Archive for September 7th, 2008

One Minute a Day

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

It’s fitting, I think, that the Torah portion for today was Shoftim, which includes, in its first graf, one of the most important exhortations in Jewish thought: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”

My Torah includes this Midrash, or explication, of the phrase:

“The term ‘pursue’ carries strong connotations of effort, eagerness,” A.J. Heschel taught. “This implies more than merely respecting or following justice,’ we must actively pursue it.”

It goes on to quote the Sages: “This command also means to ‘pursue justice justly,’ for just goals can never be achieved by unjust means; the worthiest of goals will be rendered less worthy if we have to compromise justice to achieve it.”

This brings us back, again, to the topic of “Jewish Values and Going Negative.” (See post.) I continued to struggle with this. Just this morning, my mother-in-law mentioned to me that Team McCain has launched an ad in Detroit, picturing Obama next to the just indicted mayor. It’s an obvious smear — guilt by association — in a crucial swing state for Obama. My first thought was: Let’s run an ad with McCain and Jack Keating. Or McCain and Abramoff. (See, for instance, this connection.) Then, I thought: Do that, and Obama-Wright ads can’t be far behind. But we could counter with a Palin-Buchanan spot! Or Palin and the Alaska Independence Party! Although, surely, wall-to-wall Obama-Rezko would follow.

Maybe this is the wisdom of the Sages.

My Uncle Jon is right, though — we can’t fight with one hand behind our back. But I truly believe that something in Obama’s high road approach is resonating in this time of hyperpartisanship. We know negative works; but so far, at least, Obama seems to have found a formula to combat it — a mixture of rapid response, claiming the moral high ground, and running issue-based contrast ads.

Which brings me to my post yesterday — we are part of that response. Here is what I am advocating:

Thank god for my sister, who, today — depressed in the aftershock of this GOP convention — emailed me a Buddhist saying that she has on her wall, in her apartment in New York City: “He who says it cannot be done should get out of the way of the person doing it.”

We have 60 days until the election. I know it seems daunting to think about getting out and pitching in. But look — when I was in graduate school for writing at Johns Hopkins, a teacher of mine gave me a trick to get us going: Don’t think about writing every day — that may seem too hard — just start out with 30 minutes a day, and go from there. Later in my career, a teacher at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop went even further, saying: Write for one minute a day. That’s it. You’ll see, he said — it will turn into more.

Start there. Take one minute a day, for the next 60 days, and do something for this cause. Send an email to a wavering friend or family member. Send the Obama campaign $5 through the Web. Put a bumpersticker on your car, a button on your shirt, a lawn sign in front of your house. Do something — no matter how small — every day for the next two months. It will matter. And it will add up!

I wanted to reiterate that today, because I think it’s so important. It’s so easy to feel we are too busy, and can’t make a difference. But in the Internet age, everything we do can be viral. And one minute a day is doable. Post in response to a blog, or post on a local newspaper blog. Write in to this blog, and suggest creative ways that people can make good use of their minute.

To that end, I took a few minutes today to write a letter to the editor to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I know from my newspaper days that whether or not your letter gets published, it has an impact, because publications tend to run letters that represent the letters they receive. So, for example — if they get 50 pro Obama letters and 10 pro McCain, they may shoot to run 4 or 5 pro Obama letters and one pro McCain. In that way, we can have an impact, even if no one sees what we write.

You can also, of course, post your letter on this blog!

Here’s the letter I emailed to the Plain Dealer:

In your editorial Saturday (“McCain looks to the future”), you characterize John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin for vice president as “bold,” noting that she is “relatively unknown and untested.”

Isn’t it also reckless? Especially given John McCain’s previous insistence on the importance of foreign policy experience?

You note that McCain is looking to the future with this pick. But you might also have pointed out that by picking a staunch social conservative who opposes abortion rights even in cases of incest and rape, he is looking primarily to his right-wing base.

McCain, you conclude, while short on policy specifics thus far, has two months to prove “he can chart a course that leads from a disappointing presidency to a more prosperous future.” But he’s already had 26 years in Washington to chart that course.

It’s time for a real change.