America the fascinating
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM –Among the things that keep me in touch with my former homeland are the family members and friends who respond to my columns. The friends include people I’ve never met in person. Some have trekked to French Hill in order to shake my hand and share in some goodies, face to face conversation, as well as some arguments that began on the Internet.
My guess is that a thousand people may see my columns, either directly, via people who pass them along, or on one of the on line publications on which they appear. Modesty and courtesy keep me from inquiring who actually reads them, or who have set up automatic deletes. I take solace in that only a handful have actually asked to be dropped from my list, and I’ll admit that some of them have been family members.
I’ve gathered over the years that “old Jewish man” characterizes a disproportionate share of my readers, as well as the writer of these columns. One of the recent responses comes from a correspondent who, I sense, fits that category. It expresses something I have received from several others: a lack of satisfaction with Barack Obama, but an inability to defect from a lifetime of voting Democratic. There may also be unhappiness with this year’s Republican alternative.
“I plan to vote Democratic and continue to try to favorably affect the administration policy towards Israel.”
I’ll be watching the results, assuming that Barack Obama wins another term, to check on the political influence of this old Jewish man and his friends.
Another note, from an up-scale retirement community.
A woman brought a homeless man . . . into the dining room and sat at the next table. Everything was fine till she went to the ladies room. Then he decided to sit with us. He just sat down at the table and started babbling about Hell’s Angels and Bar Mitzvahs. He was scary. The people on the other side of us called over a dining room manager. Then came security and the police. . . . they took him out the back door. The woman who brought him is a new resident. I think she thought she could sneak him in and get him a good meal.
Compared to the nice lady who broke the conventions of her retirement community, I shouldn’t complain about the lack of graces apparent in the most recent of Israel’s social protests.
Beyond the insights provoked by these recent columns, my thoughts of America deal mostly with the contrasts between the power and quality of what exists within that country and what comes out of it to affect the rest of us. In short, the world’s richest, most powerful, and most intrusive country seems beholden to a political culture that is the developed world’s most backward and parochial.
Now we’ll see how many more of my friends ask off of my list.
The backwardness appears in the cluster including guns, incarceration, health care, exaggerated individualism, widespread opposition to government, and the mixture of religious doctrine with public policy. The world’s best medicine comes along with the developed world’s worst mode of delivering health care. Even with the Supreme Court’s approval of a key provision in the Obama mess of 2,000 pages, it is not clear how many Americans who think they will have health insurance actually will have anything like what is mandatory in Western Europe and Israel.
Obama’s people have used the term “vulture capitalism” to describe the professional background of Mitt Romney, but not for the vultures who have dominated profit-making health insurance companies, and demand a high degree of intelligence and persistence on the part of customers who want payment for services seemingly covered.
While the rest of us don’t care all that much about Americans who eat too much, have skimpy health insurance, and die younger than any other population in the developed world, we do worry about the intrusive nature of American power in places where its policymakers’ ignorance of geography, history, and culture produce more damage than benefit.
The choice of the present leader on the basis of some good speeches but without any political experience worth mentioning is the most extreme affront to a world affected by America’s economic and military power. The ignorance of things overseas that came to the White House with the governor of Texas may have been even worse. An Israeli has to wonder what is the most offensive to good sense: Obama’s speech about democracy in Cairo, demanding an end to Jewish construction in neighborhoods of Jerusalem, or Bush’s invasion of Iraq that produced several thousand American and perhaps more than a million Iraqi deaths.
Obama’s supporters may be applauding the signs of democracy in Egypt. They will have to overlook what has happened in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and hope for the best in Egypt’s future.
Those who have swallowed the Obama mantra that Islam is not the problem should note the comments of Iran’s Vice President at an international conference on drug use. According to the Iranian, Zionists are responsible for drug addiction and dominate the international drug trade, as proved by the lack of addiction among even one Zionist. The Talmud teaches Jews to kill non-Jews. The Jews led the Bolshevik Revolution, and no Jews died in that uprising.
In the same spirit are assertions throughout Muslim countries that Jews were responsible for 9-11.
I’ve written about these issues a number of times. Like that old Jewish man who has become an Internet friend, I should not expect my words to weigh much against the culture of a people sure that they are the best, and who are so out of step with how most others view government, public services, and people beyond their borders.
To be fair to my family, friends, and other Americans, it may be because America is so powerful that it can be so parochial. Unlike Europeans and Israelis, a lack of dependence on others allows Americans to avoid learning foreign languages, history, and cultures.
Perhaps the Greeks, Romans, and Persians were not any more worldly in their time than the Americans in theirs. The Persian leader Cyrus earned praise in the Book of Ezra for allowing exiled Jews to return home and rebuild their Temple. Other empires were also known for loose rule, as long as their vassals did not challenge key demands. Communication was slow, with months passing between events in the field, the news getting to the capital, and the empire’s decisions getting back to the provinces. Whoever was the equivalent of Barack Obama did not have to meet several times a day and decide about the latest news from afar.
And along with ridiculing the mantra that “Islam is not the problem,” it is also appropriate to note that Presidents Bush and Obama have presided over the greatest crusade against Muslims in a millennium.
Friends who know more about ancient history are invited to educate me.
We can wonder if the Chinese are next in line, how worldly they might be, and how those dependent on them can rely on what they say.
If we have learned anything since Machiavelli, however, it is that fluency in Chinese or any other language spoken in the imperial capital will be a limited guide to the meaning of leaders’ pronouncements.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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