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April 19, 2014 | 19th Nisan 5774

Hard choices

Galilee Diary #427, February 1, 2009
Marc J. Rosenstein

A scheme is not a vision.
          -Leonard Cohen, "Isaac"

Now that the latest war seems to have ended, we can get back to where we left off in the election campaign (the cynics, of course, argue that the war was actually just a phase of the campaign). The posters all show portraits of scowling candidates, with slogans like "not a buddy – a leader!" (You find yourself looking to see if the small print is an endorsement by Vladimir – or Benito. But it's not). No smiles in this campaign.

Last night we went to a local parlor meeting for one of the smaller parties – not a fringe or single-issue party like senior citizens or pot-legalization – but one with a broad social vision. The young woman who spoke was extremely impressive – serious, well-spoken, convincing – and she is only a local volunteer; many of us know the leaders of the party to be similarly impressive intellectuals and leaders of social change. The obvious concern, that several people expressed, was the prospect of "wasting" a vote on a small party. If a couple of the larger parties together get close to 50% of the vote and form an alliance, then all they'll need is a few more seats to form a majority coalition. Theoretically any small party could be the keystone. This is of course the "blackmail" power of single-issue parties: "We'll join and give you a majority on all major issues if you give in to us on our one demand (e.g., money for yeshivot, or legalizing pot, etc.)." So if a small party is lucky, and the numbers are right, it can have disproportionate influence on the operation of the government. On the other hand, if its demands are too unreasonable, or there are other small parties bidding against it, or it is too small, it can find itself out in the cold: a tiny parliamentary faction stuck in the opposition with no leverage to achieve its goals and not much interested or skilled in anything else. We've seen this scenario many times in the past 60 years. And if the party is too small, then it won't get enough votes to get any seats in the Knesset, and those who voted for it certainly will have thrown away their votes. Or worse – just as voters for Nader may have helped elect George W. Bush, so a vote for a small party is one vote not cast in the contest among the three major parties - one of which, in the end, will provide the prime minister.

Thus many people argue that one should grit one's teeth and vote for the one of the major parties that is the least objectionable, so that at least one's vote is directly helping to determine the balance of power. The trouble is that the major parties themselves are largely coalitions of disparate ideological and interest groups, and if you're cynical or at least unenthusiastic about their respective leaders, it is very easy to look at the choices and simply walk away (as 40% of the electorate did last time); indeed, one participant in the meeting last night, a recently discharged soldier, said, in obvious frustration, that his inclination was not to vote, as the big parties all turn him off and the little ones seem pointless. It was easy to feel his pain.

I've tentatively come to the conclusion that if there is a party that really represents a coherent vision that mostly speaks for me, and that is fielding candidates who seem to be the kind of leaders I would be proud to have representing me and running my country, then I should vote for it even if it may well end up in the opposition. Everyone is busy calculating, and trying to predict the next moves and likely combinations, and figuring out what deals can be made. That is natural and OK – it is politics in the real world. But as we've just seen in another election elsewhere, maybe there needs to be some place for vision, for saying out loud: "This is what we really want – not the least of all evils, not what we can get under the circumstances – but what we really believe in." When you keep settling for mediocrity, you get mediocrity. If we want to raise the level of discourse, we have to look up.

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