Several things are clear to me from the US midterm elections. Only a minority care enough to vote. Most people do not trust politicians. Most people are not wedded to any particular political party, even if there might be a family tradition of loyalty to one. Voters are pragmatists. If it works they’ll stick to it, and if not they’ll kick them out and give the others a chance to do better. They know there is a lot of corruption everywhere, but tend to think that it is just the inevitable way of things.
These lessons apply equally to most democracies, including Israel. Although there party loyalty is much stronger because of the longstanding tradition of buying votes, job and cash handouts and, to use a most inappropriate term, pork barrels. Yes, the term might have been coined in the US, but the Jewish state has perfected and institutionalized the art.
What most people care about is having government that cuts waste, prevents abuses, does not employ vast numbers to keep the unemployment figures low or to win voters, does not hand out huge sums to the underserving and lazy who could work but prefer not to. They want to see someone able to run the economy is such a way as to increase wealth and see that it is spread reasonably widely and to good effect. Often the last is not possible because of external factors, world trade or world slump. But when they see a refusal to tighten controls for fear of alienating underserving oligarchs and ‘bankers’ it is a sign that something is rotten.
People are fed up with those sectors of society that want to impose unrealistic burdens on others. The strikes in France over raising the pension age (to 62–a level still way below most advanced countries) are illustrative. France has in the past been held hostage by unions and their political lackeys who have imposed crazy benefits, long paid holidays, early retirement, almost universal disability bonuses for retirees on the grounds of stress and feeling under the weather. In the past government capitulated. This time–despite the massive support, including millions of schoolchildren apparently already worrying about being able to retire before they have even begun employment–the rest of the country supported a hitherto unpopular government and president in standing firm.
Back in the USA, the Republicans have no better solution to unemployment than the Democrats. They may want to cut government spending and reduce unemployment, but times have changed and those nongovernmental jobs that are coming on-stream require a level of education and skill many of the present unemployed don’t have. It is not dissimilar to the collapse of old heavy industries and mines. And while they want to reduce the deficit, the Fed (not a political party) goes ahead and prints more money, which will have the opposite effect, even if short-term it might well be necessary.
Doe-eyed dreamers who supported Obama have abandoned him because he has proved to be a politician like any other. Many voters are disillusioned. And all they can do in a democracy is to express disappointment, if not anger.
It strikes me that I could have been talking about my favorite subject, religion. Most people, even religious ones, are dissatisfied. They may be committed as individuals, love the religion, if not its organization. They may be loyal to one group or another. But they know that most of their leaders are failing to inspire, to bring peace and goodwill to mankind, to improve human relationships, to increase Godliness on earth, or to persuade the skeptical that they have something to offer.
Reform and Conservative Jews know their message is insipid and irrelevant to most Americans. The very Orthodox know that, although they are increasing, mainly through birthrates, they haven’t solved outstanding halachic issues that create barriers between them and many Jews. They have only widened the credibility gap with the majority of most intelligent, enlightened westerners. They have turned happily inwards, and to hell with the rest (I exclude those few evangelical Hassidim and “Returnee Movements”, who have had some notable successes, but still leave the overwhelming majority cold).
In Israel the Orthodox are living in cloud cuckoo land, expecting others to fight and work for them and underwrite a largely indolent life for too many. Not all, but most of the leadership responds to the illogicality and unsustainability of the situation with inaction; put your trust in God, pray and let someone else find a solution. Not all, by any means, but many preach to the choir, circle the wagons, become increasingly detached from reality, and suffer from intellectual and moral paralysis. In fact, more and more of their own know full well something needs dealing with, but cannot quite work out what, or are frightened of taking the lead or being ostracized. Even more of the faithful, while not knowing exactly what they want, know for certain what they do not want.
Democracy is not a panacea. It is inappropriate to deal with matters of spirit in a world where most people settle for the lowest common denominator. But if only there were a way for ordinary people to express their dissatisfaction with their priests, rabbis, and mullahs, and vote for someone else who might have a chance of doing a better job. Nowadays we have no effective priesthood, no prophets, and no real leadership–just clerics, dynastic rebbes, and rabbis who are only concerned with furthering their own personal agendas and keeping the rest out. No wonder it’s a mess. Still, we faithful carry on, because we refuse to allow incompetent or hypocritical humans to put us off a good thing.