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Letter on Social Justice to President-Elect Bush
2000, Magazine
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Dear President-Elect Bush:

Congratulations on your victory in this hard-fought election. Next January, you will assume leadership of the country which defined the American Century and, in large measure, determine whether our best years are behind us. Certainly, most Americans will be watching carefully to see if the extraordinary prosperity of the last eight years continues. Some of us will use a different gauge to measure success, I among them. I desperately hope you will triumph. In spite of the fact that I voted for your opponent, I pledge to help you reach that goal.

As a Jew and an American, I cannot help but urge you to continue the extraordinary relationship this country has with the State of Israel. As a Jew and an American, I have more than Israel on my mind.

First and foremost are our children. You campaigned on the promise that you would "leave no child behind." Now is the time to make good on that promise. Every child must be prepared to take his or her place in our society as we imagine it, not as we remember it. Our public schools must not be allowed to become warehouses for the future underclass. Please do not take away the resources necessary to raise the level of education of every child beyond the basic "three Rs" to the "three Cs" - computer literacy, cultural diversity and citizenship.

I know that money alone won't change a child's education. Community members like me must be willing to support parents and teachers with time and creativity to share the benefits of the education we have already received.

Next and no less important are our senior citizens. You campaigned bitterly against your opponent for their support, offering control over pension dollars and subsidies for prescription medication. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that measure of a society is how it treats its old people. Do not abandon them in the time of their old age when their strength has ebbed. Ensure their dignity as you promised to do in exchange for their votes.

I know that government alone cannot make the elderly socially secure. Community members like me must not segregate the old from the young, or place such a premium on youth that we make gray hair a source of embarrassment or a badge of defeat. We must honor the wisdom that comes from a life of experience, and make old age a worthwhile aspiration.

Our prosperous society still has an overwhelming population of poor people. You have promoted a "compassionate conservatism" which places heavy responsibility on private institutions--often religiously based--to care for those who do not share in America's prosperity. A government which does not rescue its people from harm loses its claim on the people's support. Government protects us from enemy invasion. Government protects us from criminals. Government restores us in the wake of natural disasters. Government must protect and restore those victims of poverty as well.

I know how convenient it is to turn over to government the relief of society's disadvantaged. My conscience must not rest easy unless I do my part to feed the hungry and house the homeless, not just with palliative responses, but with devoted attention to resolving the social circumstances which allow some to presume wealth and others to hope for no more than subsistence.

Our prosperous society also has an overwhelming number of very rich people, and corporations which seek to influence the policies of government to their advantage. That money spoke loudly in your campaign. You promised tax relief to all who pay taxes, unashamedly promising more tax relief to those who pay more taxes.) Of course, no one enthusiastically relinquishes his or her honest earnings to the government. Yet, from your bully pulpit, you can remind those with the wherewithal of the privilege it is to contribute to this country and to this government. Please do not replace the inspirational motto of our country E Pluribus Unum, "Out of the many, one," with a corporate logo.

I know that my own earning and spending habits must reflect those values as well. If I can do with less, then I can be satisfied with less, and I will be able to contribute more to this society.

We live in a common environment. How we treat our world will determine not only the quality of life, but perhaps its very existence. Your own state of Texas has suffered from the devastating effects of droughts, floods, violent storms and extremes in temperature. Inattention to the polluting effects of human society has allowed these natural disasters to increase in frequency and intensity. Please place long-term concern ahead of short-term gain for the sake of future generations.

I know that my own practices must reflect the values I urge upon you. The less each of us contributes to waste, the more there will be for all of us. (By the way, I promise not to drive my car one full day each week--Shabbat.)

And guns. Spare me the agonizing over the intent and promise of the Bill of Rights, the gun culture in this country has cheapened the value of life, not preserved it. The enthusiasm with which opponents of gun control embraced your candidacy was as frightening as a loaded .44 in the hands of the proverbial "disgruntled employee." If there is a universally sour note in our country's culture, it is the notion that violence is an acceptable means of pursuing life, liberty and happiness. Take the first step in restoring a climate of respect for life in our society by making firearms difficult to buy and more difficult to use. You may find that if you hold life as a value over taking a life, that the debates about either end of life will recede in contentiousness.

I know I need to do my part as well. I will not allow my local or federal representatives to ignore the moral dimension of this issue, even in the face of a strong and well-funded opposition.

Six issues may be enough to call to your attention. In fact, six issues is most likely too much. So allow me to suggest a single focus which may encompass them all.

Jewish tradition insists that every person has responsibilities to the sacred covenant we have with God. Even when the spirit does not move us to do so, we must meet our obligations and act in ways that are faithful and just. Our spirituality comes not only from the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts, but from the works of our hands and the fulfillment of our promises.

For two centuries and a quarter, America has protected the rights of its citizens. We have written a glorious chapter of human history. Let us now build on the privilege of freedom and become the model of responsibility. Instill in us a pride in service. Raise high the banner of selflessness. Call on us to preserve the dignity of others as an expression of our gratitude for the blessings of liberty.

Dare us to improve the world of God's creation, that we may be a blessing.

Congratulations, Mr. President-Elect.

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