Clowns & Looney Tunes

Jake Goodman
January 5, 2012
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NOTE:  After having written this blog, it is clear that at least part of my thinking was inspired by “Kaddish for an Unborn Child,” by Imre Kertész.  It is one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read;  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Like so many other Americans, I have been paying attention to the Republican presidential primaries.  At some point, we have to take a step back, discipline ourselves to take an objective view of the political landscape, and acknowledge the fact that we are not only supporting, not only propagating, but actually seeking out political candidates who are clowns.

The candidates are only guilty of pandering for our votes.  Poll after poll, all their advisers and all the headlines from the 24/7 news cycle suggest that the way to garner our support is to be hateful, to deny the rights and humanity of others, to deny that our greed is actually destroying the earth on which we live and the air we breathe.  Because that’s what we, the voters, want.  To become the most powerful leader of the free world, they must be willing to run on platforms that they themselves, only years ago, would have (and did) decry.  We ridicule them for their hypocrisy and bemoan the fact that we cannot trust if any of them actually represent our pure values, but we would never vote for them if they acted any other way.  They wear the clown’s nose because we demand it of them.

We do not wish to elect a leader who will make our lives, our country and the world a better place.  We want something much more basic: to be absolved of any responsibility for our nation’s impending decline, for the economic and social disparities that plague every person in this country (very much including ourselves), for the shocking poverty and crimes against humanity that happen all across this world.   So we elect a clown, on whom all blame can fall when things fail.

Jews should know better.  We were, after all, once slaves in Egypt.  We understand what it is like to live as strangers in a strange land. We have experienced the pain of living as an oppressed minority class, yearning for liberation.  Every Spring, we willingly leave that narrow place, in which our ancestors lived for hundreds of years, to seek out that land of milk and honey in which we can live freely.

And yet, during the last election, about 22% of us voted for a candidate who took increasingly hostile and ridiculous stances toward immigrants, who said that women “need education and training” rather than an equal pay bill (women still make $.070 to every dollar men make), who advocated an ineffective economic plan that would fail Black and Hispanic Americans disproportionately, and would eventually become the last remaining voice of opposition on the wrong side of history on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In the January 2012 printed edition of this very magazine, Larry Greenfield “boldly predict[ed] that the national Republican Jewish vote will grow from 22 to 35 percent” in this upcoming presidential election.  I find this prospect horrifying.  This election cycle has already become such a circus that even George Will (George Will!) has said that it has been “hijacked by charlatans, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial charlatans” in a “fundamentally disrespectful approach to the selection of presidents.”

We need to take a sober look at this crop of the clowns—the clowniest ones I’ve ever seen—and then to take an even closer look at ourselves.  Who are we?  How dare we allow any one of these looney tunes to occupy the office of presidency?  This is madness of our own making.

Clowns do not absolve us of responsibility.  Quite the opposite.  They hold a funhouse mirror up to life, exaggerating and exposing us for who we really are.  Today, we are the biggest clowns of all.  Tomorrow, and in future election cycles, I hope beyond hope that we seek out and demand leaders who are serious, competent, deserving of respect and humane.

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Jake Goodman is an LGTBQ activist, Jewish educator and performer. He holds an MA in Jewish Education with a specialization in Infomal and Communal Education from the Davidson School at JTS and a BFA in Acting from Emerson College. Jake has worked increasingly to advocate toward full equality for LGBT people. Jake is a founding member of Queer Rising, a grassroots organization that demands queer rights through direct action, is on a committee to confront homeless queer youth with the Ali Forney Center, and is currently working on a book. Jake is also a proud company member of Storahtelling, previously serving as Associate Director, and serves as senior faculty for the 14th Street Y's LABA fellowship. He has served as educator in various capacities at seminaries, synagogues, JCCs, camps and pre-schools around the country. In the theater world, Jake has performed across the country and internationally at The Berkshire Theater Festival, Actors Theater of Louisville, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Alma in Tel-Aviv.

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