Thursday, September 30, 2010


Unfortunately, I will be unable to blog this weekend as I will be out of town, participating in a conference on interfaith dialogue. I look forward to resuming my blogging next weekend.

Take care, everyone.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Back in 2008, during the Presidential campaign, I wrote a post for Lighthearted Blog entitled “Why Obama.” In that post, I argued that Obama’s candidacy rested on but a small number of premises. First, he is personally likeable and charismatic. Second, he is a true thinker – as thoughtful as he is intelligent, he enjoys both learning and teaching. Third, he is passionate, and his passion is grounded in his spirituality. Fourth, he is a man of impeccable judgment. Fifth, he is a man of supreme integrity. Sixth, while progressive, he is also pragmatic. And seventh, a number of the above qualities have come together in the form of his desire above all else to unify the nation, for how else can we accomplish great things if we are not truly unified?

Now, two years later, I can look back at the above assessment and see clear respects in which the promise has been realized. Barack is indeed a likeable personally – I don’t doubt that he would charm anyone who met him at a cocktail party. There is also no denying that he is a deliberate, thoughtful man, and this makes him continue to be popular among the PBS-listeners of America. In addition, two years into his Presidency, I see no reason to impugn his integrity or to question that he is a progressive pragmatist (it’s a bit easier to say that than to call him a “pragmatic progressive,” since pragmatism seems to be the dominant one of those two characteristics). Finally, it is clear that he would deeply love to unify this country.

But the last sentence reflects the central problem of the Obama Presidency. The GOP took steps early in the Presidency to thwart Barack from unifying the country behind his programs. And Barack was either unable or unwilling to fight back – or at least to fight like a Banshee. In other words, the GOP was fighting like an MMA grappler, and Barack was submitting to the Marquis de Queensberry rules. Unless you happen to be a young Mike Tyson, and perhaps even then, you’ll lose that fight every time.

Once it became clear that “unity” wasn’t happening, the Obama Presidency has seemed rudderless. When progressivism is subordinated to pragmatism, and when your opponents – and yes, the GOP leaders are behaving like opponents, not collaborators – are making it difficult to get anything remotely progressive from being accomplished, what are you left with? What practical goals can you set? The result has been an eerie sense of a lame duck Presidency, more than two years before the completion of the first term. It’s almost like the GOP has been satisfied with creating a legislative stalemate – and any chess player knows that sometimes, when your opponent has created a strong stalemate position, there’s nothing you can accomplish except staring blankly at the board and hoping that the game can end.

Fortunately, when you are President, you are involved in more than just the legislative process. You control the executive branch, and the executive branch can accomplish a lot even without a strongly supportive Congress. Take, for example, Barack’s recent enthusiasm for achieving a Middle East Peace agreement. There’s nothing that Boehner or McConnell can do to derail that process. I can come up with plenty of other examples – just go through the list of agencies represented in the Cabinet and consider how much each Department can be improved under the right kind of leadership.

The problem right now, though, is that we are in the midst of a political season, and as such, it is inevitable that we will think big. What can Barack do to transform the country – its economy, its foreign policy, even its mood? How can he lead his Party to a surprisingly strong showing in the Mid-terms? How can he earn re-election himself? And how can he regain control of the national debate and effectively pressure the more moderate Republicans to turn away from their own Party’s leadership, much as the Blue Dog Democrats are now so incredibly willing to abandon Barack, Pelosi and Reed?

The answer can be found in the one element that I thought would be present in his Presidency but that has so far been missing in action: his passion. And let me add to that his vision, and the courage to realize that vision even if it doesn’t always seem “pragmatic” to make the effort. To be sure, Barack the President, no less than Barack the Candidate, has made the effort to realize the vision of unifying the country. But that didn’t work, and that probably can’t work. So the question is, does he have a second act? Does he have passion for a vision of change that does NOT presuppose a general agreement among the body politic?

Reagan did, and that’s what made him such an “effective” President, by which I mean he was effective at implementing the agenda that he set out to implement. Barack recognized Reagan’s greatness in that sense, and he took plenty of heat from Hillary when he stood up for Reagan during their battles for the nomination. Now is the time for Barack to prove that he can indeed emulate what was best in Reagan – not the trickle down economics (yucch!), but the passion, the vision, and above all else, the courage.

