An article in an Israeli newspaper identifying a Congressional candidate’s long-dead grandfather as a terrorist is a reminder that America is different from the rest of the world.
East County native Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Mexican and Palestinian ancestry, was blindsided by the article in Haaretz, responding eloquently, “I’m blessed to have been born in America, a country where regardless of your appearance, the sound of your name, or where your family came from, you can achieve your dreams if you work hard and believe enough.”
In the Middle East, a family connection dating back 45 years is still news. For that matter, the schism between Sunni and Shia Islam almost 1,400 years ago still embroils politics in that region. The Old World has long memories.
But America is different, and Campa-Najjar put his finger on it. The essence of America is that it is an idea as much as a place. And America is all about the future.
John Winthrop, the future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, told the Puritan colonists fleeing persecution in England in 1630 that “we shall be as a city upon a hill.” It was a futuristic idea that has resonated throughout American history. President Ronald Reagan used the phrase in his farewell address, noting “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life.”
That sentiment fits Campa-Najjar, a former Obama administration official who has campaigned for a change from the hard-right politics of Rep. Duncan Hunter and his father before him in the 50th Congressional District in East County.
Regardless of his family’s distant past, Campa-Najjar is running a very successful campaign, raising more money than Hunter, and is set to be officially endorsed by the California Democratic Party. Like the best of Americans, he’s charting his own way in the world, not weighted-down by his heritage.
“As Congressman, I hope to focus America less on the wars we’ve waged abroad, and more on the wars we wage within,” said Campa-Najjar. “From income inequality, debilitating healthcare costs, gun violence on the rise, veteran homelessness, the inevitable displacement of millions of workers due to automation, to the worst calamities of climate change, America must prevail over many challenges in the coming years.”
Those are very convincing goals — goals that are quintessentially American because they’re all about the future, not the past.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.