In My Own Words: How much do you want to win? by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Not every candidate I vote for wins. That’s the nature of democracy: sometimes your choice wins and sometimes he/she loses. When that happened, you used to have two options: 1) find a better way to present your candidate so more people will vote for her/him, or 2) find a better candidate that more people will vote for. Unfortunately, some folks now want to game the system: meaning, making it impossible for their candidate to lose.

What inspired this oped was a new law that, according to Shelley Palmer who writes about technology, makes it a “crime in Florida for social media platforms to ban or deplatform political candidates that violate terms of service by lying or inciting violence.” There are so many things wrong with this, but my main problem is that no one should be required to publish/present non-factual information. Before you complain that candidates should be allowed to say whatever they want because everyone has their own truth, you need to consider what that means. 

If anyone can publish their own truth, people will be free to claim the Holocaust never took place, antisemitism is caused by Jewish misbehavior (AKA, we must be to blame) and Jews should be punished for controlling [fill in the blank with the latest nonsense about how powerful we are]. You can’t have it both ways: complaining that social media sites should resist false information about Jews, but not about anyone else. The Torah and the ancient rabbis were very concerned about us speaking the truth so we should be on the side of fact checking, even when we don’t like the results. 

In fact, the founders of the United States recognized the need for a free press, which now includes social media sites. Fact checkers – those who listen to speeches and note any lies/prevarications – are vital to democracy. And they don’t do it to just one side, if that’s what comes to mind. The latest speech by President Joe Biden was also fact checked by major newspapers and news websites, which noted when his facts were not correct. I’ve criticized members of both parties in this column when they’ve strayed from the truth: we need to call out anyone in public office who fudges their facts. That’s our job as citizens and voters – being objective about what any politician says, no matter how much we like them. That includes accepting when someone I admired was found guilty of a crime and removed from office. No one is above the law, as much as some people would like to be.

But this, unfortunately, is not the only way that people have been gaming the system. There’s the recent recounts of votes when no election fraud has been found, just people who refuse to admit they or their candidate lost. There’s the passing of laws making it more difficult for particular racial groups to vote: closing down polling sites, not allowing advance voting and making it illegal to pass out water to someone standing in a long line on a hot day to perform their civic duty. What’s next: making it illegal to drive your grandparents to the polls? Saying these actions are horrible doesn’t do justice to the harm they will do to our country.

We are a democracy, or at least, we used to want to be a democracy. In its earliest form, our country was not one: native Americans, Blacks and women were not allowed to vote. In fact, in many places, people who didn’t own property were not allowed to vote. But over time, we’ve tried to turn America into a true democracy – a country where everyone has a vote – a country that strives to be an example to the world. 

But a true democracy means that sometimes your candidate doesn’t win, that sometimes a person with whom you don’t agree with represents you at the local, state or national level. You can work with that person to try to make them see your viewpoint. You can support someone else for office in the next election. You can run for office yourself. What you should not do is pass laws that make it harder for a candidate from a different party to win. Jews, especially, should be very careful about allowing people to manipulate the system because it can so easily be turned against us.