The country awaits the response. And in particular, the electorate will await the response, both in November 2010 and in November 2012.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Allow me to introduce this blogpost by summarizing the relevant point of the last one: When the Virginia Tech Hokies opened their football season against the Boise State Broncos, it was clear that “the narrative” was all about Boise State. The Hokies were but a test for the Broncos, who were rapidly becoming “America’s Team.” The game announcers took every opportunity possible to talk about Boise, and then some. Their rooting interest was clear; they wanted Boise State to win that game, go on to finish the regular season undefeated (which they have done before), and finally, be given the chance to play for a National Championship in January. That, and that alone, would be the only story worthy of this football season.

The nice thing about football, though, is that Virginia Tech didn’t have to worry a bit about “the narrative.” It didn’t matter that the announcers were falling all over the Broncos. They could babble all they want about the boys from Boise, but Tech was still able to play on a level field. Accordingly, despite falling way behind early in the game, the Hokies came back and damned near won it. But that’s football. Politics is a tad different. In politics, “the narrative” does affect the outcome. In fact, sometimes, no matter what the politicians say or do, they get swept up in “the narrative” and lose to a lesser opponent. Such is the power of the media to influence the minds of the American public, particularly in situations when most people are not particularly intrigued by an election and therefore don’t bother to invest the time in thinking for themselves.

During Presidential election years, “the narrative” is somewhat less important because, relatively speaking, the electorate is paying attention. Not so for the Midterms. There’s no national race to captivate the casual observer. The White House and Supreme Court are not at stake – just the Congress. And given the general level of cynicism about that decreasingly-august body, many if not most Americans are likely to yawn their way through the entire Midterm election buildup. That is when “the narrative” is most crucial. The talking heads speak their peace, the electorate listens in a semi-interested state, and slowly but surely, the prevailing story starts to seep into their subconscious, with little else to serve as competition. In short, if you want to know what’s going to happen in a Midterm election, turn on the TV and pay attention; if there’s a consensus among the motor mouths, you can figure out the outcome. And this year, there seems to be pretty strong consensus. Let’s examine it.

“Right now, the Tea Party doesn’t matter. The Republicans don’t matter. The economy and the Democrats are handing the G.O.P. a great, unearned revival. Nothing, it seems, is more scary than one-party Democratic control.” So said David Brooks in a recent New York Times column. His comment might be hyperbolic, but its central point is universally accepted: this Midterm will be a referendum on the Democrats. On Barack Obama. On a Congress controlled heavily by the Democrats. And on the particular way in which that Party has managed their stranglehold over Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Narrative begins and ends with Barack. And it is hardly a kind story. Indisputably, Barack campaigned as a transformational figure. “We are the change we have been waiting for.” If that means anything, and that is increasingly being called into question, it means that if you elect Barack Obama, you will get bold leadership in a new and progressive direction. This isn’t just about “stabilizing the economy.” It’s about empowering the disempowered all over the nation, and cleaning out all the barns inside the Washington Beltway.

Say what you want about Barack Obama, the narrative continues, but as a man who promised transformational leadership, he has been a clear failure. Our troops are still mired in a seemingly pointless war in Asia. Wall Street is once again enjoying salad days, while Main Street suffers with bread and water. All the hype about closing Gitmo has turned out to be just that – hype. And rather than fighting homophobia, Barack’s Administration is on record supporting the “Defense of Marriage Act.”

Where, asks the narrative, is the “change we have been waiting for”? Certainly not in the elimination of partisanship in Congress. Congress seems as polarized as ever, if not more so. But ironically, Barack’s progressive base is furious that he did not use his bully pulpit to “out” the Republican naysayers. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it dozens of times: “Did he not realize that his Party controlled Congress? Why didn’t he just make the Republicans filibuster? Why was he always so willing to compromise before the Republicans were even put to the test? First, single payer. Then the public option. Then Wall Street Reform. Does this guy stand for anything other than his desire to win elections?”

