I am writing this column on September 11. As I got dressed this morning, I saw a shirt emblazoned with the American flag and the words “United We Stand.” It was from the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a day we came together as a people with a sense of common resolve. We literally rallied around the flag. We supported our firefighters and police officers. The attack on the World Trade Center was not an attack on a building.
The unity of those days did not last; there would soon be bitter debates over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But when it meant the most, we came together. Even when we debated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the debates, for the most part, were in a spirit of mutual respect. Wherever we stood on the issues, we were united in love of our country, respect for its laws and institutions, and gratitude to our uniformed services – military members who were ready to put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the blessings of liberty.
Today we face a different kind of invasion. It is not a foreign enemy but a deadly microbe that has already taken 60 times as many American lives as the attacks of 9/11, and there will in all probability be many more to come. Yet, instead of coming together, we are being torn apart. Even following the instructions of public health authorities has become a matter of controversy. Racial divisions that were always present are now being exploited. Our flag and national anthem have become sources of controversy and strife. People are encouraged to identify with their tribes based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political views. Those who disagree with us are regarded not as fellow Americans but as enemies to be vanquished.
Why is it that the challenges of 19 years ago united us while the challenges of today divide us?
There is no simple answer to that question, but I believe that an important factor is the attitude of our political leaders.
There was little love lost between President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress that impeached him. Yet they were able to work together to reform welfare and to produce the only balanced budgets of the past 50 years. It was a time of strong economic growth and prosperity.
The 2000 election was disputed. While Al Gore and George W. Bush disagreed over policy and fought vigorously over the presidency, they treated each other with mutual respect. When a Supreme Court decision handed the election to Bush, Gore graciously accepted the results and encouraged his supporters to do the same.
In such an atmosphere, political differences were just that. Differences of opinion among people committed to many common ideals.
Today, Congress is bitterly divided between two parties. Each sees the members of the other party not as opponents to engage in debate, or colleagues to be reasoned or compromised with, but as enemies to be vanquished. The two parties are more interested in defeating each other than in dealing with the complex challenges facing us. They prefer to let our problems fester and to use them to stir up the base, with the hope that they will gain complete power and be able to ram their entire agenda down the throats of the rest of the public.
With our public officials more interested in fighting each other than in working together to meet the challenges facing us, the result is gridlock. People have lost faith in, and respect for, a government that is no longer able to effectively govern. We are being torn apart by polarization and racial strife. Crime is skyrocketing. The very values on which our country was founded are being challenged. We are more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
When the governing authorities are themselves torn apart by polarization and corruption, the disintegration of the overall society follows.
This situation is especially dangerous for the Jewish community. One thing that the extreme right and the extreme left share in common – from those who march with torches shouting “Jews will not replace us” to those who cloak their anti-Semitism in the language of human rights and self-determination – is contempt for Jews. When societies are torn apart by polarization and tribalism, it is Jews who pay the price.
Transforming Congress back into an effective governing body that can address the challenges facing us is not simply the concern of political junkies and policy wonks; it is of critical importance to America as a whole and to the Jewish community.
The No Labels movement was founded to bring Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, together to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing us.
The No Labels credo is: “I believe the country should come before party. I vote for the best candidate for America – no matter the party. I believe that problem solving should rise above politics. I am deeply troubled by the tribalism that’s taken over Washington. I believe the best solutions come from bipartisan collaboration.
One of No Labels’ proudest achievements is founding the Problem Solvers Caucus – 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans – who are committed to working together to achieve solutions. They have been instrumental in passing anti-BDS legislation and the Never Again Education Act, which supports Holocaust education and has developed a series of bipartisan proposals on COVID-19 relief, infrastructure, drug pricing, trade, Federal government investment, and immigration and border security.
The question you may be asking is: Why haven’t the Problem Solvers been more successful in getting their ideas implemented?
I have discussed this with current and former members of Congress and Congressional staff from both parties.
One obstacle is the power exerted by party leaders. The Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader control committee assignments, office space, and access to campaign funds. The Speaker controls the flow of legislation to the floor for a vote. The top priority of the party leaders is to keep their caucuses together. This means there is tremendous pressure on members to toe the party line.
When the current Congress began in January 2019, the Problem Solvers Caucus was instrumental in securing changes to the House rules that make it easier to bring bi-partisan legislation to the floor for a vote. Bills passed during the current Congress because of these rule changes are the “Cadillac Tax” Repeal Act, which appealed a tax on many private health insurance plans and the 9/11 Victims Fund Compensation Act.
Another obstacle to bipartisanship in Congress is that most Congressional districts are safely Democratic or Republican. For most members, the real threat to their re-election is being challenged in primaries where the most ideologically motivated voters often dominate. Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile cases, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Joe Crowley, in which longtime Representatives were defeated by activists in their own primaries.
The key to the success of groups like the Democratic Socialists of America is their ability to recruit volunteers across the country to focus on specific high-profile races. By winning a few races each year, they are slowly but surely adding to their ranks. Incumbents are intimidated into supporting the extremist agenda out of fear that they can become the next Joe Crowley.
In New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer, the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus and one of Israel’s leading supporters in Congress, was challenged in the primary by a leftist activist whose victory would have been a signal that working across party lines is political suicide. Realizing that the entire future of the movement could be at stake, No Labels mobilized its members to actively participate in the Gottheimer campaign and he won with 70% of the vote.
With its success in New Jersey, No Labels is now embarking on the next stage of its development, building a cadre of volunteers to support the members of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
I am currently working on two campaigns.
In Pennsylvania, I am supporting the re-election of a Republican. As a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Brian Fitzpatrick co-sponsored legislation to provide security assistance to Israel and to sanction Hezbollah and Iran. A former Federal prosecutor and FBI agent, Fitzpatrick has introduced a sweeping program for government reform. He was recently rated by the Lugar Center as the most bi-partisan member of Congress.
In Virginia, I am supporting the re-election of a Democratic Problem Solver. Elaine Luria served in the Navy for 20 years and was one of the few women to lead combat units. Her expertise in military affairs and her membership in the House Armed Services Committee have made her one of the most important supporters of the US-Israel security relationship. When President Trump signed the executive order to fight anti-Semitism on college campuses, Luria was one of the few Democrats to stand by his side.
Both Fitzpatrick and Luria are strongly endorsed by another organization I am involved with, Pro-Israel America.
We need more members of Congress like Josh Gottheimer, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Elaine Luria, who are strong supporters of Israel, who put the needs of the country before party and ideology, and who are willing to work across party lines to get things done.
At the moment, we have several hundred volunteers working to re-elect members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. With more volunteers, we can help more members. With 1,000 volunteers, we can be an effective counterbalance to groups like the Democratic Socialists of America.
For just two hours a week, working out of your home at your convenience, you can call, text, or send postcards to voters in key districts. You can choose to support members of both parties or focus on supporting candidates from the party you prefer and who share your ideological point of view. You will be supporting candidates who are strongly pro-Israel who are committed to bringing to principled compromise over extremist ideology.
When you vote in November, remember that the needs of America, Israel, and the Jewish community are more important than any party or ideology. Vote for the best candidates, regardless of party.
Best wishes for a k’sivah v’chasimah tovah!
By Manny Behar