but he certainly knows by now.

We’re constantly being told that it’s crucial for our communities to vote, because the politicians look to see who votes. But maybe that’s a stronger argument to keep our people away from the polling booth.

There are two distinct Jewish approaches to politics: One is the person who says, “Hashem runs the world and I’m a baal bitachon who truly believes it’s all make-believe. Hence I don’t vote.”

Or, a person can vote, understanding that he’s practicing hishtadlus in politics no less than he does in business or the doctor’s office. But what happened last week wasn’t hishtadlus — it was its diametric opposite.

How to explain what happened last week? Maybe we can chalk it up critical race theory, that huge threat to the neighborhood’s schools’ secular studies programs. Or maybe residents were wowed by candidate Sliwa’s “13-Point Animal Welfare Plan.”

Or is the more likely explanation based on the “R” next to his name and the “D” next to Adams’s? The spreading tribal fever is now so strong that it makes people vote for the tribe even when it means voting for a coarse, repulsive candidate like this one, and even at the price of rendering us politically irrelevant.



Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 885. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com

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