Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Preparing the World for Moshiach

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Four years ago, he was a state senator in Chicago. Since then, he got himself elected to the US Senate, defeated the Clintons, came out of nowhere and lit up America. McCain seemed all but defeated in the primaries but came roaring back. As the candidate of the incumbent Republican party, he was weighed down by the massive liability of being linked to President Bush, and it is to McCain’s credit that the race wasn’t declared over a long time ago. President Bush is the least popular president in decades, the economy is in tatters, the nation is fighting an unpopular war, and McCain’s opponent out-raised him by hundreds of millions of dollars.

McCain was fighting a liberal takeover of the country, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in decades. He ran a very imperfect campaign and was inept at pointing out his opponent’s flaws, as well as in giving people a good reason to vote Republican this time around. But despite that, everyone knew that John McCain is a real patriot truly dedicated to serving his country in ways Obama never would or could.

Electing Obama as president of the United States is a dangerous gamble, but most Americans remain blissfully oblivious to the risks. The very fact that Barack Obama won so many votes requires explanation. How does a man with his background capture the support of so many people? How can it be that millions of people became so mesmerized by him and his speeches that they didn’t care about his associations or policies? Why is it that, with all the serious attempts to expose his flawed credentials throughout the campaign, he remained ahead in the polls all the way through until the big one, the one that really counted, on November 4th?

Did you notice that throughout the primary and general election campaign, most of the media coverage and the primary point of interest for most people consisted of the polls? News headlines in the major media were all about who was ahead at any given moment in the polls. This guy was up and this guy was down. The news glossed over the candidates’ positions, concentrating instead on who the polls showed faring better in convincing the masses to support them.

It was almost as if their positions were of secondary importance. It was one big popularity contest. Do you like the way this one looks? Do you like the way this candidate dresses? Or do you think that the other one presents himself better? The future of the country and the world is at stake, and yet people were using a candidate’s clothing as a yardstick to gauge the man’s credentials.

How did we end up here?

Ever since the election of President George W. Bush, the media and their Democrat allies have been out to get him. They were never able to accept his slim margin of victory; instead they set about to undermine and malign him. He couldn’t do anything right, and when he did accomplish positive things, they were quickly forgotten. For six years, they have been saying that we are on the verge of a recession. They have been saying that the war in Iraq was a lost cause. When it turned out that it wasn’t and isn’t, the issue dropped off the radar.

Bush moved into the White House determined to cross party lines to govern as a unity president. Then 9/11 happened. He rose to the challenge and rallied a weary country to be strong. He played to the inbred American strengths and coached the country, city and their economies to bounce back after the attacks virtually shut them down. The most memorable picture of Bush will be the one of him standing aside the still-smoldering rubble with megaphone in hand, pledging to return the country to its former glory.

Something happened to him that day. He decided that G-d had chosen him and placed him in power at that moment to make sure that this would never happen again on his watch. He resolved to ignore polls, political considerations and anything that could be thrown in his path to deter him from his mission to protect the American people. He declared war on al-Qaeda, the Axis of Evil, and of course, Iraq.

Liberals are against anything they dub “absolutist.” They don’t believe in absolute truths or absolute evil. They don’t believe in black and white. To them, morals and values are relative. Their religion is relativism. Bush challenged that view, infuriating the liberals and triggering their opposition and hatred.

Barack Obama emerged from anonymity and began tapping in to that hatred. He correctly sensed that if he could capitalize on the liberal fixation with Bush, he would be able to coast to victory. He didn’t have to espouse an ideology. He didn’t have to explain to the people what he would do when elected. All he had to do was present himself as the candidate of change. He would change the country’s present course to… whatever. He didn’t even have to say what, where, when and how; he didn’t have to spell out what was wrong with the nation under Bush. He simply had to come across as a candidate for change.

He did it very well. He performed admirably. His rhetoric for change was brilliant. All through the primaries, he kept at it with bite-sized promises of “Change,” “Hope” and “Yes, we can.” With these mantras, he brought down the Clintons and everyone else who stood in his way. Doggedly, they tried beating him back with ideology, with arguments, and with a fair amount of mud, but it didn’t work. The rallying cry, “Change!” won the day and swept the nation.

On the other side of the aisle, Republicans chose John McCain as their candidate. He may not have known the meaning of the word “change,” but he was and is an independent thinker, a real reformer, an authentic war hero and patriot, a coalition builder and just the type of Republican who could appeal to middle-of-the-road Americans. The man who kept hope alive in his heart as he languished heroically in a Vietnamese prison, was deemed beyond “hope” by half of the country. That flame of hope to serve his country remained burning in his heart until the results came in on November 4th. He never gave up.

As his running mate, he chose another independent-minded person, a woman who fought special interests and party bosses her whole life. A woman governor with an 80% approval rating. A down-home person blessed with uncommon amounts of common sense. Just the type of person you would think that people who are voting against Washington wait for. A person of the people. An individual like you and me who just happens to be in government. Not a person who has spent decades as an insider, appealing for donations, conforming to lobbyists and playing a very cynical political game. She was just the type of person the Founding Fathers had in mind when they established the republic, a democracy led by its run-of-the-mill citizens and not by a ruling class.

The selection helped McCain for about a week, and then it all began to collapse.

Because at the end of the day, the people didn’t really care. They didn’t care about issues. They didn’t care about positions. All they cared about was “change” and Barack.

