In 1998, one of my favorite public intellectuals, Lani Guinier, wrote an inspiring book titled Lift Every Voice. The book chronicled her 1993 nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the subsequent betrayal by President Clinton who caved in to an onslaught of paranoid backlash, from both Republicans and Democrats, against the distinguished constitutional scholar.
While the book is not directly related to the war and peace issues now confronting the Congress, the President and the entire nation, I highly recommend reading this excellent book to all who may feel like their values are on the losing end of political debate and, ultimately, law and policy.
As Guinier so eloquently explained in the book, save for her own attempts to salvage her nomination by arguing in the media why she was the best candidate to fill a post as crucial as head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, she never got a Senate nomination hearing. Having been put in the national spotlight by President Clinton, she never got the chance to publicly and fully make her case to the United States Senate and the American people.
Lift Every Voice highlights an episode when modern American democracy simply broke down.
Regarding the attacks on AIPAC, including some here at Tikkun Daily, friends, let’s get real: When members of Congress take a pass on the ample opportunities they have to explain their values and thought processes, in fora ranging from committee hearings to floor debates, and from press releases to constituent letters to media appearances, they and they alone are responsible for their cowardice – not AIPAC.
When AIPAC members and supporters voice their opinions to members of Congress, they are participating in the American democratic experiment. When members of Congress who disagree with the positions of AIPAC supporters keep their mouths shut, and then have the gall to blame Jewish groups for Mideast policies gone awry – policies they voted for – they are not only spitting on American democracy and its very purpose, they are demonstrating the persistence of anti-Semitism, and the fact that anti-Semitism is by no means limited to neo-Nazi types.
Thankfully, we do have a new generation of leaders in Congress like Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, progressives who know that standing up in the halls of Congress for the rights and human dignity of the Palestinian people coincides with wider Jewish communal participation in American foreign affairs, and is not antithetical to it.
The leadership styles of these two members of Congress, specifically as it relates to the Mideast conflict, is indicative of the spirit found in Lift Every Voice. For example, this passage:
Self-reliance is an important survival tool. But participation among and with others offers more than simple survival. It nourishes and reinforces both the individual and the community. When individuals participate as citizens, they often realize their fullest potential, supported and affirmed by others. The act of participating in concert reinforces the individual dignity and sense of purpose even of those who fight and fail.
Clearly, the bitter members of Congress and their bitter staffers who lack the character to publicly dissent on critical Mideast policies – and in fora in which they ample opportunity to explain their values – have chosen not to participate, and therefore have no sense of purpose.
Worse, because they have chosen not to participate – but chosen instead to give themselves the mere feeling that they are participating simply by being there – they have denied themselves their own individual dignity.
One need not be a psychological rocket scientist to realize that those who deny themselves their own individual dignity, simply have no dignity to extend to others – Jewish, Arab, whatever.
In this time of international crisis, with so many unclear paths before us, I hope more than anything that people will really value themselves and their human dignity.
If they do, I am confident that, whatever the particulars of the foreign policy they support, they will not stand by and simply watch the indignity of innocent men, women and children being gassed to death by a brutal tyrant go unchallenged.
Moreover, I am confident that if they embrace their human dignity, even if our government makes the worst tactical decisions in this complex crisis, they will not have the instinct to blame the fallout on their fellow citizens, namely Jewish Americans of all political stripes, who are rightly exercising their First Amendment rights.
Read Lani Guinier’s Lift Every Voice. Democracy and human dignity go hand in hand. One cannot be sacrificed for the other.