And that, says the narrative, is what his own base is asking. Those who didn’t vote for him are largely asking very different questions: Is he a Muslim? Is he an American? I would include the question “is he a socialist?” but it seems pretty clear that they’ve already answered that question (in the affirmative).

So, “the narrative” continues, if you exclude the great apathetic center, you’ve got two groups of potentially passionate people in the electorate. One group is loaded for bear to kick Barack and his Party from office. And the other is dismayed at the idea that their erstwhile hero, the man who would transform Washington, has turned out to be just another wimpy politician. All hat, no saddle, as they say in fly-over country. And the upshot is that all the energy in this Midterm will be coming from the right. They’ll be mobilizing their troops to fundraise and then get out the vote. As for the Democrats, the base will presumably vote for the Party of Blue, but they’ll do so grudgingly, listlessly, and ultimately to little avail. Barack Obama might well have his second act, but it will have to be after the Midterm, when he is facing a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Indeed, concludes the narrative, if the Democrats keep the Senate it will only be because there is so much enthusiasm on the Republican side that they have forgotten Bill Buckley’s admonition to always support the most conservative, electable candidate. In other words, the only problem the Republicans face is over-confidence. As for the Democrats, they’re walking around like a college kid with a hangover and a bad memory of who they hooked up with the previous evening.

So there you have it. That’s the story that the talking heads are providing on TV, in the papers, over the Internet, and everywhere else politics is being spoken. It’s hardly the only possible interpretation of the past two years. If you ask the White House operatives, they’ll tell you that Barack Obama has stopped American combat operations in Iraq, brought our economy from the brink of disaster, and passed a historic and much-needed health care reform bill. They’ll also tell you that he has restored the popularity of America throughout the world with his thoughtful, respectful, fair-minded and dignified style – one that is perfectly suited to bringing the long-awaited peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The thing is, there is never only one story. Surely, if you were hanging around Blacksburg, Virginia prior to the Boise State game, you would have heard all about the promise of the Hokies’ season, and the Broncos would have been a mere afterthought. And if you’re spending time in primarily African-American neighborhoods, I suspect you’re still hearing a whole lot of love for Barack Obama. But nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is anyone toasting the Democratic Congress. And they, not Obama, are the ones who will be up for re-election this fall. So without anyone to defend them, it is difficult to know what exactly can be done at this point to fight the power of the prevailing narrative.

How powerful is that narrative? Consider that according to recent polls, most Americans agree with the Democrats that the so-called “tax cuts for the rich” should be eliminated. And yet which is the party where more than 30 Congressmen recently broke rank with their Party on the issue? You guessed it -- the Democrats. They are running scared, whereas the Republicans in Congress are as unified as ever.

At some point, it is difficult for those in the apathetic center not to succumb to the narrative and perceive the Democrats simply as losers – and I don’t just mean that in the sense of losing elections. If there is to be an upset this fall, if the Democrats are to keep control of the Congress, something dramatic is going to have to happen. Or perhaps it is better to say the Democrats are going to have to be presented with a surprising and wonderful opportunity and then they are going to have do something out of character and seize it. It could happen. But as “the narrative” would tell you, don’t hold your breath.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


During the summer, the rest of the world came together to watch its favorite spectator sport. It is now time for Americans to enjoy that privilege. Oddly enough, though I am referring to two different sports, both go by the same name: football. Elsewhere, football refers to the so-called “Beautiful Game,” one that is generally marked by tremendous grace and finesse, punctuated by moments of frustration and occasional instants of sheer bliss. It is an aptly named sport, because for all the work that the players do with their heads or their arms, international football is almost invariably won or lost with the legs and feet. Take the ball away from the players, and you easily could see them competing on the track – or perhaps even running cross country. There are collisions in this sport, but for the most part, the only real violence takes place among the hooligans who watch it from the stands.

