Five days before election day we paused the campaign to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holidays and one of the highlights of a 40-day season of self-reflection that culminates with Yom Kippur ten days later. As a Jewish woman, I treasure this annual opportunity to re-examine my life and recommit myself to my core values. As a Democrat, I think we could all benefit from this opportunity -- especially during high stakes elections.
One of my favorite observances from this season is a portion of the Yom Kippur services called Al Chet, a communal confession of the wrongs that “we” – as a community – committed during the past year. And while each congregant may not have committed every enumerated wrong, the community as a whole is taking responsibility for failing to ensure that its members treated each other right.
As Maryland has struggled through the economic crisis of the past two years, I’ve often thought about several lines in the Al Chet that confess to mistreating each other in financial dealings:
“For the wrongs we have committed by defrauding others.”
“For the wrongs we have committed through bribery.”
“For the wrongs we have committed in the conduct of business.”
“For the wrongs we have committed by charging or paying oppressive interest.”
To me, these lines underscore our collective responsibility for the crisis, which is, for the most part, self-inflicted. Elected officials in progressive states like Maryland like to blame far-off forces beyond our control (or the Bush Administration). Of course, they do bear much responsibility. But we were not helpless to protect Marylanders from predatory lending, risky mortgages, and mass foreclosures.
We failed to elect representatives who would vigorously regulate mortgage lenders before it was too late. All mortgage brokers and most subprime lenders were and are regulated at the state level. Taking office after the crisis already started, our superstar Commissioner of Financial Regulation Sarah Bloom Raskin became a national leader in creating new systems to regulate mortgage lending. But where was the State government while the bad loans were being made?
We failed to elect representatives that could resist spending the bumper crop of revenue the bubble produced. For all the talk of a structural budget deficit, revenue in 2010 is the same as it was just a few years ago. Did our needs multiply so much in a few years that getting by on those revenues is considered a “crisis”? No. Our elected officials conveniently ignored the warning signs that the bubble was temporary and spent as if the bonanza was here to stay.
Why are these important reflections for a District 16 voter today? Because the High Holy Days are not just about identifying our wrongs, but about committing to do better next time. Just a few days after Rosh Hashanah, the Democrats among us will be nominating candidates to face the Republicans in the November election. Reflecting over the past few years should make a few things clear:
- Maturity matters. We need state legislators who understand how the world works and can apply mature skepticism to the claims of lobbyists, interest groups, and investment bankers.
- Courage matters. We need state legislators who have the passion and courage to stand up for what’s right, even in the face of strong forces bent on corruption.
- Independence matters. We need state legislators who have not spent their whole careers – whether six months or thirty years – beholden to the mercenary interests that manipulate government at the public’s expense.
- This is not a game. In these critical times, it’s simply wrong to support an unsuitable candidate as a political or personal favor to a friend.
I hope that, over the past few months, I’ve persuaded you that I am the right person to represent our community in Annapolis, and that I can count on your vote September 14. But whomever you vote for, I think we must all commit to taking our responsibilities seriously to ensure our representatives don’t make the same mistakes in the coming years.