What Will We Talk About? The Conventions and the State of American Politics

Let’s see… the Olympics are over. The political conventions are over. Other than what sounds like endless hurricanes making their way towards the east coast, we’ve run out of the big topics!

Well, not quite. The conventions may be over, but now comes two solid months of unending bombardment with commercials, debates, op-eds, blogs (can’t complain too much there, I guess), and what Seinfeld would undoubtedly refer to as just so much yadda. It’s time to hunker down.

Somewhere beneath all the mountains of excess verbiage that we are about to experience, there are some serious issues to be discussed. For all the excesses of both conventions, all the hyperbole and all the demonization of the other that makes up political discourse in this country, I still have the vaguely positive feeling that two thoughtful people are running for president, two people capable of reflection and possessed of admirable qualities. This is not a time for a president of the United States to govern from the gut- something that President Bush raised to a not-so-fine art. From a country of some three hundred million people considered to be among the most powerful in the world, we have a right to expect that our president be someone endowed with intellectual curiosity and broadness of vision, and an appreciation of subtle areas of gray as much as of absolutes. I think- I hope- that both Senators Obama and McCain fit that qualification.

But both conventions left me with questions- serious questions- that I hope the next two months will help me answer. I’d like to know what in the world qualifies Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the presidency other than her obvious folksy appeal to the “average American” and her ability to deliver a well-written speech (well-written by someone else).

Aside from her policy positions, many of which I find deeply disturbing, I’m still stuck on the fact that she didn’t have a passport until two years ago! Am I missing something here?? She didn’t have a passport?? She hadn’t been abroad?

And am I really supposed to be impressed by the fact that she hunts moose? Not much moose hunting involved in the executive branch of government.

Just to be fair, I’m not so convinced that Senator Obama has the kind of experience that justifies his meteoric rise, either. He wrote his own speech, and there are few better speakers out there. He’s obviously a cerebral man, and an impressive one. But in terms of pure experience and expertise, Joe Biden’s credentials are far more impressive than his. And what exactly is “change that we can believe in?”

And while we’re on the change issue, how can John McCain warn the powers that be in Washington that “change is coming” when his own party has run the government for the last eight years? If a Republican candidate adopts the mantra of change, isn’t that a virtual admission that the last eight years were deeply troubling- in itself a justification for a democratic victory?

Fasten your seatbelts… it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.