Then there’s my favorite sport, the sport of Jack Tatum, Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor. They call it football, or if you prefer, “Amurican Football,” but the feet sometimes seem to be a whole lot less important than the arms and torso. Those are the body parts that our gridiron heroes use to hit people – to turn themselves into weapons and launch themselves at their opponents, some of whom don’t even see what’s about to hit them. We cheer when our teams supply the hits. We wince when our teams absorb the hits. And when we’re not paying attention to the hitting or to the pushing and shoving that goes with it, we’re focusing on the rest of the action – the grace and finesse that is similar to what foreign football fans have come to appreciate. We Americans love that too; we love our quarterbacks, our wide receivers and our halfbacks. But we also recognize that none of them could accomplish anything without the big brutes up front called offensive linemen. And that the whole lot of them wouldn’t have a prayer to compete for a title were it not for the maniacs who play defense. They, too, must be able to run. But more than track stars, they resemble boxers and wrestlers.

Once, when a friend of mine tried out for his high school team at a traditional football power in California, he was immediately given an intelligence test. The next day, he asked for the results. “You did well,” said the coach. “That means you’re on offense.” Offense, they say, wins games. Defense, on the other hand, wins championships.

Late in the evening this past Labor Day, my daughter walked in the door not long before midnight. I could only shake my head in frustration – the next day was, after all, a school day, and she would be getting up at 6:10 a.m. and attending seven classes, followed by the customary excessive homework assignments. (This generation of schoolchildren definitely gets screwed with their workload, but coming home late at night doesn’t exactly help the equation.) Still, I wasn’t one to look incredulously. She, too, was wondering what the hell I was doing, lying on the couch watching Boise State and Virginia Tech play football. “Boise State?” she said, laughing. And I knew exactly what she was thinking. “Why not Bismarck Community College? Or Nome University? When this game is over, what are you going to watch next, the 12 and under league from the Maplewood Rec Center?”

If I weren’t a football addict, I would have thought the same thing. Boise State?

But the interesting thing is that in the sport known as Amurican Football, there is no greater story on ANY level this year than Boise State. In the NFL there’s nothing close – the Saints already won their Super Bowl; who cares if they can somehow manage to repeat? Brett Favre looks more like a guy who had to drag himself out of bed to get up in the morning rather than someone who’s ready to go to work. As for the perennial pre-season favorite and almost invariable post-season loser, the Indianapolis Colts, they may have the best player in the league but he hardly inspires any interest. In fact, last year, in the greatest stage of them all, Peyton Manning stood on the sidelines looking depressed even while the game was still in the balance. He might be a great television pitch man and an even better pocket passer, but as a gladiator he leaves a lot to be desired.

The NFL seems poised for an off-year. But in the college ranks, everyone is talking about the same team: the Broncos from Southern Idaho. They’ve gone undefeated before, but they never played a schedule tough enough to compete for a national title – the voters wouldn’t let them. Now, finally, America seems ready for the Broncos to get their shot. All they had to do was to beat Virginia Tech on the road (which they ultimately did – barely), Oregon State at home, and another ten patsies, and we would permit them the shot they’ve never had before: to play in the college football championship game. Mind you, to achieve that privilege, Boise State would have to vault over several other perennial powers that have played a MUCH tougher schedule and either went unbeaten or suffered but a single loss. No matter, the Boise State Broncos have paid their dues in the past few years and we fans are going to will their way to a title shot. That is, assuming that they go undefeated.

Last weekend, when they flew out to the D.C. area to play Virginia Tech, one of college football’s elite programs, Boise State wasn’t just “a” story, they were THE story. This year, for the first time, they were starting out the season in the top five of the rankings (number 3 to be exact), and Virginia Tech, at number 10, was the only top 20 team on their schedule. When the Broncos ended the first quarter with a 17-0 lead, the announcers were going apoplectic trying to find words of praise. Then something happened – the football game turned into a real competition. Virginia Tech stormed back and actually took the lead. Then they relinquished it. Then they took it back again. In fact, with two minutes left in the game, Virginia Tech was on top, and Boise State needed a touchdown to win – a field goal wouldn’t help.

When Virginia Tech punted, Boise State came up with an excellent return, and they appeared poised to start their drive near midfield – except for one thing. A yellow flag was dropped in the area, suggesting that Boise State would be penalized and would have to start in poor field position. The announcer, Brent Musburger, audibly groaned at the sight of the flag. Fortunately for Brent’s “story,” the flag was miraculously picked up – the refs said that there was no penalty after all – and when Boise State started its possession in excellent field position, Brent was readying himself for the finish.

