An Open Letter to Congressmen Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell
Dear Steve and Bill,
Many of us have watched in amazement and dismay the increasingly bitter primary battle ensuing between you. You were once close friends and allies. Now that you are contesting the same Congressional seat, the natural affection that once bound you has become undone.
This is a shame, both personally and collectively. Personally, because friendship is one of life’s greatest blessings and, collectively, because Americans are sick and tired of rancorous, scorched-earth politics, which has given Congress a nine percent approval rating.
Let me be clear that I am not passing judgment. I recognize the stakes are high in your primary as they are in the Republican primary that is running alongside yours. But I am saying that there is a better way, a more magnanimous manner in which to run for office where personalities are kept out of the race and where issues are the focus.
Congressman Rothman, was it really necessary to put out a mailer that said of Pascrell, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” Was it essential to say of your fellow Democrat that he is guilty of peddling “UGLY… BASELESS… CRAP.” (Your own emphasis.)
Congressman Pascrell, did you really have to say of your fellow Democrat, “I lived in Paterson all my life. I didn’t have to move. You moved twice. If you’re such a progressive, why didn’t you take on the leader of the Tea Party instead of your ‘friend’ Bill Pascrell.”
Come on, guys! You’re in the same party. And you’re both elected officials representing New Jersey and the nation. While that doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything, it does mean that you should be according each other some basic civility.
I know something about this because I do family conflict resolution for a living. My TV show on TLC, Shalom in the Home, had me living with families across America for up to a week to try and get husbands and wives to stop fighting, parents and kids to stop arguing, and brothers and sisters to stop squabbling.
The ABC’s of conflict resolution involves human empathy, an ability to see the matter from the other person’s point of view. Surely you can both appreciate that after each of you being in Congress for sixteen odd years you both worry about life outside of government.
Winning is great, but not at any cost, and certainly not at the cost of your integrity. While I disagree with both of you substantially on the issues, I do not question that you are both devoted public servants and it’s for this reason that the increasingly bitter tone of your race doesn’t accord with your own values. You’re both better than this.
Imagine two good friends at High School who do everything together but then begin to fight over the same girl. Surely, as they abuse and taunt each other in her presence, they will not only fail to win her hand but will instead alienate her completely. That’s what’s happening with the electorate as they watch the two of you assail each other.
Even the Star Ledger Editorial Board has commented on the vitriolic nature of the campaign by stating “it is particularly appalling to see Rothman take such cheap shots at Pascrell” and “a pity that he’s (Rothman) choosing to tarnish his long-standing reputation for integrity by running a campaign like this.”
Look, I shouldn’t be saying this. The two of you bludgeoning each other works to my advantage. I hope to win the Republican nomination for Congress on the very same day – June 5th – that you hope to win the Democratic nomination. And when people see what you’re doing to each other, they might just decide to give the other party the chance to represent them in Congress with values they can respect. But I don’t want to win this way. I don’t want to get votes because the Democratic primary has become a fratricidal war of Cain and Abel in a duel to the death. I don’t want to win based on something like The Hunger Games. Rather, I want to win based on the issues and on values.
It is my belief that my ideas and policies are better for America than yours. I may be wrong. That’s why elections exist, for the electorate to determine whose ideas will best steer the country. But we have to take personality, bitterness, and bile out of the equation and make this a policy-based dispute.
It’s for this reason that I am offering to mediate this dispute between the two of you and help steer the primary back to the issues and away from personal attacks. I am offering my services to try and resolve some of the personal bitterness that has entered your contest. If we could spend a few hours together – the three of us – I am convinced that we can make some progress in lowering the tone and getting focused back on the issues. This way, whoever wins, you can both emerge as friends yet again.
I do not question that you both mean well. I know you do and I believe that you are both devoted and honorable public officials, even as I believe that it’s time for the ninth Congressional District to be represented by someone totally new. But again, if I’m wrong, and one of you wins, it’s not the end of the world. America will still continue even with the three of us in private life.
So let’s get together and inspire America with a new path. Let’s resolve some of these issues between the two of you and allow you both to emerge from this primary as friends again, albeit with serious disagreements. Let’s show America that politics is an honorable profession, a noble calling, filled by people who put values, country, and integrity first. Let’s start winning people away from the Kardashians and Jennifer Aniston’s love life and back to the political theater by demonstrating to them that politics are inspiring rather than depressing, ennobling rather than corrupting, and harmonious rather than rancorous. We’ll all be better off with a new, more positive message. The two of you can really electrify America by demonstrating that in this race you respect each other and honor each other’s service, even as you both fight hard to win.
Just remember, Steve, that you came to my front lawn, along with former Governor Corzine and Senator Lautenberg, when I was leading the charge to push Muammar Kaddafi out of Englewood. Guys like him are the enemy, not your fellow democrat, Congressman Bill Pascrell. Congressman Pascrell, as an honored veteran I am sure you also understand that our enemies are those who seek harm to this country rather than the political opposition.
I’m available for the three of us to get together and I eagerly look forward to your positive response.
Yours sincerely and with blessing,
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international bestselling author of 27 books and has just published Kosher Jesus. He is currently running for Congress to represent New Jersey’s Ninth District. His website is shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.