We are all indebted to President Obama for having reinforced an important lesson: If one wants to influence others or persuade them of one's point of view, then speaking to them condescendingly is rarely a winning strategy. The one bump in the road of the Obama juggernaut in the 2008 campaign came when he confirmed for a group of wealthy San Francisco donors their view of small-town Americans: "[T]hey get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
Unchastened by that gaffe, he recently offered a group of Massachusetts donors a similar explanation of why "facts and science and argument do seem to be winning the day all the time." It turns out that human beings are "hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared." (At the very least, the president should bone up on his evolutionary theory: Acting stupidly is hardly the kind of advantage that gets "hard-wired" into our brains, even according to the evolutionists.)
In charitable moments, the president allowed that perhaps he could have done a better job of explaining the benefits of Obamacare or the $787 billion dollar stimulus in terms simple enough for even the common man to grasp.
While people do not like to be spoken down to, they generally do respect the outstanding qualities of others as long as they are permitted to discover those qualities for themselves. President Obama, however, has never mastered the trick of hiding his light under a bushel basket. He famously hailed his own nomination as the moment when the rise of the oceans began to stop. Speaking on the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the President noted that no one could have dreamed then that a black man would be the president of the United States thirty years later, as if the significance of every event in human history was preparing the way for the advent of Barack Obama.
Surrogates for the president accused those who show a distinct lack of gratitude for the goodies showered upon them by the President and his huge Democratic majorities in Congress not only of being "ill-informed," but of being racists as well. Americans who had voted a black man into office by a comfortable margin, despite his slender resume, hazy past, and a long history of consorting with hate-America radicals, did not cotton to being called racists.
The more the cultural elites – the political class, media, and academia – heaped their unremitting scorn on the Tea Party movement the more popular the movement became. Over half of Americans believe that the Tea Party movement has revitalized the political system. Nearly 69% profess to having either positive or neutral feelings about the Tea Party, as opposed to approximately a quarter who profess negative feelings.
TO MANY IT APPEARED that the President's disdain for voters is not just personal but reflected in his philosophy of government. The Progressive impulse from President Woodrow Wilson through President Franklin Delano Roosevelt up to President Obama has always been to describe political issues as essentially technical in nature, and therefore best solved by "brain trusts" of the best and the brightest. Progressives have always manifested a certain ambivalence about democratic politics, which leave crucial decisions in the hands of the less enlightened, and free markets, which reflect the amalgamated decisions of merely average people.
Left unchecked the Progressive impulse results in an every expanding regulatory state, in which legislation primarily consists of grants of vast discretion to bureaucracies. That would certainly describe Obamacare, with its 47 new bureaucracies, and whose contents went unread by most of the senators and congressmen who voted for it. Professor Angelo Codevilla, one of the most articulate exponents of Tea Party grievances, describes the proliferation of government regulations as designed to tilt the playing field towards some and away form others: "By endowing some in society with the power to force others to sell cheaper than they would, and forcing others to buy at higher prices – even to buy in the first place – modern government makes valuable some things that are not and devalues others that are."
Perhaps because America lacks a feudal past in which nobles were responsible for the well-being of their serfs, Americans have traditionally been resentful of the idea of rule by Platonic wise men better able to discern their needs than they are themselves. American federalism, in which each state is its own social laboratory, reflects a deep suspicion of a single, grand solutions to social problems.
But how do the "best and brightest" conspire to keep themselves in power? By creating an ever growing package of government entitlements – six weeks of annual paid vacation, retirement with a full pension at 60. That is what Tea Party supporters view European social democracies as having done. Such polities, in their view, produce enfeebled citizens, who look to the government for everything and in whom even the natural instincts of self-defense atrophy over time. The citizens of the European welfare state, in short, are the very opposite of Thomas Jefferson's noble yeoman, for whom that government which governs least governs best.
The American political debate this year is not merely an economic one: Is the accumulation of governmental debt sustainable or will it suck all the air out of the economy? Does the business uncertainty caused by the rulemaking of a multiplicity of new bureaucracies, poorly understood aspects of Obamacare, such as the employer mandates, and failure to reach agreement on the Bush tax cuts keep businesses from using vast cash reserves for business expansion and job creation.
Rather the debate is at root a philosophical debate about proper role of government. Should wise men be charged with redistributing wealth between various groups in society according to their sense of justice? Or is the principal role of government the preservation of individual liberty. On this issue, citizens voted on November 2, whether or not President Obama thinks they are up to the task of expressing an opinion.
I doubt I'm the only ba'al hasimcha who finds himself feeling guilty about the amount of time our guests invest in coming. In Israeli chareidi circles, it's common to invite hundreds of people to whom we feel positively connected, but whom we do not expect to join us for the seudah. (Indeed there would not be space if they all did join in.) By the time, they arrive at the chasanah, the dance floor has usually been commandeered by the chassan or kallahs friends, and they content themselves with wishing the parents Mazel Tov and a kiss on the cheek. Yet those five to ten minutes spent at the chasanah usually require an hour or more getting back and forth, even with a car.
Inevitably many of those who feel obligated to come are distinguished talmidei chachamim. So the bitul Torah for which we are responsible quickly accumulates. But everyone who takes a big chunk out of their evening had something else to do – a night learning seder, spending more time with the younger children or even just being there when a teenage bochur arrives home from yeshiva ketana.
Yes, the friends who come for a short time do add to the simcha. But I still can't help but suspect than many would have rather conveyed their Mazal Tov at a Kiddush or over the phone or the next day in shul. But they did not want to offend just as we did not wish to offend by not inviting.
What is the solution to this conundrum? Somehow, writing on invitations, or even conveying personally, the message, "But please don't feel obligated to come," seems a bit contradictory, and perhaps even offensive.
I was in Philadelphia Yeshiva one recent Sunday morning for Shachris. Even though I probably visit the Yeshiva on average once every eight months, I inevitably experience a moment of surprise when I go to wash my hands prior to davening. Each one of the more than a dozen kalim for washing is filled. During the winter months, when chapped hands are a problem, the water is always warm. I have never seen such consistency in the performance of this small chesed any place else. Obviously, this practice is drilled into bochurim from the time they arrive in the yeshiva.
Like anything else that we do regularly, the filling of the kalim for the next user can become almost automatic. It will not ensure that every "Phillie talmid" remains a flawless ba'al chesed his entire life. Yet there must still be a momentary flash every time one goes to perform netilas yada'im that someone has filled this kli for me; and another when one fills the kli for the next bochur that we are required to think about others in everything we do. And that subliminal message is repeated many times each day for years.
The other day I went to throw out the garbage in the large canister near my building, and found a huge pile of unsightly garbage strewn on the ground. On overfilled garbage bag had obviously split, and itscontents were left there for the aesthetic enjoyment of the neighborhood and for someone else to clean up. "A Phillie talmid could never have done that," I thought to myself.