Is Tikkun Olam Relevant in this Election Season?

— by Gayle Donsky

The guiding principle of Tikkun Olam obligates Jews to work toward justice and to help repair the condition of the world.  Likewise, the goals of America’s founding fathers are based on principles of equality and justice.  Yet does anyone believe Republicans are working to achieve these goals?  Can we as voters examine what is happening in politics today and use the principles of Tikkun Olam to guide us in our action?

As a news and political junkie, I have been observing this political season with dismay.  In their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann-two of the nation’s most respected political scholars-state:   extremism in the current political system has reached an intensity that has not existed since the time of the Civil War.  They lay most of the blame on the current Republican Party that has been hijacked by extremists, effectively removing the moderate Republicans from the political process.  They believe the two-party system is essential, but think it is imperative that moderates regain the voice of the party. Though both parties have become ideologically polarized, they state:

… the Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier-ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Partisanship has grown so extreme that the Republican Party has stopped working to solve the country’s and the people’s problems and has instead chosen as its primary goal to defeat the President.  The primary agenda of the party has been to prevent the passage of any meaningful legislation and to obstruct executive and judicial appointments. In sum, it has worked toward preventing the executive branch from fulfilling its constitutional duties. “Republicans greeted the new president with a unified strategy of opposing, obstructing, discrediting, and nullifying every one of his important initiatives,” write Ornstein and Mann.

One example of the detrimental impact of this extremist action was the obstruction of legislation that would have raised the national debt ceiling.  This resulted in the country’s credit rating being lowered for the first time in its history.   Another is the unprecedented use of filibusters to block legislation and presidential executive and judicial nominations.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated this goal after Obama was elected:  “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

I ask, do these efforts promote Tikkun Olam and work toward social justice?

Other issues that contribute to my dismay with the leaders of the Republican Party follow the jump.

  • There is no denial that the Republican Party is significantly more responsible for increasing the power of money in the political process. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book, Winner-Take-All Politics, chronicle how, over the last three decades, money has become increasingly influential in politics. Groups representing Wall Street, big business, and the wealthy have organized to become ever more powerful instruments in the political system. Groups representing the middle class-such as unions and civic organizations-have become less powerful. The Republican time-honored line “no new taxes” has morphed into not raising taxes on the extremely rich. They oppose the estate tax and support keeping the capital gains tax low. In fact, Grover Norquist, founder of America for Tax Reform, created a pledge which opposes any increase in taxes under any circumstance. This pledge has been signed by nearly every Republican legislator.

    While they claim tax fairness for all, the Republican solution to reduce the debt opposes domestic programs that benefit both the middle class and the poor.  For example, the GOP leadership has been uncompromisingly opposed to comprehensive healthcare reform, increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, strengthening public education, and lowering the rate of interest on college tuition loans. How are these policies supposed to help those less fortunate?

  • Though one of the main causes of the 2008 financial crisis was the lack of financial regulation, the Republican Party promotes further deregulation of banks, big business and the financial market. Can further deregulation, which, in part, caused the financial crisis, advance social justice?
  • Republicans seem to be working against equality in voter representation. Twenty Republican dominated states have passed voter identification laws that will create obstacles to voting that target the poor, minorities, and elders. While Republicans claim that these laws were passed to correct voter fraud, such fraud hardly exists. Clearly, these laws are being passed to influence elections in favor of Republican candidates. Does this position promote equality of voter representation?
  • Republican candidates are supportive of promoting government interference into women’s personal healthcare choices such as contraception. In addition they have tried to restrict low-income women from access to healthcare by opposing Planned Parenthood. Is this policy consistent with social justice?
  • Republican candidates are opposed to marriage equality. Does this position enhance social justice?
  • The Republican candidates oppose scientific evidence-based issues such as of global warming and the necessity to protect the environment. They want to reduce funding for health research, food safety, etc. Does this position support the repair of our world?

What is the relevance of Tikkun Olam in this political environment?  Should this principle come into play beyond consideration for charity and volunteering?   I believe Tikkun Olam is pertinent to our involvement in the political arena, whether with our political activity or with our vote.  In my opinion, the price of our choosing non-involvement abrogates our obligation to work for justice and the repair of the condition of the world.

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