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Life in the Swing State

Life in the Swing State

Spiritual lessons from the crucial presidential vote in Ohio.


Lately, I've been hesitant to clear the old messages from my answering machine.

You see, it's not every day that I get a call from the President of the United States:

"Hello. This is George W. Bush. Tomorrow is Election Day and I am calling to ask for your vote. We've been through a lot together the last four years... With your vote I will lead this country for four more years, to win the war on terror, and make America safer and more prosperous. The election is close and could come down to Ohio..."

It's not every day that Senator Joseph Lieberman calls me either (I think he knows that I'm Jewish):

"Hello this is Joe Lieberman calling to talk to you about John Kerry. I have known John for 40 years and I can tell you that he is smart, honorable, thoughtful and hard-working... He will take the fight today to the terrorists who threaten us and will work with our allies, including Israel."

Arnold Schwarzenegger called to tell me to 'flex my voting muscles.'

In the days and weeks before the 2004 Presidential election, barely a day went by without my receiving some call from a celebrity urging me to vote for their candidate. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called to tell me to 'flex my muscles' and vote for Bush while former Ohio Senator and astronaut John Glenn pleaded with me to vote for Kerry.

My mailbox was a daily conglomeration of all the latest political literature from Democrats and Republicans, some pro-Bush, some anti-Bush. They came at me from all sides. Strangers knocked on my door with information and arguments why I should vote for Kerry. Bush's political activists offered me free yard signs.

I felt so important. Everyone told me that I can change the world with my vote. Whoever would win Ohio would win the election.

When Election Day came, I waited in a long line to cast my vote. Then I anxiously listened that night to the news. After all was said and done, the election really did come down to Ohio. Every vote meant something. We had changed the world.

Post-Election Letdown

So now I'm feeling a little depressed. I haven't heard from a celebrity in almost a week, and my voice mailbox is pretty empty. I'm experiencing "post-election letdown." Do I still matter? Am I still in a battleground? Does my vote still count for anything?

The reality, of course, is that everything we do in life has critical importance. As the Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) tells us:

A person should always view himself as if he is equally balanced -- half culpable and half worthy. If he does one mitzvah, one meritorious deed, he is fortunate, for he has tilted the scale for himself toward good. If he commits one transgression, woe to him, for he has tilted the scale for himself toward evil...

Further, a person should always view the world as if it is equally balanced, half culpable and half worthy. The world is judged based on the majority. If an individual does one mitzvah, he tilts the global scale toward good. If he transgresses, the global scale is moved toward evil.

Whenever we choose good, we don't merely affect ourselves, we influence the entire world. If I am nice to someone, that person will be in a better mood and is more likely to act kindly to someone else. This third person will probably be gentler with another, and the chain keeps going. The same is true for treating someone harshly. A mean streak is unleashed in the world, sending its momentum rippling worldwide.

We are always in the voting booth, pulling a lever for good, or punching a ballot for evil.

We are always in the voting booth, pulling a lever for good, or punching a ballot for evil. Every time we smile at someone, we are giving the side of good more power. Every time we slip and engage in gossip, we are casting a vote for evil. Whenever we offer encouraging words, we are tilting the scales toward good. If ever we throw an insult, if we look at another with disdain, we make the world a worse place.

We are always involved in an election. And invariably, it is a close one. We must look at the world and at ourselves and realize that the smallest positive or negative action can make a world of difference.

We all live in a "spiritual swing state." We must continuously remind ourselves of the decisions we face, and the enormous opportunity to cast that deciding vote for a better world.

November 6, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 16

(15) Kevin, November 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Answer for Steve Too

God bless President Bush and our country's leaders to make the world a better place for all mankind. May the brave actions in the Middle East today pave the way for a better world (and the US) tomorrow. The spread of democracy, human rights and freedom throughout the world may solve many domestic problems within societies. As a US military person, I only wish for the world to be rewarded tomorrow for the historical actions today regardless of any race, origin, or religion.

(14) yael, November 18, 2004 12:00 AM

answer for steve

i am an israelian. what you wrote- jews said it in germany before the war. they were also german first.
our first loyality -as i see it - has to be for us-jews. because when times are bad - no one will save us. just us.

(13) raye, November 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Swing state? Swing low, Sweet Chariot!.

I voted via absentee ballot because I was in Israel at election time. Divisiveness about the candidates among the frum communities in New York was rampant before I left on Oct 20th. It never ceases to amaze me that the Bushites have only one statement in his defense. "He's for Israel". What does that mean? Three little words, twelve little letters. Is that supposed to cover the spectrum of what it means to "be for Israel?"

(12) Max, November 9, 2004 12:00 AM

It's a GOOD thing not to be taken for granted!

I'm a Jew from The Middle East (not Israel). I've been living in this great country for 25 years and quite frankly never understood how Jews could let the Democratic party take them for granted or how a Jew could be a liberal? After all, we Jews have traditionally held such strong and conservative values. What has happened to us here in America? We share more beliefs with the decadent, arrogant and hypocritical Hollywood types than the genuine and hard-working middle-class who re-elected President Bush. Why would a Jew like Clinton more than Bush? Clinton kissed up to Arafat every chance he got and Arafat went home and blew up some more Jews. Bush called Arafat for what he was and the Jews in this country dislike him. Is this what being a progressive liberal means? To defy logic and good sense?
I have to go now. Thanks for reading and I hope to read some good responses.

(11) Steve, November 9, 2004 12:00 AM

Max, here's the response you asked for


Is it really good for the Jews to have non-Jews see us as people who have dual loyalty ? who put the interests of another country above the interests of our own country ?

The argument that this war is being done on behalf of Israel is a very dangerous argument, and I do not understand why Jews would promote the idea. This is why I believe this: our (America's) military is stretched so thin already in Iraq and Afganistan, to maintain those troop levels alone we will need a draft, if we get into new wars the need for a draft will be far more likely. So, I ask any who would like to respond, what do you think the reaction of ordinary non-Jewish Americans will be when they are asked to send their sons to possibly die for a war many perceive as being fought for Israel ?

The charges of dual loyalty are also something we need to consider.

The path of putting Israel's interests above the interests of the country we live in appeals to the emotions of some, but its a dangerous path when viewed in the long run and without emotion.

American Jews need to be American first, if being a Jew is all that matters then honesty requires one to make aliya.

Just my thoughts.


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