Alas, no presidential aspirant has asked me to draft a speech to deliver to a Jewish audience. Nonetheless, since I know what I would say -- at least what I would like to hear -- I offer it here as a public service, pro bono, free to all candidates. The one who delivers the best version of this speech gets my vote! I can't guarantee any others.
FELLOW AMERICANS: There is no group of Americans whose support would please me more than that of the Jewish community. Jewish support would indeed be gratifying because it would come from perhaps the most politically sophisticated group in America today.
The Jewish community, of course, is not monolithic, and it has been -- correctly, in my judgment-nonpartisan. But I would be proud to be worthy of your votes. I would be proud to have your support because the Jewish community practices what your great sage Hillel preached about being for your-selves, but not only for yourselves. Throughout my political career I have observed your effective work not only on behalf of so-called "Jewish" issues, but also on a wide range of public policies to make this a better nation for all our people.
Because you are not a monolithic community, I cannot and do not expect to win the support of all Jewish voters. But there are some issues on which there is indeed a very broad Jewish consensus. They are of the highest priority to Jewish voters, but not only to Jewish voters. Even the most superficial understanding of Jewish history should make it clear why the security of Israel and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate should be of such overriding concern to American Jews. Sensitivity to these concerns should indeed be a prerequisite for receiving support of Jewish voters.
But it is not sufficient for a candidate to voice agreement with current Jewish policies in these two areas. A president of the United States must feel strongly -- and be able to help all Americans understand -- that the security of Israel and the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate are issues that go to the essence of America's basic commitments to a democratic, peaceful world. To be "pro-Israel" and "pro -- Soviet Jewry" is to be pro-American and pro -- democracy.
As president, I will consider it my duty to help Americans understand why, despite occasional differences and difficulties, the U.S.-Israel "special relationship" has had such impressive support from every administration, every Congress, and from the American people, since the modern state of Israel was created in 1948. This support is based not only on the basic moral consideration that Israel's right to exist flows from her history and her commitment to democracy, but also on the value to our own national interest in having a reliable democratic ally in that critical part of the world.
My commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. But so is my determination to seek out Arab leaders and Arab nations who can prove their commitment to peace with Israel. America can and should always be ready to repeat the constructive role it played in the Camp David process. If elected, I will not permit the peace process to wither. It is, of course, ultimately the responsibility of the parties directly involved to make the peace, but America can help, and my administration will help. I cannot guarantee that every step we take will fully please the Israelis or the Arabs, but I will never knowingly take any step -- in the diplomatic area, in the sales of arms, in the United Nations -- that would add to the ever-present security concerns of our faithful ally, Israel.
As president, I would use every possible avenue for persuading the Kremlin leadership to stop the harassment of Soviet Jews and let those who wish to do so leave for Israel or the United States or wherever they choose. I will insist that Soviet failure to live up to their commitments in the Helsinki accords makes it impossible to accept promises they might make in connection with the bilateral agreements they seek, especially in the disarmament field.
The greatest challenge to American foreign policy is to make the soundest possible assessment of what may be portentous changes in the Soviet Union, and to respond responsibly. While we hope that such changes will indeed materialize -- changes that might suggest abandonment of aggressive and oppressive Soviet policies -- we dare not prematurely ease up on our defenses against the Soviet threat. No area of foreign policy will call for more of the nonpartisan consultations and sharing of responsibilities I have called for.
Circumstances may make necessary, from time to time, changes in tactics or priorities, but I assure you that there are some firm premises I will bring to the White House that will remain firm:
I will not shrink from using American strength, especially when direct American interests are threatened, or when long-term allies, including Israel, are in danger -- and a strong, credible defense will always be in place -- but we will always prefer nonmilitary responses to events, not only because they are preferable on humane grounds or because any war could trigger a nuclear disaster, but because they can be more effective and more lasting.
There is no more convincing proof that American foreign policy is directed not only against evil forces in the world but for noble goals of mankind than our firm, unyielding support of human rights. Even though our own history is not free from ugly stains -- slavery, Jim Crow laws, anti-Semitism, McCarthyism -- we have committed this nation to equality and freedom at home, and we have committed our resources and our influence to human rights around the world. Our performance, unfortunately, has not always lived up to our professed principles.
Precious words from Leviticus adorn our Liberty Bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." These words we proclaim not ony for our own land but for all the world. We cannot realistically be directly involved in every struggle on every occasion to win human rights for all the inhabitants of the earth, but wherever the struggle does erupt sharply, wherever our strength and our influence can make a difference -- whether in leftist or rightist regimes -- I want our nation to be responsive in an appropriate manner. That's why we will never abandon the struggle for Soviet Jewry. That's why we must strengthen our efforts to end apartheid. That's why we must seek more than a contra victory in Nicaragua.
