Tuesday, November 24, 2020


 As the Biden team assembles, I note a complete cultural difference between the previous administration and the coming administration, and it centers on a theory of governance.

Government is a bureaucratic function. While we may or may not elect the policy creators for any given level of government, local to federal, we do not elect the vast majority of those who will do the work of that office.  Those workers have individual and group accountability to the higher authority of the US and State Constitutions that they work under, as well as county and municipal laws and regulations.  Between the elected officials and the working mass of the government is a bridge group: political appointees.

Political appointees in the executive branch serve at the will of their elected supervisor.  This is not only the Secretary of State, but the Deputy Secretary of State, the several Undersecretaries of State, and their assistant undersecretaries and so on.  Who one chooses to fill these vacancies, and even if one chooses to fill these vacancies is perhaps the best way to evaluate a president's political philosophy.

President Trump chose Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo as his secretaries of state. The first was the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, with no prior government experience. This signaled that US corporate and energy sector concerns would dominate the priorities of the US Government.  In Mike Pompeo, President Trump picked a "Tea Party" member of the Republican National Committee, an army tank corps veteran who had served as a member of the House of Representatives from a conservative, 85% white republican district in Kansas.  He served on energy, commerce committees, and intelligence committees.  He was a primary voice in the Republican partisan Benghazi investigations' prolonged attacks on Hillary Clinton.  For this, he was elevated to Secretary of State, reaffirming that energy would drive foreign policy, but also that partisan muck raking and supporting the anti-Hillary agenda would be empowered and rewarded.

Neither of Trump's picks had foreign policy experience or expertise. So it is not surprising that among the 6 Undersecretaries of State, the two that are still vacant at this point are the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.  These two classic core duties of the American Foreign Service in the Department of State were not priorities for Trump or his appointees and they - and everything they are meant to do - withered on the vine for four years. 

Even more mind-boggling is the broad nepotism of family members in the White House. When loyalty matters more than knowledge, you wind up with incompetence.  Take, for example, the much heralded Trump peace plan for Israel. Suddenly, you have Jared Kushner reading books like he is cramming for an exam before writing a term paper drawing conclusions from his own echo-chamber and passing it off as policy. It was dead before it started because of the deep lack of experience and understanding of the situation on the ground that was meant to be solved.  

Diplomacy and international affairs is messier than that, and must take into account not just what one person thinks is best but what all actors think is best.  The result is not a sermon, but a prolonged process of compromise.  As a result, the Trump team found that they could only make deals with dictators - the UAE, Bahrain and the Sudan - and were not able to solve real social and political questions such as the complex hopes and circumstance of the Palestinian  people.  Lucky for them, there are plenty of dictators in the Middle East to have some success in that mode.

Biden is signaling his deep faith in experience and expertise.  None of his first 8 cabinet level appointees has held elected office.  Each of them have a life's work of directly relevant government experience in the line of promotion to the position that they have been given.  Where they have second and third level appointments to make under themselves, we can expect to see that trend continue.

Whereas in the Trump administration mid-level managers in State, Defense and Intelligence repeatedly had their work devalued, ignored or even demonized as "unelected anonymous deep state actors," Biden understands that the work of governance is not obedience to the highest leader.  Governance is the mustering of all levels of government work to support the political goals of the elected officials while simultaneously maintaining the good work and momentum of the government as a whole - most of which is the same under Democratic or Republican leadership.

I warmly welcome the return of the dignity of our civil servants, and of our military and intelligence specialists.  I am encouraged that the full measure of our government offices will be filled with knowledge and experience representing the depth and diversity of the American people. 

I welcome the return of governance as the political philosophy of the White House.

Monday, November 23, 2020

AntiSemitism in the GA Senate Race? Rabbi Heller speaks

With two Jews in the GA Senate runoff, it was inevitable that the ugly side of politics would try to use AntiSemitism as an accusation or a tool.  In fact, both are happening.  In both cases, accusation and tool, it is the Republican campaigns that are using the topic.  Republican candidate Perdue's campaign used images of Jewish Democratic Osoff with elongated noses as a tool (later retracted and denied).  Republican Jewish candidate Loeffler is accusing her Christian opponent Warnock of being an anti-Israel extremist as an accusation.  Both are ugly, reprehensible and false.  The idea that they can be a team is even more astounding.

The following is from Rabbi Joshua Heller, Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Torah in the Atlanta region since 2004:


 I was going to sit this one out, but the level of lashon hara got to the point where I felt I motivated to weigh in.  This conversation reminds me of people complaining about the rabbi's sermon over kiddush, when it turns out they are only reflecting on what they heard second hand because they were napping through the original delivery.

To call Rev. Warnock a "vicious anti-semite"  is simply mistaken.  Rev. Warnock (and the members of his clergy team) have deep partnerships and decades-long collaboration. with the Jewish community here, long before any discussion of political office, and he hosted the USCJ convention at his church in 2017.  I've only met him a few times, but I'm friendly with a number of members of his team, and these are not Jew-haters.

Rev. Warnock clearly has a particular agenda he wants to bring to DC.  Based on your political leanings, you might agree or disagree,  but Israel is not a big part of his agenda either way.  He's said a lot of things about Israel, some more supportive, some clearly problematic (if you comb through any of our sermons over the last 5 years, you'd find something to disagree with).  Both he (and Ossoff, who also got J Street's endorsement, but harder to call him an anti-semite because he is Jewish, I guess) are to the left of where I would prefer them to be on Israel, but Warnock came to the AIPAC convention this past year  with a desire to learn and build bridges.  Even if his change of heart was just a matter of knowing where his bread is buttered, comparing him to the squad is like confusing "Yesh Atid"  with "The Joint List." 

We're all happy to overlook the anti-semitism on our side of the aisle.   Just to stir the pot further- there are a lot of accusations of anti-semitism to go around, there are candidates in this race who have put out ads portraying their Jewish opponents with elongated noses, (though to be fair I think Perdue is not anti-semite, I think he just has anti-semites on his team).  and another who has endorsed the clearly anti-semitic QAnon conspiracy theories.  

There are no perfect candidates in these races. There are no "pareve" choices here.  Just be careful throwing around the accusations of anti-semitism.

 As a side note- what's going on in Georgia is insane.  Gabriel Sterling, the state official who supervised the elections, and his boss, Raffensberger are as Republican as they come, and I think if there were a judgement call in Trumps favor in their power to decide,  they might have have made it,  but they would not let their preference override their commitment to truth and law, and Sterling in particular is facing constant death threats as a result.

                                                   - Rabbi Joshua Heller    Nov. 23, 2020.