Since the founding of the United States, political campaigns have always been contentious. Even by those standards, however, many are troubled by the substance and tone of the current American presidential election.
Concerned about the impact of the current state of affairs on the political process, the membership of the Rabbinical Council of America recently adopted a resolution that stresses that “public officials [should] serve as role models for honorable conduct to the citizens of their country” and asserts that they should “avidly embrace the rule of law – particularly legislation they must enforce or which regulates the office they hold or seek to hold.”
Countering a disturbing trend towards “post-factual” or “post-truth” politics, a political culture that emphasizes emotions and ignores facts, the RCA resolution asserts that the “very possibility of reasoned political discourse depends upon public officials both accepting the reality of verifiable facts, as well as basing their statements and positions upon such truths.” Only then can there be “honest and open discussion” and “the flourishing of constructive and free debate that has been a hallmark of Western political and Jewish religious discourse.”
The resolution further notes the power of language and the harmful impact hateful speech and ad hominem attacks can have on the dignity of the political process as well as on the welfare of others, especially minorities. The RCA resolution calls on public officials and candidates to “recognize the power of both the style and content of political speech to shape the future, and [to] be positive models in removing hateful rhetoric and violence or threats thereof from public discourse.”
“As we begin the High Holy Day season, a period of personal and communal introspection and personal accounting, the Rabbinical Council of America calls for public introspection and public accounting on the condition of our political discourse,” said Rabbi Shalom Baum, president of the RCA. “This resolution reflects the very real moral concerns of religious leaders regarding today’s political culture.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA, said, “Good political leadership is essential for our collective welfare. Leadership, be it political or religious, is built upon trust. This resolution, in a non-partisan way, calls for rebuilding that trust at all levels of politics and government.”
Resolution: Expectations of Public Officials
Whereas public officials and the process by which they are elected are of foundational importance to the proper functioning of democratic nations; and,
Whereas the electorate deserves to make choices based upon informed consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate; and,
Whereas such choices ought to be based upon an honest and open discussion of the issues by the candidates, a review of their leadership records and qualities, and their respective visions for the polity they seek to serve and lead; and,
Whereas the very possibility of reasoned political discourse depends upon public officials both accepting the reality of verifiable facts, as well as basing their statements and positions upon such truths; and
Whereas public officials serve as role models for honorable conduct to the citizens of their country; and,
Whereas just as the Bible (Deuteronomy 18) requires that a king ruling with Divine sanction know Divine law, fulfill its mandates, and not exalt himself above his people, so too must public officials in a democracy, elected by fellow citizens, know and observe the law, and not exalt himself or herself above the citizenry; and,
Whereas the Bible teaches the great power of words to both heal and harm: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21); and,
Whereas Jewish and world history teach that hateful speech often leads to persecution; and
Whereas Western political and Jewish religious traditions both promote constructive debate as an ideal
Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America urges all who hold, or seek to hold, public office at local, state, or national levels to:
Basing themselves upon verifiable facts, openly and honestly discuss how their policies advance the progress and welfare of their constituents.
Refrain from engaging in language and ad hominem attacks that diminish the dignity of the office they hold or seek to hold as well as of the polity they serve or seek to serve.
Avidly embrace the rule of law – particularly legislation they must enforce or which regulates the office they hold or seek to hold.
Recognize the power of both the style and content of political speech to shape the future, and be positive models in removing hateful rhetoric and violence or threats thereof from public discourse.
Seek the flourishing of constructive and free debate that has been a hallmark of Western political and Jewish religious discourse.
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