Of Misconduct and Apathy

“When I face an issue of great import that cleaves both constituents and colleagues, I always take the same approach. I engage in deep deliberation and quiet contemplation. I wait to the last available minute and then I always vote with the losers. Because, my friend, the winners never remember and the losers never forget.”

While the late GOP Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen is said to have made that statement in regard to the votes he cast as a congressman and later as a senator, the point he was making is relevant to the general populace as well.

In the day after the elections — as the dust settles, the victors celebrate and those they defeated lick their wounds — the voters, regardless for whom they cast their ballots, wonder whether they will be remembered in the months and years ahead.

Few truly believe that elected officials will keep all their promises. Niccolo Machiavelli, who is considered the father of modern political theory, put it succinctly centuries ago: “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

Rather, the question is what parts of their agenda they will try the hardest to push, and how much of an emphasis they will place on specific issues. Only the future will tell whether the hopes of the optimists will be disappointed or the dire warnings of the pessimists refuted. Along the way, it will be up to the constituents to keep up the pressure by following closely the decisions made by the elected officials and by writing letters and placing calls expressing their approval or disapproval.

As the pundits continue their post-election research, the Orthodox Jewish community, too, must take stock of our role in the process. It is too early to form any definite conclusions of the implications of how our community voted. But one thing does appear certain: Voter turnout — at least in the large Jewish community in Brooklyn — was relatively weak, possibly even lower than the embarrassingly low turnout of the general population.

Despite a get-out-to-vote campaign (some yeshivos even sent home notes with their students pleading with the parent body to go vote), far too many local residents didn’t take the time to do so.

Voter apathy can partially be attributed to a failure by many members of the community to grasp the vital importance of voting and just how closely our voting patterns are watched and analyzed. In the rough world of politics, a community that fails to cast ballots is considered all but irrelevant. There are numerous reasons why our Gedolim have instructed us to exercise our democratic right and privilege and vote, including the obligation of exhibiting gratitude to our host country. At a time when our community faces unprecedented challenges at numerous levels, an intrinsic part of our requisite hishtadlus is to register and vote.

But voter apathy can also be attributed — and this is painful for us to state — to the atrocious misconduct exhibited by the supporters of the various candidates. As we elaborated in our editorial on this subject in Wednesday’s daily edition, Hamodia was contacted by community members who were outraged by what they insisted was the fraudulent use of the names of school and yeshivah administrators and local askanim on campaign literature widely distributed throughout our community.

Research by our staff revealed that this was only the tip of the iceberg, the latest in a pattern of deceptive practices being exhibited by supporters of candidates on both sides of the political divide. Only days earlier, posters were distributed by a different political campaign, bearing the logos of a number of prominent tzedakah organizations, and claiming that these non-profits had endorsed him.

Hamodia confirmed that this, too, was a fraud, and like the yeshivah administrators, the heads of these organizations were infuriated that their names were used without their permission and against their wishes. In June we deplored a fraudulent claim of endorsement by a prominent Rebbe.

We have no reason to believe that the candidates named on the ad had any involvement in, or knowledge of, any fraudulent conduct whatsoever. But those who are responsible for these outrageous actions must be held responsible.

In addition to the harm they are doing to community institutions and respected, innocent individuals, such behavior further undermines the public’s trust and comfort level with the election process.

The average resident who is so fed up with the reckless forgeries on street signs and the hotzaas shem ra, lashon hara and rechilus spread through hate-filled, “frum” blogs or on pamphlets thrown out on sidewalks that he decides not to vote, can hardly be blamed.

All those who seek to anonymously besmirch others — destroying hard-earned reputations in the process — are guilty of unforgivable sins.

As we noted on Wednesday, each time an individual uses his mouse to access one of these blogs, or bends down to pick up or read one of these pamphlets, he unwittingly aids and abets these crimes. We are inexorably allowing ourselves to be influenced by the unscrupulous segments of society, falling right into their clutches, and harming ourselves in the process as well.

It is high time that our community unites to restore integrity and dignity to the electoral process. All it takes is a firm commitment to what is right, and putting our principles and scruples first.