I forget his precise words, but I won’t soon forget their gist. “No matter what happens the rest of the way,” he began, “you’ve got to give it up to _______ for the way they’ve competed this evening.” You hear announcers utter that type of cliché all the time when two top ranked teams go at it, in nip and tuck fashion, for more than three hours and the game is still very much up for grabs. But usually, the blank in the above sentence is filled in with the words “both teams” – as in both teams have played a whale of a game and it’s a shame either has to lose. In this case, Musburger uttered the words “Boise State” only. To him, they and they alone were the story. They were the Harlem Globetrotters, and Virginia Tech was the Washington Generals. Or if you prefer more traditional analogies, the Broncos were David and the Hokies were Goliath. It hardly mattered to Musburger that, in this case, “David” entered into the game higher ranked. It also hardly mattered that the Boise State squad was much more experienced than the Hokies, who apparently lost many of their starters from the year before to graduation or professional football. Boise State wasn’t really competing with Virginia Tech in the mind of Brent Musburger. It was competing with Alabama, Ohio State, University of Southern California, Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma … and all the other well-known football factories that have won the championship over the years and have typically stomped all over schools like Boise State by scores like 48-3.

It is one thing for a school like Butler or Seton Hall to compete for a national championship in basketball, where only a handful of players can make a difference between an upper echelon team and a cellar dweller. It’s quite another for an obscure athletic department like Boise State’s to compete for a national title in football, where you need literally dozens of kids to shine every game of the year – a single loss being enough to forfeit any chance at the title. Now that we finally have a team with a chance, it is a great story. I sure wasn’t going to miss out on the toughest game in their schedule. And Brett Musburger wasn’t going to let the facts of the football game (i.e., that the inexperienced Virginia Tech team played their hearts out at least as much as the Boise State squad) get in the way of the overriding narrative.

So, I say, go Broncos! As long as you’re not competing with my Stanford Cardinal, I’ll pull for you to get your chance. It’s awfully boring seeing the same teams win the title every year. Indeed, it’s pretty darned cool to think that a few years ago, a bunch of kids were sitting in their living rooms, saying “Screw Alabama. Screw Miami. Screw USC. I’m going up to Boise Friggen Idaho and play on that crazy blue field [yes, they truly do play on a field with bright blue astro-turf] and we’re going to win ourselves a national championship.” It sounds insane. But it might actually happen this year. And that would be quite a story.

But as I contemplate the football narrative of the year, I can’t help but think of another narrative that is being told in America’s OTHER favorite spectator sport. And no, I’m not talking about stock car racing or even baseball. I’m referring to politics. This is a narrative that is getting to be almost as powerful as the story of the Boise State Broncos. Just as a seasoned announcer like Brent Musburger couldn’t bring himself to announce the Hokie game without talking non-stop about the Broncos, so too, are the political pundits finding it difficult to discuss the Mid-Terms of 2010 without talking about THE narrative of the year in politics.

Next weekend, I’ll do my best to discuss the narrative and explain what it means to me. As we all know, it can spell big trouble for the Democratic Party and for the progressive program that many of us wanted to see implemented when we voted for Barack Obama. And worse yet, unlike in football, when the Hokies didn’t have to worry about Brent Musburger and only had to compete against the Broncos (which is why the Hokies almost won), the Democratic Party won’t just have to fight against the Republicans, they’ll also have to fight against “the narrative.” Sometimes, that narrative can hit harder than Jack Tatum, Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor combined.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


As darkness descended on the home of our First Family, I began to pay more attention to the building and less to the crowd that had assembled on Pennsylvania Avenue. The house seemed smaller than I had remembered it. No longer an edifice of authority, it took on an aura of powerlessness, of vulnerability. This actually made it more endearing, more lovely, more approachable. I felt as if I could knock at the gate, escort myself inside, and walk right up to the five world leaders who were assembling for the latest chance at Middle East Peace. Then I could shake their hands and wish them luck, noting that each of them had the same ultimate goal in mind – not merely peace, but one with justice, security, trade, and friendship.

