Thursday, January 11, 2007


I’ve always loved the old line, “two Jews, three opinions,” even though I never really believed it. Growing up as a kid, I thought the numbers were reversed. There were three people in my family: my dad, who often kept his opinion to himself; my mom, who had an opinion on everything (whether she had thought about the issue previously or not); and me. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know full well which of parents I’ve emulated.

Of course, it’s one thing to be opinionated; it’s still another to be willing to proclaim your opinions loudly to friends and strangers alike. Happily, my mother does not belong in that category. I, on the other hand …

When you realize the above, maybe you’ll understand how painful it is for someone like me to view two sides of an issue in a way that neither one appears to be appreciably stronger than the other. When the issue is raised, your ears perk up so that you can absorb more information, more perspectives, more fodder for a legitimate heartfelt impulse to enter your soul. But in the back of your mind, you’re also cringing in fear that someone will ask the question “So, what’s your perspective on _____,” and you’ll have to answer – “Ah … well … I kind of see both sides on that one.” Yes, that’s right – you’ll cop out. You’ll picture yourself as a senator walking up to the well of the senate and then, when your name is called, saying “Abstain.” It’s downright un-American.

Yes, we Jews love our opinions; so do we politically-minded Americans. And those of us who are politically-minded Jewish Americans, my God, our opinions practically define who we are. “Hi, my name is Irving. I have two legs, two arms, and 716 opinions (that’s my best guess on the average number, though since I’m a sports fan, that number is probably low in my case).”

What? You think I’m stalling? Fine. Let me state the issue. Then you have to help me develop the opinion. If you’re a keen observer of the American political system, you’ll note that there are but a handful of issues that divide the Democratic party. Gay marriage and capital punishment are examples. And on those, my mind is pretty firm: pro gay marriage and against capital punishment (unless you’re talking about capital punishment for “pro lifers” who favor capital punishment, in which case I’m willing to reconsider …). Anyway, a third issue that divides Democrats is the issue of trade. Should we be protectionists or free traders? Let’s leave aside whether trade sanctions may be adopted for non-economic purposes, such as to persuade countries to respect human rights or do a better job of environmental protection. I obvious support such sanctions under the appropriate circumstances, but that issue is too easy. Here, I’m speaking about whether we should ever adopt protectionist measures purely for economic purposes.

If you would have asked me two years ago, I would have called myself a free trader. I thought that free trade was in the long term best interests of ALL countries – after all, what can be more natural, and therefore healthful, than the free flow of goods and services? By contrast, protectionism came across to me as a selfish, myopic idea propounded by groups like labor unions whose interests lay in the welfare of discrete groups of people, rather than all the planet. I analogized protectionism to the decision of a state to erect toll booths on its highways; ultimately, other states follow suit, and the primary consequence is slower traffic for everyone. Great idea, huh?

Truth be told, I still sympathize with that perspective, at least to a degree. But now, I’m wondering if the competing perspective isn’t equally powerful, if not more so. Proponents of protectionism aren’t saying that we want to permanently erect barriers on trade. They’re saying that conditions exist in America that warrant protectionist measures, at least for the short term. The United States has a huge national debt, a gaping trade deficit, and a rapidly graying population. The nation appears headed for an economic disaster unless it takes steps to protect its own industry. Given these circumstances, wouldn’t some protectionist measures be in order to help stabilize our economic health?

If any of you have strong perspectives on this issue, feel free to share them in this website – or at least to share them with me privately. While I enjoy having such an open mind on this issue, I’d much rather be able to combine that open mind with a strong, heartfelt opinion. As a Jewish American prince, I feel that such an opinion is my birthright.

No comments: