Thursday, January 14, 2010

It hasn’t happened often – in fact, only three times in my life has a politician managed to completely capture my imagination.

The first time was on October 27, 1964, when Ronald Reagan delivered “The Speech” in support of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It was magnificent -- Reagan articulated the American Dream, nothing more, nothing less. He reminded us what America was all about, how we had strayed, and what we needed to regain it. Here’s just one line: “The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."

Reagan convinced me -- I chose.

At the time, I was in my second year of law school at the University of North Dakota, but I was so taken by The Speech that I decided to move to California to support Ronald Reagan and his dream. I arranged a transfer to the University of San Francisco, fine Jesuit institution that it is. When I graduated, my first job out of law school in the office of Governor Ronald Reagan in Sacramento. You don’t get much luckier than that.

Governor – then President –Ronald Reagan never lost his touch. He was right in 1964, he was right all the way through his presidency, he's still right today. His dream – and mine – was timeless. He just articulated it better than anyone else ever had.

The second time a politician won my heart was in 1982. By that time, I was a Reagan appointee to USDA – that’s the United States Department of Agriculture, for you folks in Rio Linda. I was appointed to run USDA’s offices and programs within the State of California. Along with my counterparts from the other 49 states, we were brought to Washington for a three-day policy conference. On the second day, the freshman congressman from Georgia was scheduled to speak, no one I’d ever heard of before. His name was Newt Gingrich.

Now I can admit it, but at the time, I tried to hide it. I wept during Newt Gingrich’s speech. Like Ronald Reagan before him, Gingrich articulated the dream – he set forth what we all believed in, what we all wanted to bring about. America as a bastion of freedom for opportunity, a world in which a rising tide would float all boats. A world in which achievement and hard work would be rewarded, in which everyone who wanted a share of America – and was willing to work for it – would have that opportunity.

Newt still has my admiration. Yes, personally he goofed up, but the good he did – has done, is doing – outweighs that silliness by an incalculable factor. Gingrich was responsible for the Contract with America, he brought about – almost singlehandedly – a Republican revolution in Congress, he ended the Democrat surge in Congress that was the threat at the time. Newt engineered a pro-business, pro-American revolution. I stand by Newt Gingrich as one of my generation’s most gifted leaders.

The third time a politician blew me away was last Monday.

One of the best things about writing for a living is that I get to meet a lot of interesting people. So when my Jerusalem Post editor asked if I would interview the new mayor of Beersheba, Rubik Danilovich, I was pleased. That sounded like fun. I’d heard that he was young, energetic and articulate. What I was not prepared for was greatness.

There is that illusive quality we call ‘charisma’ – it’s very hard to define, more of an “I know it when I see it” thing. It’s some combination of passion and intensity coupled with personal warmth – not to mention an enhanced ability to communicate their ideas – that marks a gifted person. Ronald Reagan had it. Newt Gingrich does. So does Rubik Danilovich -- in spades. In terms of passion and commitment, ideals and energy, vision and commitment, the new mayor of Beersheba matches Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich in their early days.

I won’t scoop my own interview with the mayor here – it will be published in the Jerusalem Post within a couple of weeks. I’ll link it here.

But just let me say this: In the going-on eight years I’ve lived in Beersheba, I’ve come to love this city – and you have to understand, once you get out into Greater Israel, that’s comparable to saying you love Bakersfield. Beersheba doesn’t earn much respect in the context of the State of Israel as a whole – how can you compete with Jerusalem, after all?

But that’s about to change – and I want you to remember you heard it here, first.

The vision Mayor Danilovich articulated for Beersheba – a green, watery oasis in the Negev, a high-tech marvel, Israel’s own ‘silicon valley’, a center for culture and art, emphasizing the one asset Beersheba has that no other city in the world has -- well, the list is long.

But here’s the thing – it’s not just a “list”. Most of the projects the mayor talked about are already funded. Several are under construction. His vision of Beersheba is not a dream so much as a work in progress.

Our new young mayor articulates the dream, but beyond that, he’s a feet-on-the-ground planner. He’s already laid out the steps needed to make it happen.

All of this makes me laugh – when I was planning on making aliyah, people asked, of course, where in Israel I was going. “Beersheba”, I’d say, and then watch the horror in their eyes. “WHAT?? You’re going to Beersheba? Why on earth would you go there?”

I had my reasons for coming here – I’ve laid them out before. But only now am I beginning to realize how smart a decision that really was.

You just watch – it’s not going to be very long at all until Beersheba becomes the place to come – not just as a lovely place to live, but as a major tourist center in its own right.

To understand how that will happen, you’ll have to read the upcoming interview with Mayor Danilovich. Coming soon…

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

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