Why I want to be the voice of values in Congress

In 2008, I was asked to be a national co-chair of Rabbis for Obama. The position might have given me access to the leader of the free world and perhaps important leverage given his testy relations with Israel. But I declined the offer.

Though I am inspired by President Barack Obama’s personal story and see him as an exemplary husband and father, I disagree with the Democratic president on too many issues.

And now, in the same spirit, I have cast my yarmulke into the ring by declaring my desire to seek the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th District, where I live. I am now actively exploring the viability of my candidacy and my ability to integrate existing responsibilities into the considerable effort a successful candidacy will entail.

Why would a rabbi run for Congress? Because the problems we’re seeing in our great nation are not caused by an economic downturn but by a values erosion, and I intend to be the “values voice” that Congress so desperately needs.

The values that have dominated the American political landscape for decades is the American obsession with gay marriage and abortion, to the exclusion of nearly all others, which explains why our country is so incredibly religious yet so seemingly decadent. It’s time to expand the values conversation and policy agenda.

Let’s begin with really saving the institution of marriage by focusing squarely on the outrageous 50 percent divorce rate. I will promote legislation that will fight marital breakdown by making marital counseling tax-deductible. Let’s give husbands and wives whose families are collapsing a financial incentive to get the help they need so that their kids don’t end up like yo-yos bouncing from home to home. I am a child of divorce and hosted a national TV show that saved families from  being part of a tragedy that must finally be addressed on a grand scale.

And while we’re at it, let’s consider legislation to recreate an American Sabbath so parents have an incentive to take their kids to a park rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in the impulse purchase.

Bergen County, where I live, has Blue Laws that keep shopping malls shut on Sundays allowing families to coalesce around the dinner table rather than the department store. Beyond helping the family, this will also help counter the growing materialism that continues to poison the American soul, and which led to the near-collapse of a $10 trillion dollar economy just three years ago when we had homes that were never large enough, cars that were never new enough and designer labels that were never fashionable enough.

Eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll said getting rich is their generation’s most important or second-most-important life goal, while 51 percent said the same about being famous.

I am pro-wealth, but only when it is consecrated to a goal higher than mere consumption. That is why I propose a moment of silence to start the day in public schools so children are given time to reflect on issues and a Being larger than themselves. Separation of church and state is key in our nation. But that means not imposing a religious creed on any citizen rather than chasing God from public life.

We should also be combating the growing narcissism of our kids by proposing a year of national service after high school. Just 2 percent of the U.S. population protects our freedom in the military while the remainder do scant public service. With one daughter now entering the Israeli army and a son who has been nominated to West Point, I believe strongly in kids who choose to serve.

The reality-TV generation, which experiences exploitation as a way of life, needs to rediscover human dignity. What President Obama, well intentioned as he may be, doesn’t understand about his propensity to throw money at every social problem, aside from bankrupting us through ever-greater debt, is that of course people want food, clothing and shelter. But more than anything else, they want a life of dignity and self-sufficiency.

Dignity is the human aura that accrues to the individual through self-reliance. A dependent life is a fundamentally undignified life. Self-respect is earned through the sweat of one’s brow. Yes, people want to pay their bills and we all seek material comforts. But more than anything else we seek an existence infused with a sense of relevance and meaning. Government must, of course, provide a safety net for a rainy day. But only self-reliance creates a sunny life. I will promote policies that lessen the size of government so that citizens can take both moral and financial responsibility for their own future.

As a father of a large family, I wish to champion the fiscal accountability necessary for working parents to survive this economic downturn through a lessening of the outrageous tax burden and allowing them to keep more of their money and spend it on their families. We need a flat tax and a simplification of the tax code that addresses both Warren Buffet’s point, that billionaires should not be paying taxes that are lower than their secretaries, but that is consistent with bringing taxes way down.

When it comes to education, parents have a right to choose who educates their children and to which schools they send their kids and, as such, vouchers for parents empowering them with school choice are a must.

In foreign policy I believe in the obligation to resist evil and I intend to be a voice of firm American resolve against tyranny. President Obama has allowed America’s global leadership to seriously weaken. Worst of all, it seems that under our president’s watch, Iran will build a nuclear weapon. I will push for and support the drastic measures necessary to ensure that so dangerous and murderous a regime never acquires a doomsday device.

President Obama has, thankfully, reversed course on his unfair pressure on Israel and deserves credit for increasing military and intelligence cooperation with the Jewish state. But who is to say that this has not happened because of his shellacking in the 2010 midterm elections and that the pressure won’t resume if he is reelected?

For this reason, and because Israel is America’s most stalwart and reliable ally — championing American-democratic ideals in the world’s most dangerous region — I intend to be Israel’s staunchest supporter in Congress, should the good people of the New Jersey’s 9th District see fit to choose me as their representative.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of “Judaism for Everyone” and the newly published “Kosher Jesus.” He is the founder of This World: The Value Network. On Twitter, he is @RabbiShmuley.

Will he really run?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has sent a letter of his intent to run for Congress in New Jersey’s newly formed 9th District, but he has not decided definitively to run, the New Jersey Jewish Standard reported.

He would face the winner of the June Democratic primary between Reps. Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell, although two other potential Republican candidates also submitted letters of intent to Bergen County officials, according to the PolitickerNJ website. After sending in his letter, Boteach told the Standard that he will make up his mind in the next two months whether to run or not; his ability to raise money, he said, will be a big factor. — jta