Politicians the world over practice a similar craft
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–Politicians lie. The devil is in the details. There is no justice.
Lip service, as well as hyperbole or bombast, are prominent in political discourse.
All of these expressions mean about the same thing. They are part of what we call politics.
Politicians want to please. That is how they get elected and stay in office. The details are less important than the promise of achievement.
It’s not only politicians who overlook unpleasant details. Many citizens do not pay close attention to what (or who) they support or oppose.
The traits appear in issues that otherwise seem to be unconnected with one another.
One example is the 2,000 page health reform in the U.S. Every few days we read about the problems created by another provision that survived contending interests, media criticism, separate deliberations in House and Senate, and the rush to provide something that the president would sign.
Did he read what he signed? All of it? How much did he or his advisors understand?
Now that a libertarian prominent in the Tea Party has been chosen as the Republican nominee for a Senate seat, critics are focusing on what he has said. He does not seem to have squared all his slogans into a comprehensive set of principles.
Israelis stand four square against corruption. The topic was prominent in the most recent elections, but did not keep us from choosing leaders with reputations for deception and other tricks. Now former Jerusalem Mayor and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is beginning another round of interviews with the police about alleged monkey business. Insofar as that he is no longer the national leader, he has to go to the police station for the inquiry, rather than having the police come to his official residence. We are speculating if the police are being less polite, and wondering if there will be a house arrest or something more confining.
Reports are that 300,000 employed Israelis earn less than the minimum wage.
How many people in the United States and Western Europe are also working for less than their countries’ minimum wages?
A high proportion of them are likely to be illegal immigrants, showing once again that immigration is a playing field for lip service. People oppose illegal immigration here, there, and elsewhere. But many illegals find jobs that locals do not want, at salaries less than the legal minimum.
While we are complaining about injustice or corruption, we might also notice if we or family members are benefiting from affordable child care, elder care, yard care, restaurant meals, maid service at home or in a hotel, and any of the other functions provided by illegal immigrants working for less than the minimum wage.
It is a travesty of justice and intellectual honesty that otherwise respectable people target Israel for their invective, when many other countries do much worse with respect to minorities and foreign adversaries.
Should we believe that Barack Obama knows how to bring peace to Israel and Palestine? And accept the statements of Benyamin Netahyahu and Mahmoud Abbas that they are cooperating with the President?
Can Congress and the President smooth out the bumps in the Obama health bill, each of which has interests opposed to losing what they managed to slip into it?
Can Israeli voters be persuaded to focus on corruption? What should they do when the party most involved with police investigations also appears to be more suitable than its competitors with respect to concerns for national security? Corruption is distasteful, but how important compared to other considerations?
Shouldn’t we insist that our governments enforce the laws about immigration? But what about those decent people who clean our houses and yards, or look after our children or parents?
Those of us who feel that we understand Israel should continue to explain its problems and actions in a balanced and moderate fashion. And expect to be dismissed as mad or extreme by others who claim to understand Israel.
There is much that is positive in what governments provide us, that have come as the result of political activity. They contribute a great deal to what us fortunates call the good life.
But each item received from government may include at least a little, and sometimes more than a little swindle. Perhaps it is only exaggeration.
Politicians and political activists may not have to lie, but if they tell all the truth they would have trouble attracting an audience.
We should be good citizens. If we do not use our democratic rights, we may lose them.
But we should not expect too much for our efforts.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.