AJC poll: Approval of Obama drops to dead heat

As many Jewish voters approve of President Obama’s performance as disapprove in an American Jewish Committee poll that shows much disappointment stems from his handling of the economy.

The AJC’s annual poll released Monday showed 45 percent of voters approved of Obama as opposed to 48 percent disapproving, a statistical dead heat and a substantial drop from the 57 percent who approved of his performance in the 2010 AJC survey.

When respondents were asked about areas of performance, the disparity is widest on the economy, with 59.5 percent disapproving and 39.5 percent approving.

“They continue to be grumpy about the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, they’re pessimistic about the prospects of solving the Iran problem,” said David Harris, AJC’s director, “but they’re grumpiest about the economy.”

On foreign policy, there is a dead heat: 46.8 percent approving of Obama’s performance versus 48.3 percent disapproving.

There was a drop in perceptions of how Obama handled the U.S.-Israel relationship, with 53 percent disapproving and 40 percent approving this year as opposed to 45 percent disapproving and 49 percent approving last year.

There was also a drop in how voters perceived Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the relationship, from 62 percent approving and 27 percent disapproving last year to 54 percent approving and 32 percent disapproving this year.

Those drops were also reflected in the slight drop in Americans’ view of the overall U.S.-Israel relationship, with 63 percent characterizing it as positive this year, down from 68 percent last year.

Asked to match Obama against Republican candidates, respondents favored him over all in the field, but he performed least well against Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a perceived moderate.

Romney garnered the backing of 32.1 percent of respondents as opposed to Obama’s 50.3 percent.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry earned the favor of 24.5 percent of respondents and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) got 19.1 percent, both statistically commensurate with the 22 percent of the Jewish vote Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned in the 2008 presidential race.

Perry and Bachmann are in a fierce competition for the approval of the Republican Party’s more conservative wing, and Harris said those numbers suggested a warning for the party’s efforts to eat into the Jewish community’s traditional backing for Democrats.

“For the Republicans, the message is, you could win more votes in 2012 but it’s not a given and there is a quite a spread between the candidate we view as most moderate and the ones who who are more conservative,” he said.

The big chunks of undecided respondents in the match-ups suggest a lesson for Democrats as well, he said.

“You still have the solid support of Jewish voters, but don’t take it for granted,” he said.  “You have to make your case better than you have until now.”

Synovate carried out the poll for AJC between Sept. 6 and 21, reaching 800 respondents by phone.

Poll: Half of Israeli Jews hold negative views of Obama

51 percent of Israeli Jews hold negative views of U.S. President Barack Obama, while 41 percent feel positive towards the American leader, a poll released on Thursday by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy found.

According to the poll, the world figure most admired by Israeli Jews is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, with Obama coming in third place.

Not surprisingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the world leader most disliked by Israeli Jews.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Kagan expected to win approval to high court

The U.S. Senate is expected to approve Elana Kagan to serve on the Supreme Court.

The full Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on the nomination. The Senate Judiciary Committee had approved Kagan two weeks ago by a 13-6 vote mostly on party lines.

If approved by the Senate, Kagan, 50, would raise to three the number of Jewish justices on the high court, joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. She also would be the fourth woman to serve as a justice, and one of three on the current court with Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan, a New York City native, is now serving as U.S. solicitor general. She was an attorney and policy adviser in the Clinton White House for four years. Kagan is a former dean of the Harvard Law School.

President Obama nominated Kagan in May to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on the court for 35 years. Kagan is expected to support the court’s more liberal wing, which Stevens led during his time on the court. 

The Senate has been debating Kagan’s nomination for the past three days ahead of a monthlong recess.

Standing in the polls

Get a Life, George

I’ve watched few “Seinfeld” episodes, but one stands out in my mind. During a double date, George inadvertently offends Jerry’s date, Jody. After George learns from Jerry that Jody doesn’t like him, George falls all over himself for a second chance to make a good impression.

After George does further damage to his reputation, he sits in Monk’s obsessing about Jody to his date Karen, who’s annoyed that George is focusing so much attention on another woman.

“Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everybody in the world have to like you?” Karen asks.

“Yes! Yes! Everybody has to like me. I must be liked!” George yells.

Sure, we laugh at George as that typical nebbish. But there’s a little bit of George in each and every one of us.

We are all a little too dependent on others’ approval and admiration. This is not only psychologically unhealthy, but it also may show that one doesn’t feel close with God.

Consider that there are no less than three different views of oneself: The view that I have of myself, the view that others have of me and the view that God has of me.

Which view is most important? Most of us would probably place God’s view as highest priority, our own view as second priority and the view of others as lowest priority. But when it bothers us that another holds us in low esteem, aren’t we displaying that both our own view and God’s view take a back seat to our neighbor’s view?

A medieval rabbi by the name of Yaavatz gave an analogy: Say a person has two diamonds. One is a polished, flawless 7-karat masterpiece, valued at $1 million. The other is an unpolished, flawed, 1-karat diamond, valued at a few-hundred dollars. If I lose the 1-karat diamond, my grief will be short-lived, because I know that I’ve still got my $1 million diamond.

The way others perceive us, compared to the way God perceives us, is like the inexpensive diamond compared to the expensive diamond. This is why a spiritual person tends not to spend so much time checking his public approval rating. Instead, working on God’s approval is what really matters.