Obama presented himself as a blank canvas upon which people could project their own hopes, dreams and ambitions. He crafted himself as a man who could appeal to all people of all persuasions at the same time. His mesmerizing speeches cast their spell upon people of all ages and income levels who were looking to improve their lives, and let’s face it, who isn’t?

Wherever he went, a cadre of citizens became enraptured with him and signed on to his team. In his campaign, they saw themselves and their aspirations. As he rolled up state after state, they felt exhilarated and triumphant. As their man inched closer to the presidency, they felt a validation of their own inner stirrings and ambitions.

They became his fans and he was their man. Just as sports fans see their favorite teams as an extension of themselves, they viewed Barack in similar fashion. People who can’t run five yards without gasping for breath get enraptured with a new young quarterback and identify with his victories as if they were their own. Every time he eludes a tackle and escapes a four-man-rush, they jump up and cheer, “We did it! We did it!”

In essence, they did nothing but sit on their favorite reclining chair, guzzling beer, but once a fan becomes attached, he sees his hero’s success as his own. He transposes the heroic accomplishments on his own bland, boring life and exults in the victory, which becomes his.

The fan could care less about what his hero player believes and does in the off-time; his only interest is to win. He’s not concerned with his hero’s positions on issues of the day. All of that is irrelevant.

When a political candidate achieves the same status as a football hero and people project their hope and drives onto him, seeing his victories as their own, it no longer matters what he really thinks or says when no one is looking. It matters not who his friends are or where he prayed or whether he is a socialist. All that counts is that he keeps on racking up those wins. His supporters couldn’t care less about the facts. They kept on coming in droves to his rallies, by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

Obama continued to talk about change, as he tied McCain to Bush. He was the good guy fighting the bad guys. McCain didn’t think it would work. After all, he was the one who ran against Bush in 2000. He hated Bush. He went up against Bush himself repeatedly. He fought entrenched special interests and he fought corrupt earmarks. How could he be confused with Bush?

McCain just didn’t get it. In a year where uncertainty about the future coupled with deep dissatisfaction infected Americans, it matters not what the facts are. What counts is perception, and the perception was created that a vote for McCain would be the same as a vote for Bush. Once a perception is formed in a person’s mind, it is very difficult to convince the person otherwise. It was Team Obama against Team Bush-McCain. Why would anyone want to be associated with that loser, Bush?

McCain had a chance to establish his own identity but failed to. He had a chance to win his own fans, but didn’t. He never gave anyone a positive reason to rally to his side. He wasn’t able to convince people that a vote for him would be a vote for their own interests. He didn’t project change, he didn’t embody leadership, and he had no fans.

And so the election became a popularity contest. With baseball season over, no one caring about the World Series and with football games holding people’s interest only once a week, fans became transfixed with the polls. In fact more polls were conducted this past October than in the entire 2004 race.

One reason for the preoccupation and fascination with sports is that sports is totally unpredictable. It may seem that this or that team is headed for victory, but things happen in a sports season; people get hurt, players fall out. People no one ever thought had it in them, rise to the top and carry the team over the finish line. One never knows until the end of the game—and the end of the season—who will come out on top. That accounts for the excitement in every game. As the great baseball philosopher intoned, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

So much in life is predictable, but not sports. And this year neither was politics. Until the very end people thought that their man would win. And thus, the drama of following poll numbers replaced the daily studying of sports scores and standings. How are we doing today? Are we up or down? Will we win? Will we force the other guy to lose?

And so it went.

There is a lesson for us in this election: Don’t let yourself be painted into a box where you don’t belong. Don’t let your detractors define you. Give people a reason to like and support you. Don’t expect them to perceive your virtues and appreciate your accomplishments on their own. What might seem totally self-evident to you is not obvious to others.

Never take anything for granted. Remember that Hashem runs the world. One year ago, nobody would have believed that on November 4th, Americans would be choosing between Barack Obama and John McCain. There was absolutely no chance that the Clinton machine could be toppled. It was an exercise in futility to run against her.

McCain was favored by no one. The Republican establishment wasn’t interested in him. His campaign was out of money and unable to stir any interest. The nomination was Giuliani’s for the asking and a good many thought it would go to Romney. Huckabee was much more entertaining. Thompson had better credentials and knew how to deliver a good home-spun speech, but sputtered to an early demise.

Immigration and Iraq were the big issues, but then they fell off the screen. Obama’s abilities and perfectly-run campaign fought doggedly against Hillary and he went on to vanquish Mrs. Clinton

McCain went on to win the Republican nod as one opponent after another dropped out. Palin gave him a boost and then the floor fell out from under Wall Street and it was smooth sailing from there for Obama.

Obama’s calm, presidential demeanor and eloquent speeches kept his supporters in line. They were enraptured with his message, counting down to the day they would empower him to change America and change the world.

Keep hope alive and remember that now that the election is over and the new president is preparing to take office, don’t necessarily expect him to govern the way he promised he would. President Bush became a victim of circumstances and acted in ways no one who knew him could have predicted.

We all know that “lev melochim vesarim beyad Hashem,” the hearts and minds of kings and ministers are controlled by G-d. As long as a person is but a candidate he can choose his agenda, but once selected to lead the nation, he becomes a pawn in a Divine plan. Fear not, for G-d is with us. Fear not, for Hashem has a plan for each and every one of us.

Yes, it was an historic election, but we have no idea, now that it is over, how the results will play out. We will continue to pray and believe that all that transpired is intended to prepare the world for the imminent coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our day.


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