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A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Close

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Close

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

If you believe the 7th graders in my daughter’s yeshiva class, we’re all doomed.

There is about to be a nuclear war, it seems. Iran is going to take over the world, or perhaps it will be Iraq. Israel? Forget about it.

This might be an amusing reaction to the election of Barack Obama if not for the reality that many of these pre-adolescents, if not most, are getting this stuff from their parents.

Trying to deal with all this, I’ve done my best to reassure my daughter that the state of American democracy and national security, here and in Israel, is strong, and that if we can survive eight years of what most Americans and much of the world believes was the most off-track U.S. presidency in modern history, Obama can only go up from here.

But sometimes I worry about the effects of the closed minds — sometimes sitting at the teacher’s desk but usually filtered through other children — to which she and my other kids are exposed.

And I’ve had about enough of the ones I encounter, too.

“He’s an Arab,” an otherwise seemingly intelligent woman once told me of Obama. “He’ll bring al Qaeda into the White House.”

Obama wasn’t entitled to any vote, Jewish or otherwise, that he didn’t earn, and his associations with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers and others surely cost him tens of thousands of them. His relative inexperience in foreign and national affairs compared to the well-tested McCain, and some of his Democratic primary opponents, is also an understandable concern.

But you can always tell people who had ruled out Obama at their first impression, whether because he is assumed too left-wing, presents too much of a journey into the unknown, or due to old-fashioned racism.

“He accomplished absolutely nothing in the Senate the entire time he’s been there,” a Jewish Obama critic once said to me, heatedly, in response to my having mentioned Obama in a conversation with someone else. When asked, that same critic, a supporter of George W. Bush, was unable to state something of substance the president accomplished as governor of Texas.

For many Obama critics, it doesn’t much matter what his stated positions are on negotiating with the Palestinians, on preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb, ending the war in Iraq or whether to tax the rich or poor. It’s just a matter of waiting for the shoe to drop and the hidden agenda to emerge.

There is a place in politics for gut instinct. I’ve used it myself in voting against people who shared my positions on vital issues because their public behavior casts too many aspersions on how they’d do the job.

But closed minds can prevent us from gaining a deeper understanding of a candidate – the bigger picture of their life journey and how their performance in office will affect your life — that can override mistrust.

By 2012, we’ll learn whether the millions who stuck with their gut feeling about Obama were right, or whether his actions and policies in office will have won them over.

That is, if we’re still around. From what I hear, we’ll all be nuked be then.


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