Daniel Biss’s Balance Between Progressive Politics and Loyalty to His People

Just a week ago, I attended Daniel Biss’s announcement of his running mate, Carlos Ramirez Rosa. It was exciting, actually. Rosa is a powerful, passionate speaker. I thought he balanced Biss’s thoughtful, soft-spoken approach rather nicely.

But on September 6, Biss announced that Rosa was no longer on the ticket. The reason? Rosa supports the boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.  Biss said that Rosa had changed his position and moved in the direction of support for BDS. Rosa says that his position has been consistent for several years.

Biss explained that because he is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors and the son of an Israeli mother, “the safety and security of the Jewish people is deeply personal to [him].”  He cannot act counter to those values.

What is BDS?

BDS is a movement to encourage governments, financial institutions, businesses, and consumers to boycott Israeli products, divest themselves of financial interests in Israel or Israeli companies, and sanction Israel to pressure it to change its treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and in Israel. It began in 2005 and has been gathering support recently. The organizers modeled it on a similar movement to isolate South Africa while it maintained apartheid.

Pushback from Democrats

After Biss announced that Rosa was his running mate, Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th Congressional district, withdrew his endorsement of Biss. Politico reported that a Republican vying for Schneider’s seat had criticized Schneider’s support for Biss because of Biss’s selection of Rosa as his running mate.

What Was the Disagreement About?

Rosa and Biss weren’t really that far apart on Middle East issues. Both support the continued existence of Israel and an independent Palestinian state. Both believe that at least some of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is unjust, and the injustice must be rectified. Rosa agrees that BDS is not an appropriate subject for state or local government regulation, but he thinks it is appropriate on the federal level, where Biss does not.

I imagine that Biss was getting a lot of heat from supporters and Democrats who aren’t as far to the left as Rosa. And  if he is pressured to view Rosa’s position as an attack on Israel or the Jewish people, it’s only natural that he would move to protect them. How could he not?

We Shouldn’t Have Had to Choose

Daniel Biss shouldn’t have had to choose between the progressive ideals he holds and support for his—actually, our—people.  State government has no responsibility for foreign policy. Why should the issue of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel interfere with our gubernatorial election?

Having said that, we cannot blindly support everything Israel does, no matter how unjust. It’s difficult and painful to confront the possibility that Israel acts unjustly. When Israel commits injustice, we need to oppose it just as we would here in the U.S., because as Jews,  we’re taught to pursue justice.



Navigating the Health Care Marketplace

Everyone’s arguing about the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called ObamaCare by those who oppose it. Now that my husband is getting ready to retire, I’m looking on the healthcare.gov website for health insurance options. And it’s so much fun I thought I’d share the experience with you.

Using healthcare.gov

The www.healthcare.gov website doesn’t make it easy to check out your choices.My husband tried to get some information and it wouldn’t let him see anything about plans available in our area until he started an application. Never mind that when he input his age it immediately would have been obvious that he doesn’t need to get insurance through the marketplace because he is eligible for Medicare.

I also found it difficult to get information. But the site wouldn’t open an account for me because I was listed on my husband’s application. Of course, nothing I saw disclosed that information. I just asked for help with setting up my account and got “We’ll send you an email with your user ID”. The email never arrived.

So I called the marketplace hotline. The good news is that they really do have pleasant, intelligent people answering our calls for help. That’s who told me about the application and the reasons I hadn’t gotten a response.  The worker took my information and estimated the amount of the subsidy for which I would qualify.

Premiums and Deductibles

I was in for a shock when the worker started telling me about the plans offered in Cook County, Illinois. Apparently there are three: Ambetter, Blue Cross, and Cigna. Each offers multiple plans. Unfortunately, I couldn’t write down the prices and features as fast as she could tell me about them. She did tell me that about premiums well under $1,000 after subsidy. Most of the deductibles ranged from $11,000 to $13,300.