Why not? I thought to myself. If they want the same thing, if they were willing to work together to accomplish it, why couldn’t they? But then I found myself thinking that whether they could or not, they probably wouldn’t. Something would get in their way. Someone would get greedy in his demands. Some act of violence would derail the talks for weeks or even months. And gradually, as time lapsed without noticeable progress, a sense of pessimism would fill the void, and the parties would once again speak of each other as “enemies” and not as partners.

The smile on my face at the thought of the White House’s beauty in twilight began to fade. It was replaced by what is known in Washington, D.C. as “realism.” That’s the positive term for it. Cynicism is the negative term. But what is vital to understand is that these words are precisely identical in what they connote, at least inside the Beltway. Here, the more cynical one becomes, the more one is respected as realistic. Such is the situation at this point in American history, when the nation is still “great” by all the world’s standards but has begun the great decline that all the superpowers in history must inevitably experience. To be wise, or at least to be viewed as such, is to speak about the members of the American polity like they are virtually incapable of altruistic motives or genuine compassion. It entails viewing our leaders essentially as phonies, whose grandiose rhetoric is matched only by their ambition for self-advancement and their willingness to corrupt the high-minded principles on which they supposedly stand. And just as we attribute these characteristics to our own statesmen and women, it only stands to reason that we would attribute them to world leaders as well. Ultimately, argue the “realists,” Prime Ministers and Presidents are servants of the ruling classes of their societies, whose interests lie primarily in the status quo and would never abide the kind of radical change that is envisioned by the peaceniks of the world. As for the latter, they are regarded as anything but “realists,” but rather as idealistic dreamers – as soft in the head as in the heart. These peaceniks do not tend to be the movers and shakers that give official Washington its reputation. Far from it. They are flakes, and they are fools – or so goes the unspoken narrative of the city.

Wednesday evening, as the sun set on Washington, I found myself surrounded by these “flakes and fools.” Indeed, I was one of their number. We were all who were left from the larger group who had descended on the White House to mark the beginning of the latest round of Middle East peace talks. In the late afternoon, the scene was dominated by the Neturei Karta Hassidim, a group of Orthodox Jews who oppose any efforts to establish a Jewish State prior to the coming of the Messiah. These are the Jews who support President Ahmadinejad of Iran, whose Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic rants make him reviled throughout the other 99+% of the Jewish community. But to the Karta Hassidim he is an ally, a fellow enemy of the Zionist state.

The Karta Hassidim left the scene at roughly 6:30. With them gone, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue just north of the White House was filled with supporters of the peace process. One group seemed to be more orchestrated than the other. They held red signs, many of which were protesting the so-called “Occupation” of Israel. Another group, the one of which I was a part, carried signs that were more affirming and less contentious. Some people were affiliated with both groups. The message of my organization, Yes-MEP (which is short for “Yes We Can – Middle East Peace”), was very simple: we support a two-state solution based on compromise and mutual respect. It is a message that sounds almost platitudinous. And yet it calls for a goal that has proven to be as elusive as it is obvious.

As I stood on Pennsylvania Avenue, I had a yarmulke above my head and a peace flag above my yarmulke. While joyfully waving my flag in the air, I couldn’t help but reflect on the juxtaposition of those two symbols. Yarmulkes have become symbols of a non-universalistic Judaism, a Judaism of insularity, of circling the wagons. Peace flags, at least in the context of the Middle East, have become symbols of Palestinian rights, of sympathy with the oppressed, of frustration with the so-called “Zionist oppressors.” At one point, as I faced the home of Presidents, I could hear on my left the guitar and voices of my friends singing peace songs, and on my right, the voice of a veiled Syrian-American woman whom I had just met that evening. She was questioning why it is that Jews feel the need for their own state, when they could opt instead to live in peace, fraternity, and unity with their Arab cousins. From what I can tell, she was voicing the majority sentiment within the peace movement. Many in that movement will pay lip service to a “two state solution,” recognizing that it is the only formula for peace, but in their hearts, in their guts, they oppose any state that would provide special privileges for the Jews – or for any other ethnic and/or religious community. These voices of peace, you see, are really voices of universalism. By contrast, the wearers of yarmulkes, while not necessarily opposed to universalism, tend to emphasize their membership within a very specific community, one with a unique history, a unique set of needs, and a relationship with God.

