I was lied to as a child. As a kid in the ‘fifties, I was taught that anyone could grow up to be president. Not so. Several clear caveats existed. Then things changed. Well, some things.
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee. A woman! Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton served as secretary of state. So did Colin Powell. A black man! Barak Obama won the presidency (with Sarah Palin opposing as the Republican VP candidate.) Herman Cain now targets the White House. What a country, America!
Only where does that leave me as a Jew? At least in Republican eyes? Last Saturday night in Des Moines, six GOP presidential hopefuls—Mitt Romney not among them—assured Christian conservatives that they were devoting their lives to Jesus. Texas Governor Rick Perry even asserted, “In every person’s heart, in every person’s soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ.” They put a sign out on Republican ballots: “No Jews need apply.” That, by the way, would include Jesus.
The Christian litmus test for election is a terrible sham. Christian conservatives rail against government from a religious perspective, but their position doesn’t reflect Christian tradition. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus’ followers register quite a shock upon hearing that statement. The text suggests that Jesus understands government’s legitimate role while emphasizing that the kingdom of God plays another—and greater—role. I’d love to see the verse(s) in the Gospels in which Jesus castigates Rome for over-regulating the Judean economy and espouses the concept of unfettered free markets.
As a Jew, Jesus knew better. The Torah’s commandments are clear regarding economic justice. Pay the laborer swiftly (Deut. 24:15). Leave what has not been missed while harvesting one’s field and vineyard for the poor (Deut. 24: 19ff). Maintain honest weights and measures (Deut. 25:15). This sense of communal responsibility did not abrogate the marketplace. Understanding human nature, it placed limitations upon commerce to protect the vulnerable from predators.
All this raises an interesting question: Where does the dovetailing of Christianity and conservative politics leave House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Virginia)? He may well have his eye on the White House in 2016. But how can he as a Jew represent the values of his tradition and appease the Christian right? Yet Republicans accept Cantor’s conservative values as legitimate. So isn’t it time they concede that such political values may be held by anyone of any religion? Maybe even none? Allegiance to Jesus in the political arena and a related hyper-capitalism represents no more than hypocrisy writ large.
If Republicans possessed the courage to acknowledge the truth, any American boy or girl—or transgender person—really could grow up to be president. Even I would have a shot at flying regularly on Air Force One. But sadly, many people view the concept of America for all as particularly un-American.
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