Be assertive, liberals

By Eli Gottlieb

This is an open letter to President Barack Obama, to liberals in general and to University of Massachusetts student activists. I’m writing this because you all have a lot to learn about compromise.

I’ll start with the incidents that showed me just how much you have to learn: health care and Ramat Shlomo. In the case of health care, you wanted to pass comprehensive health care reform that would create a public option, and in the case of Ramat Shlomo, you told the Israeli government that building a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem was prejudicing peace negotiations and encroaching on land the Palestinians wanted. Student activists, you did something very similar regarding the UMass Textbook Annex: You started out promoting a student-run textbook store to replace the annex, and ended up just settling with notifications of what textbooks we need to buy before the semester begins. My opinions on these issues are far too obvious to print, but what they reveal about you and your mentality interests me.

You honestly seem to think that you are engaged in negotiations with parties who will reciprocate your attempts to build a mutually-agreeable consensus. You therefore appear to actually think that your side making unilateral concessions will, even must, work toward your goals. It’s amazing in its idealism, astounding in its naiveté and incredible in its self-harm.

Obama administration and congressional Democrats, how could you seriously think that conceding the public option would lead to victory? How could you seriously act as though Republicans were going to work with you rather than against you while, from the start, their news station spread rumors that President Obama is a “secret Muslim,” and one of their former House majority leaders called him a “Marxist leftist” and recently held up signs demanding the right to “Kill the [Health Care Reform] Bill?” This is not politics but lunacy, and conceding to these nuts didn’t work toward meaningful, bipartisan reform – it just resulted in you conceding on one of your core positions, your own values, for nearly no gain at all.

Likewise, how did you think that starting a spat with Israel over the building of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem would help move peace negotiations forward? The so-called Arab anger about this new neighborhood is just an excuse to demand more of what Arabs think they deserve. This was proven when they rioted in a “day of rage” over the Israeli renovation and the re-dedication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of east Jerusalem, because they sincerely believed that it was the first step toward demolishing the al-Aqsa Mosque and building the Third Holy Temple (for your information, hell no, it’s not). You can’t ask for unilateral concessions to people whose entire historiography and narrative of self demands that, in the name of all that is good and right in the world, they win rather than compromise. You need to demand reciprocity and good-faith measures from both sides at the same time. If you don’t, you’re not helping anyone at all and you’ve failed to stand for the principles, values and ideals for which you stood in the first place.

After the political jihad against health care reform, why do we make it a mere matter of newspaper opinion columnists that our elected representatives have been attacked and threatened? As these attacks and threats have taken on racist and anti-Semitic tones, why have we not called out the attackers? It may seem trite to paraphrase Jon Stewart as a source for one’s political beliefs, but I think we need to remind ourselves that however much these people, these inciting protesters and wannabe terrorists, claim to be and to represent the “real America,” they aren’t and they don’t. We are just as much a part of America, real America, as they, including those of us who are New York Jews, Massachusetts liberals, godless socialists, Mexicans and Arabs.

For God’s sake, people, I spent an entire column bemoaning the fact that the only thing capable of waking Americans from our political apathy is violence, but apparently not even that works.

By the way, someone still owes me an explanation of why we don’t have a student-run textbook store. That’s what I signed the petition for, that’s definitely what I signed up on a Facebook group for and that’s why I voted for Brandon Tower in the Student Government Association elections. We won that, didn’t we? Did that even get included in the public higher-education protests last month? I know I received a message saying that he “won,” and I know the guy I voted for became SGA president, but apparently all we got was a rental program, ahead-of-time notice about textbooks and some cost-saving measures. That won’t help when I have to buy a WebAssign packet from the annex next semester to take linear algebra, since those packets are only sold at the annex. According to Tower in a message interchange I had with him, we’re “making headway.” Great.

To be quite frank, I think the time has come to discard the outdated idea that you can have bipartisanship from only one side while it remains bipartisanship. In that spirit, I wish to give a short seminar on how to negotiate. First, never demand what you really want up front. Demand something more. Second, never simply concede to anything. Demand and obtain reciprocity (of every incident I mentioned, the textbook campaign came closest to this). Finally, if the other side doesn’t want to negotiate, use whatever power you have to do what you know is right. Leaving people uninsured, paying too much for textbooks, suffering violent attacks for their political views or suffering violent attacks for existing is absolutely shameful when we have the power to end these things.

In other words, let’s get out there and change the world already.

Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]