I don’t wear my yarmulke 24/7, but I try to wear it to all religious events, and I view Middle East Peace events squarely within the realm of religion. This is ironic, given that the Zionism to which I relate was founded by secular Jews, even atheists. But my Judaism has become increasingly God-centered, even as my Zionism has not. If you ask me to whom “the Land” belongs, I will say God, not the Jews. But I will add that precisely because it belongs to God, and because for 2000 years Jews have been precluded from having their own piece of God’s earth and have pined to come back to the ancestral homeland that they never voluntarily left, the only sane solution is to allow the Jews to share that land. Moreover, given that dozens of other peoples have been able to control their own lands over the centuries, I see no reason why the Jews shouldn’t be given a piece of earth of their own. And that is what I told the veiled Syrian-American woman as we stood together on Pennsylvania Avenue. I didn’t want Israel to expand beyond its ’67 borders. But I did want it to have its own piece of earth, its own home, its own house. She could tell that I wasn’t just talking about peace, I was also talking about justice.

Ultimately, of course, it is the pursuit of “justice” that causes all the problems. Netanyahu’s supporters have one concept of justice. Abbas’ supporters have another. And sometimes, it appears that the twain shall never meet. What’s sad is that both of them also want peace and see peace in largely the same terms. So why, I ask myself, can’t we stop focusing so heavily on justice and focus a bit more on peace? In other words, why can’t we devote less time to the question of who has deprived whom of their rights or who has a greater historical “claim” to the available land, and more time to our vision of a harmonious future? That’s what we at Yes-MEP were talking about on Wednesday evening before the sun set, when a number of us were able to speak into a megaphone so as to be heard by the international reporters who were on the scene. Our messages were remarkably similar. What is so difficult about visualizing peace? And once visualized, once the need for compromise is acknowledged, what’s so impossible about making that happen?

The answer, if there is one, is revealed in the one most salient fact that I haven’t yet revealed: on the evening of Wednesday, September 1st, on the portion of Pennsylania Avenue just north of the White House, there were never more than 100 people assembled – at least once the Hasids had left. Inside the building, Mubarak of Egypt, Netanyahu of Israel, Abbas of Palestine, Abdullah of Jordan, and Obama of the United States were reconvening “direct” peace talks for the first time in years; outside of the building, in the so-called “most important city in the world,” Middle East peace was essentially an afterthought. The cynics -- I mean the “realists” -- have made their case, and most people have been convinced: peace is not going to happen. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not in our lifetimes. Those of us who work for peace are seen as quaint hobbyists, like stamp collectors or practitioners of falconry. If we choose to spend our time tilting at windmills, that’s our prerogative. But all we had to do is look around that momentous evening and glance at our numbers, and it was obvious that our goal would not be reached. So said my head to my heart.

But fortunately, I have more than my rationality, at least I did that evening. I also brought my humanity, and so did my fellow colleagues from Yes-MEP. Just like the folks from Neturei Karta, we were fused with the dreams of messianism – only in my case, the “messiah” was not a flesh and blood figure, but a symbol of a dream, a dream of unity and peace at some future time and place. As I looked up at the White House, amidst the strumming of the guitar and the sound of voices lifted together pursuing a common dream, I saw a very different building – another surprisingly small structure. It goes by the name of the Alamo. And when you see it, you are almost shocked at how tiny it is compared to the role that it is afforded in history.

The truth is that from a cosmic standpoint, the White House is tiny as well – larger than the Alamo, but still only a speck in relation to what it represents. Freedom. Justice. Diversity. Democracy. The rule of law. These are the very things that are at stake in the Middle East right now. But if I could have my way, we would put them all aside for a moment and contemplate only a single word. Peace.

We may in fact not achieve it in the Middle East in my lifetime. But here’s hoping that never again will we as a species undertake a concerted effort to reach this goal with fewer than 100 people in attendance to bear witness to the dream. That doesn’t reflect on our society’s realism. It merely reflects on our society’s apathy. As long we remain apathetic, peace will be the subject of songs and not of reality.