America's influence and strength in world affairs is shaped by the kind of America we build at home. Nothing makes me prouder of our beloved America than the fact that throughout the years, the people of the world have known what we stand for. And millions have voted for us with their feet, so to speak -- even, literally, with their arms and legs in recent years, as thousands and thousands of would-be immigrants swam illegally to our shores.
I want America to continue to be a beacon of light, of hope, of inspiration.
Here are the central elements of my domestic policy:
The heart of our democracy is its pluralism. Our founding fathers decided well when they decreed the separation of church and state. This wall of separation, however, has not kept us from being the most religiously active democratic nation on earth. I shall resist any efforts to break the wall of separation -- whether it be through organized prayers in the schools, aid to parochial schools, or other proposals that run contrary to the intent of the First Amendment. This is more than a "Jewish" issue, although it is of special concern to the Jewish community.
This country's civil rights goals have never been fully achieved, and there are signs of backsliding, at least in de facto terms. Many northern cities are now more segregated than many southern cities ever were. Unemployment and poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately and ominously higher than for whites.
Civil rights laws and programs need strengthening, not abandonment. But they also need sympathetic review and adjustment to make them more effective than they've been. The Jewish community has been conspicuously supportive of measures designed to open up opportunities for minorities and for women. The much-publicized Jewish resistance to rigid, exclusionary quotas -- which I too oppose -- has obscured the strong support Jews have given to a wide range of affirmative action measures, including the prudent, careful use of "goals and timetables."
The most effective kind of "affirmative action" would be a healthy, expanding economy -- one that is compelled to reach out for workers not now needed, to train them, and to provide opportunities for advancement on the job. We must not settle for the slow growth rates of recent years.
I believe that government has the responsibility to "promote the general welfare," and I reject the anti-government and anti-Washington posture of recent administrations, both Republican and Democratic. I want as little federal intervention as possible, but as much as necessary. I reject the conclusion that "social programs" to help the disadvantaged have failed. Such sweeping indictments ignore the proud achievements of Head Start, of Job Corps, of Medicare and Medicaid, of the college aid program -- and so much more.
There have been failures, and corrective action was too often too slow. But why should we be less tolerant of a less-than-perfect set of social programs than a less-than-perfect defense program or space program or cancer research program?
We must be alert to excessive federal intrusion, but we must be clearly and honestly supportive of sound social security and health security, and protective of a social safety net for the poorest Americans.
Today's social problems call for today's answers -- answers that must come primarily from the private sector, from the local community, from the churches and synagogues and from the people themselves. But there is an important role for the federal government -- and I will not shirk the responsibility to define that role in the face of critical problems like the epidemic of teenage pregnancies, AIDS, drug use, homelessness, illiteracy, family breakdown.
The federal budget deficit must be brought under control. Rapid economic growth without inflation would be the ideal solution. We must aim for that. Prudent, responsible reductions in expenditures in both domestic and defense programs are always in order. But if these do not have enough impact on the deficit, it will be necessary to look at the revenue side of the budget.
It is not pleasant or helpful for any candidacy to talk about increasing taxes, or even its euphemism, "enhancing revenues." But I simply refuse to make any promise never to seek any increased revenues from American business and from the American people. I recall the words of a great Republican cabinet official, John Gardner, who declared, "History will not deal kindly with a government that refuses to ask its people to contribute what it takes to meet the nation's responsibilities." I agree.
I said earlier that I know the Jewish community is not monolithic. Not all of you will agree with everything I stand for. But I believe that many of you share my feelings about an America proud of its past and hopeful about its future.
A nation that -- albeit with an imperfect record -- has welcomed the fantastic achievements and contributions of its Jewish citizens can provide the incentives and the guidelines and the measures that will provide opportunities for its black, Hispanic and native American citizens.
I ask for the chance to lead such a nation.
Two thousand years ago, a great Hebrew sage, Rabbi Hanina, asked his people to "Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for the awe thereof, men would swallow each other alive."
I am determined to make this a government that deserves the awe of its citizens -- a government that uses its authority to ensure social justice, to promote the general welfare of all its people, to resist any undermining of its democracy and pluralism, to play a constructive role in world affairs toward the goals of peace and freedom.
Hyman Bookbinder is the special representative of the American Jewish Committee and co-author with former Sen. James Abourezk of "Through Different Eyes: A Debate on U.S. policy on the Middle East." This article is adapted from Moment magazine.