I went back to the healthcare.gov site to look more closely at the plans. The application assumed that all three of us would be on the plan even though my husband will be on Medicare. The premiums were over $1400, even as high as $2,700. Ambetter’s plans had lower deductibles, but they still had at least a $1700 premium. It’s possible that the premiums are wrong because the system included my husband among the covered household members.

Maybe we’ll get better information later after we submit documentation of the date of my husband’s retirement and our loss of coverage. Coming soon—networks and continuity of care.

Building Bridges: Bernie Has the Right Idea

Like many prochoice activists, when I first saw this article in Common Dreams, I was surprised and disappointed. Why was Bernie Sanders stumping for an enemy of women’s autonomy?

That was my first reaction. But after I thought more about it, my position softened. If Bernie believes that Mello will keep his word as mayor, he’s probably doing the right thing. If we need to change the minds and hearts of abortion opponents, that starts with accepting them where they are. When was the last time you were convinced by someone who was angry at you and insisting that you were wrong?

Principles, Persuasion, and Politics

Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no question that women must make their own choices free from government interference, direct or indirect. But this isn’t a perfect world. We need to persuade people who disagree with us.

As a practical matter, politics is often about seeking compromise (or at least it was before 1994) and trading favors. If Mello wins, and he believes Bernie helped him get there,then Mello will “owe” Bernie. That might be a good thing.

Keeping an Open Heart

The one point on which many thinking Americans agree is that demonizing the other side has not been helpful, and we need to stop. We won’t make progress by looking at the world through the lens of us vs. them.

Granted, some of our opponents are hard-core and will never get that we deserve autonomy and respect. I’m not waiting for Mitch McConnell to apologize to Elizabeth Warren and help pass single payer health care. But many people are just doing the best they can to get through life. And if they see that we have that in common, they may become more accepting and open. Call me naive, but I think it’s worth a try, even though it’s hard to learn new ways of thinking.

By supporting people who are with him on  the issues closest to his heart and seem open to learning about other people’s viewpoints, Bernie is showing us how we need to move forward. And he’s doing it by walking the spiritual path he described during the campaign.


Rev. Jackson, Please Don’t Pray for Me

I have just returned from the Chicago Tax March. The main message was that President Trump should release his tax returns. We had some great speakers: Rep. Jan Schakowsky, State Sen. Daniel Biss, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. Rev. Jackson’s talk included lots of familiar chants: “Congress, do your job.” “I am Somebody.” “I matter.”

Then someone decided that Rev. Jackson should offer a prayer. And he brought us right back to the bad old days—the time when Christians assumed that their prayers should begin many secular events, such as local bar association meetings downstate.

According to Rev. Jackson, our demonstration wasn’t just love in action and an expression of the unity of humankind. After all, it was the day before Easter. He prayed in Jesus’s name.He prayed in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the precious Holy Ghost.” Not only were Jesus and the Holy
Trinity invoked multiple times, but our actions were “washed in the blood.”

Not Every Compassionate Activist Is Christian

Rev. Jackson, as a long-time supporter of gay rights and marriage equality, I expect you know better than to assume that everyone around you is heterosexual. Why, then, would you assume that everyone at a progressive rally is Christian?

Perhaps you were not aware that at least one of the other speakers is Jewish. And many members of the audience are, too, including me.There also were Muslims in attendance. I’m pretty sure that there were adherents of other faiths, too—Buddhists, Hindus, and less “mainstream” faiths that predate Christianity. And let’s not forget the atheists and agnostics.

Jews and Muslims and Buddhists Are Somebody, Too

We count. We matter. And we feel excluded, even erased, when someone prays on our behalf using terms we would never use ourselves. Washed in the blood? I can’t believe in a God who demands blood sacrifice any more than I can believe in a God who would send me to hell because I don’t think the right things about him.

Rev. Jackson, on matters of social justice, you still speak for me. But on matters of faith, it’s hard to see much difference between you and Lindsay Graham or Jeff Sessions.