We can learn a lot from a guy named Haman about dependency upon others’ approval. According to the story that we read on Purim, when Haman would walk down the street, everyone was ordered to bow down in deference. Yet, the Megillah tells us, Mordechai would not prostrate or bow (Esther 3:2). This annoyed Haman to no end (I think his last name was Constanza). Because of Haman’s obsession with image, he decided that it wasn’t enough to just execute Mordechai; he had to wipe out the entire Jewish people.

The Haman story teaches us a very important lesson in human nature. Our obsession with image is a destructive trait, and it can lead perfectly decent people to completely lose their moral compass.

On the other hand, we can also learn a lot from Mordechai about healthy attitudes about self-image. Note that Mordechai did what he felt was right in his eyes and in God’s eyes. It simply wasn’t right to bow before this self-absorbed Haman, and so Mordechai refused to kowtow. He didn’t worry about the consequences to himself or the way people would judge him. He knew right was right no matter what anyone else thought.

Human frailty is something funny when we see people on TV like George on “Seinfeld” displaying it. But it’s disappointing when we see our close friends display this kind of insecurity. It’s even scarier when we look in the mirror and see the false facades we’ve created staring back at us. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why we wear masks on Purim: to remind ourselves that it’s what behind the mask that counts, not the way others see us.

In La-La Land, we are told that image is everything. People gauge success and self-worth by whether or not they are placed on the A-list of invited guests to the latest Hollywood party. Purim is a time to acknowledge the masquerade for what it is: a cheap mask that says nothing about the real me.

May we succeed in destroying all enemies of our people, both the external Haman’s and our own internal ones.

Happy Purim!

Rabbi Daniel N. Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union.


Other Voices

There’s nothing so intoxicating as when a mentor singles you out,shining the warm light of approval all over you.

When that mentor is an older man and you, the student, a youngwoman, you’ve just mixed up a potent sexual-charge cocktail. Don’tdrive home. Your depth perception is probably compromised, and if youcrash, you’re going to need a really good lawyer.

This older man could be a professor, religious leader, director orother accomplished authority figure. Or this man could be the leaderof the free world. Just for example.

It seems you can’t throw a cat without hitting a story aboutMonica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who may or may nothave engaged in untoward relations with President Clinton. We maynever know exactly what transpired between the two, but it hascaptured the world’s attention more than any other of the president’salleged dalliances with the opposite sex.

Among other factors, it’s Lewinsky’s tender age — 21 at the startof the alleged affair — and the gaping power imbalance between thetwo that make this story so gripping.

I don’t think that I’m the only woman in Lewinsky’s age range whocan relate to her, or at least to the media’s suggestion that thisyoung woman was plucked from intern obscurity, made to feel specialby an important older man. She may have been so taken with theattention that she dispensed with ethical conduct, tossing it intothe air like that stupid-looking beret we’ve all seen her in amillion times. Or maybe nothing happened, and we’re all just wantonlyspeculating.

In any case, the Pygmalion complex is powerful and omnipresent.Just think Woody Allen, Pablo Picasso, Frank Sinatra, Donald Trump,Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty.

What ego candy does this situation offer the man? Perhaps itreinforces his vitality, makes him feel wise and fatherly, provideshim an adoring, pliable and easily impressed sexual partner. I canonly guess. What I do know is that when someone you respect or evenidolize doles out attention and perhaps even the possibility forcareer advancement, it’s an overwhelming feeling.

In one case, a college writing teacher invited me to lunch afterclass. He praised my work and offered to help me get a paid summerwriting job to supplement my meager ice-cream-scooping income. When Ileft that lunch, I felt what could only be described as a monstercrush. My heart was pounding, and I wanted to tell everyone. I hadbeen chosen, and I was so flattered that I fell in love, not in asexual way but in a grateful way, like a drowning woman falls in lovewith a lifeguard.

Illustration by Norman Rockwell for “Louisa May Alcott; MostBeloved American Writer,” Women’s Home Companion, December 1937-March1938. From “The Norman Rockwell Treasury,” 1979.

That professor never made any sexual advances toward me. In fact,he did nothing but continue to encourage me and bolster myconfidence, forever removing me from a life as the world’s mostdisgruntled ice cream scooper. Still, I always felt this odd sexualtension, a compulsion to wow this man with my work and a sudden,unexplainable need to get up early before his class to iron myclothes and put on lipstick.

There have been other male mentors more inclined to cap off ourmutual respect with the old Eliza Doolittle shuffle. I have resisted,maybe in large part for fear of being a sucker, of falling for themyth that sleeping with a talented man somehow imbues me with histalents. It does not. I know this to be true.

I dated an astrophysicist for three years, and you don’t see mesmashing any atoms; I still have trouble with long division. I fellin love with a singer and remained really, really tone deaf. Aftersix months with a financial planner, I was still bouncing checks andusing unread bank statements as note paper. If brilliance by osmosisworked, there would be a lot of supermodels around with rock ‘n’ rollcareers.

Still, it’s a tempting shortcut. And why wouldn’t someone talentedbe an appealing mate? I’m not dismissing that. I’m simply saying thatit’s easy to confuse an infatuation based on flattery and fantasywith a viable relationship.

That brings me back to Lewinsky. Whatever she did or didn’t dowith Clinton behind closed doors did not make her the leader of thefree world or the recipient of someone’s long-term affection.

It did make her confused, reportedly “emotionally embattled,”famous, and the proud owner of one very busy lawyer.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer forThe Jewish Journal.

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