I remember it like it was yesterday. November 7, 2000. Gore versus Bush. Our Vice President, with a strong history of support for Israel, versus the son of a former President with a controversial U.S.-Israel record.
When “W” was eventually declared the 43rd President of United States, I was deeply concerned about the future of our country. After all, the last Republican administration had a mixed record on both foreign policy and the economy. In fact, after an era of economic expansion under former President Bill Clinton, economic storm clouds were gathering–a symptom of the “irrational exuberance” that plagued our society.
And then came the attacks. September 11, 2001 exposed the reality that this country, long thought to be protected by the vast oceans that surround it, was susceptible to attack by an enemy whom we had not taken seriously. America united, at least temporarily, to pursue the enemy that we knew to be fundamentalist Islam and the rogue nations that disregarded international law.
But 9/11 also acted as a sort of “restart” for our country. Thrust front and center by the 24-hour news cycle on cable television, we were reminded daily of the War on Terror, the war in Iraq, and the plight of so many Americans who were enduring economic hardships. The same people who became paper millionaires in the late ’90s were now suffering. And they started to look for the culprit(s) who could be blamed for their hardships.
America started to change. Over the course of the Bush Administration, the harsh realities of waging war–the human and economic tolls–degraded America’s resolve, fueling the election of Barack Obama in 2008. He was to “change” our country, because, he believed, “change” starts with, and is originated by, Government, not the individual.
In 2010, the Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which delivered yet another entitlement that we could not afford: healthcare coverage for all.
As this Era of Entitlement, as I call it, evolved, introspection led me to hard truths: the “irrational exuberance” that plagued our country in the late ’90s was a result of stupid investment decisions and personal failures on a grand scale. And 9/11 was a result of our unwillingness to face an enemy head on. The Great Recession? Individuals borrowed what they could not afford, and lenders fueled the crisis with minimal lending standards–all in the name of the entitlement of home ownership.
It is interesting that the major national crises of the last 15 years hit the entitlements we hold so dearly: the attacks of 9/11 were eerily waged against the physical institutions that personified the entitlements of wealth (World Trade Center) and security (Pentagon). The Great Recession hit the entitlement of home ownership, and the Ebola crisis we are currently enduring has put healthcare front and center. Staying healthy requires personal responsibility, as does the accumulation of wealth, national security, and home ownership.
Of course, the entitlements in no way caused those terrible crises.
We are a nation that likes to blame others for our plights. Have a problem? Blame others, and then look to others for solutions (so that you can blame them when they fail). We are not currently a nation that has the courage to look inward and to call upon the change that is needed: the Change within Me. We are in need of personal improvements on a grand scale.
Which is why I became a Republican. For too long, I participated in the Era of Entitlement, in an era where Government sought to dictate success, in an era where I was deserved of victory. But to my core, to my deepest of Jewish values, I realized that personal responsibility is fundamental to achievement. Raising others off the ground so that they could thrive independently was what Maimonides taught when he codified Jewish Law and stated that the highest form of charity was giving someone a job, not a check. Growth begins within. True change begins from the depths of our character, when we personally take responsibility for our behavior, decisions, and–yes–successes. And I believe the Republican Party best personifies these values.
At the heart of the Republican Party lies the principle that big government is often an impediment to success; the role of government should be the distribution of opportunity not the redistribution of wealth. And when “opportunity knocks,” it is incumbent on each of us to answer the door, to work hard, to earn, and then bask in the successes with which God blesses us. The Republican Party believes that if you strive and exert effort, that government will be there to help and plow the roads ahead of you–removing the barriers of bureaucracy and regulation that diminish your chances of success.
The GOP is imperfect. We blame others as much as the Democrats do. President Obama’s record is weak, but he is not to blame for all that is bad in our world. The difference is in whom we trust to solve our nation’s problems. We believe in you: the citizen, the individual. A nation imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit to innovate and overcome, not to regulate and overwhelm.
Our Torah doesn’t condemn mankind for crediting himself with success. Rather, the Torah says we should always recognize who grants the individual with the skills to do the work, to exert effort, to earn the reward. It’s not Government, it is G-d, and we are entitled to nothing.
The upcoming election is critical because America finds itself embroiled in a world that is engulfed in conflict, conflicts that I believe have been fueled by the Era of Entitlement. And if we embolden this President with a Congress that is controlled by his party, I fear the “change” he envisioned in 2008 will be irreversible. It is the awesome responsibility of each of us to “change from within,” to accept the challenge of our generation and extricate ourselves from the Era of Entitlement and usher in an Era of Responsibility. That is a Jewish idea. And we can showcase it by voting on November 4, 2014.
Yigal M. Marcus is a Vice President and Financial Advisor at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He is a member of the Leadership Council of the Republican Jewish Coalition and is the Co-Chairman of the Northern New Jersey Chapter. Mr. Marcus is also the Head Coach of the award-winning Torah Academy of Bergen County Mock Trial Team. He is married, has three children, and resides in Teaneck, NJ. The opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned companies or institutions.
By Yigal M. Marcus