A Jewish Agenda Under a Narrow Government
Nathan J. Diament
A Jewish Agenda Under a Narrow Government
Nathan J. Diament
Director, Institute for Public Affairs - Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
As the dust settles on the 2000 political battleground, a few realities
are clear. The new President [whoever he is] faces a
closely divided Congress with the Republicans barely in
control and cannot claim a mandate for the bolder aspects of his agenda. The
narrow margin of victory and apportionment of congressional power ensures that
the only measures that will be enacted legislatively, will be those that garner
centrist, bipartisan support.
With this reality, the American Jewish community's agenda for the 107th
Congress must be carefully considered and expertly executed if it is to be
translated from rhetoric to reality. A Jewish agenda that relies solely on the
alliance with one party is doomed to fail. So let us consider what a bipartisan
American Jewish agenda might look like.
Thankfully, support for a strong and secure Israel has enjoyed bipartisan support
for decades. This could be no more critical than right now, as Israel faces the
most hostile Arab and international community than it has in years. The crisis of
the past weeks has already garnered overwhelmingly bipartisan resolutions in
support of Israel's security and we must continue to work with Republicans and
Democrats to ensure this critical support continues for the sake of the Jewish
On the domestic front, a bipartisan Jewish agenda might begin
with a measure that has languished in recent years – the
Workplace Religious Freedom Act. This measure will prod
private sector employers to accommodate the religious needs
of their employees – such as time off for religious holidays and
the wearing of religious garb – to the benefit of all religious
Americans. It has been endorsed by a wide array of religious
organizations and has enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship in both houses of
Congress. The attention and effort of religious activists was diverted from this
measure in recent years by securing the passage of the Religious Land Use
legislation last year. Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and get "WRFA" passed.
Many candidates pledged in recent weeks to "fight for America's families" and will
be looking for ways to realize that commitment. As a family-oriented community,
the American Jewish community should play a part in shaping a bipartisan family
friendly agenda. The contours of such an agenda should include the following
aspects. First, the elimination of the tax code's marriage penalty. While
Republicans and Democrats split last year over how exactly to remedy this
inequity – one which costs 25 million couples an average of 1,500 extra tax dollars
based solely on their marital status – they agreed on the need to eliminate it and
ensure that our tax code does not penalize couples for electing to marry.
A second important component of a pro-family agenda is an increased
commitment to child care. A bipartisan approach to this issue will ensure that both
dual-career couples as well as couples with one stay-at-home parent will receive
greater support through tax credits and subsidized programs for the child care
decisions they make. Polls in recent years consistently show that a majority of
women would opt to stay home to raise young children if they could afford to do
so. At the same time, parents who use child care centers outside the home seek
assurances that they are trusting their children to safe and responsible providers.
The Jewish community should play a critical role in promoting initiatives
consistent with these needs.
Finally, as the firestorm over the recent Federal Trade Commission report
revealed, many parents feel that they are engaged in an hopeless struggle to raise
"PG kids in an R rated world." The FTC found that Hollywood studios were
intentionally marketing age-inappropriate movies to pre-teens and the same is
thought to be the case with regard to record and video game companies. Senate
hearings demonstrated bipartisan outrage at the media companies for this
practice and warned them to clean up their act or face regulatory sanctions. The
American Jewish community can retain its respect for the freedom of speech
while simultaneously working in congress and the marketplace to protect our
children from being exposed to media products filled with violence and vulgarity.
Along with fighting for families, concern over education and the need to improve
our schools was a prominent theme in the campaign season. While some
proposals such as vouchers or uniform national standards are polarizing and
partisan, it is possible to construct a productive bipartisan education agenda as
well. It's core component would be a drive to recruit new and highly qualified
teachers into our schools. Many teachers, in America's public and private
schools, are nearing retirement age. An initiative to forgive (or at least make
deductible) the educational loans of those entering the teaching profession –
whether they opt to teach in a public, private or parochial school – will attract new
and better teachers to all our schools. This would be a simple, but achievable step
toward improving the state of education in America.
Finally, a rare point of agreement between Messrs. Gore and Bush in the
campaign was with regard to increasing the role of faith based organizations in
the provision of social services. Both candidates recognized the power of faith to
change the lives of the needy and to motivate people to help those in need
effectively and efficiently. Thus, a carefully crafted "charitable choice" initiative –
one that allows faith based entities to receive government funding for their
programs but ensures that no needy person is subjected to religious coercion –
should be enjoy bipartisan and Jewish communal support.
A happy consequence of this election outcome may accrue to our community and
our government. By focusing on a consensus agenda such as that outlined
above, we learn how to work together and diminish the politics of polarization.
Too often, we make the perfect the enemy of the good and demonize those who
would engage in compromise. America's voters are trying to force everyone to get
along or get nothing; the Jewish community must choose which it prefers under
our new government.