Colorado movie gunman James Holmes sentenced to 12 lifetimes in prison


Condemning the movie massacre gunman to 12 life sentences and the maximum 3,318 years in prison for his rampage in a midnight screening of a Batman film, a Colorado judge on Wednesday said evil and mental illness were not mutually exclusive.

“It is the court's intention that the defendant never set foot in free society again … If there was ever a case that warranted the maximum sentences, this is the case,” Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour said

“The defendant does not deserve any sympathy.”

Survivors and relatives of those killed clapped and cheered as Samour then ordered deputies to remove James Holmes from his courtroom, and the gunman was led away in shackles.

The 27-year-old was found guilty by a jury last month of murdering 12 people and wounding 70 in his rampage inside the packed screening a multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The jury did not reach a unanimous decision on whether Holmes should be executed. That meant the former neuroscience graduate student, who had pleaded insanity, got a dozen automatic life sentences with no possibility of parole.

Samour still had to sentence Holmes on attempted murder counts and an explosives charge.

Condemning the shooter to the longest term he could issue, the judge said Holmes decided to “quit” in life, and that he set out to kill “as many innocents as possible.”

Samour said whatever illness Holmes may have suffered, there was overwhelming evidence that a significant part of his conduct had been driven by “moral obliquity, mental depravity … anger, hatred, revenge, or similar evil conditions.”

He said “the $64 million question” that still lingered was whether the defendant was afflicted by a mental condition, disease or defect, and if so, to what extent.

“We tend to like simple answers, but maybe it's not so simple,” Samour said. “And maybe that's because we're not where we need to be in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.”

JUDGE PRAISES VICTIMS

After two days of often tearful and sometimes angry testimony from victims, District Attorney George Brauchler had called on Tuesday for Holmes to be given every day of the longest possible sentence.

The lead prosecutor also said he wished the court could order that the defendant spend the rest of his days in solitary confinement, surrounded by photos of the people he killed, but that it could not.

Samour said he had heard some people bemoan that the gunman would luxuriate in prison.

But he said he thought one of the victims summed it up best when he said being behind bars would be no picnic.

The judge said people could focus on the free food and medical care Holmes will receive. Or, he said, they could see the glass as half-full and consider he will be locked up for the rest of his days with serious, dangerous criminals.

“That doesn't sound a like a four-star hotel to me,” Samour said.

Defense lawyers say they have no plans to appeal, and the judge said that meant they had “truly completed” the trial in a surprisingly short period of just over three years.

“That's unheard of time for a death penalty case, especially one of this magnitude,” Samour said.

And the judge praised the victims, who he said had shown tremendous courage and grit, some of whom were disappointed that Holmes was not sentenced to death.

“You know your healing is not tied to the defendant's fate,” Samour said.

“Even despite all the pain and suffering you've been through, you're not quitting, and you're hanging in there, and you're fighting. You have my admiration.”

Will God have a say in Super Sunday outcome?


Rabbi Daniel Alter expects some added fervency during daily prayer services at the Denver Academy of Torah in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

Alter, the academy’s head of school, recalls that when the Colorado Rockies faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series, his students were more focused on prayer than ever before.

“That created a conversation on the role of prayer,” Alter said. “It brought up questions: Does God care? We probably will be having some of those conversations in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.”

With the Denver Broncos set to face off against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, it’s likely Jewish students in Colorado won’t be the only ones praying with a little extra zeal this week.

A poll taken earlier this month by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 22 percent of respondents believe God plays some role in the outcome of sporting events.

In its sampling of 1,011 adults, the Washington, D.C.-based organization found that 26 percent of respondents pray for God’s intervention to help their team and that 48 percent completely or mostly agreed that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.

Daniel Shapiro, the strength and conditioning coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Washington, would seem to be among them. Players and coaches for the Huskies regularly assemble for pregame prayers, a tradition maintained by many in pro and college sports, including two that Shapiro has coached: the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and the University of Dayton.

But Shapiro, who was at the Jan. 19 NFC championship game that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, says the prayer ritual is less a request for divine intervention than an acknowledgment of a higher power.

“One thing I’ve noticed is, they never pray for a win. They pray that everyone stays uninjured and that He lets us give our best effort, which I think says a lot,” Shapiro said. “My take is it’s not up to God. If you pray for a win, and then don’t [win] — then what? He let you down? It’s more about we acknowledge your presence.”

Larry Bensussen of Bellevue, Wash., who will be attending the game on Sunday at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, said he doesn’t think God cares much about the game’s outcome either. But like the 21 percent of respondents in the religion survey who say they don a favorite jersey when viewing sports, Bensussen said he is superstitious about what he wears for big games.

On Sunday, Bensussen will be attired in the No. 54 jersey of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and a proven good-luck pair of pants, along with plenty of warm clothing for the first-ever cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl.

Bensussen, whose wife, Shelley, is a past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, will attend the game with his two sons and a daughter, who will be wearing their good-luck jerseys, too. Shelley will be  accompanying the family east for the occasion, but won’t attend the game. Too cold, she said.

Favorite jerseys didn’t work for Bensussen in 2006, when he attended the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl appearance, in Detroit. The Seahawks fell that day to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Back in Denver, Judaic studies teacher Benjamin Levy, a Seattle transplant, said he might wear a football helmet to class — as protection, if not fan identification.

When students baited him on his Seahawks allegiance, Levy responded that the better team could only be determined in a Super Bowl matchup. Now, the day of reckoning is approaching.

Last week’s final exams limited the trash-talking opportunities, but all bets are off in the coming days. Levy, a first cousin of Shapiro, is bracing for the onslaught.

If the Seahawks win, “I’m not going to gloat in their faces, much as I’d like to,” he said. “If the Broncos win, how long until I can show my face until the taunting stops?”

But the Super Bowl is not all about competing allegiances, even in Denver. A New York Jets season ticket holder who won two tickets to the game in a raffle decided not to attend and sold the tickets to his brother, a Denver Academy of Torah board member, who promptly donated them to the school. The academy auctioned them off in a fundraiser, resulting in a $10,000 windfall for the school.

“It’s helping a wonderful cause in which kids are being educated in Torah every day,” said Kathy Bashari, the Denver Academy’s director of development. “Everyone involved did amazing mitzvahs.”

Marty Kaplan: How to lose the next debate


President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first 2012 U.S. presidential debate in Denver on Oct. 3. Photo by REUTERS/Michael Reynolds

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote a “martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims


As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre in a suburban Denver movie theater, local synagogues conducted special prayers and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado launched a response fund for the victims and their families.

Early Friday morning, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie, “Dark Knight Rises,” and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court Monday for arraignment on murder charges. He reportedly worked one year at a summer camp operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. He is not Jewish.

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched by Wednesday. The federation also is planning a blood drive at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for blood donations in Denver, he said.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

“As Jews, especially with our relationship with Israel, we understand terrorism very directly, and this is a way for us to show others that we understand the tragic nature of this event and want to do whatever we can to help provide some level of comfort,” Seserman told JTA.

Seserman said that after the state’s recent wildfires, the federation received about 500 donations worth about $75,000, He said 25 percent of the money came from outside the state.

“We now know that we will have the same kind of support from the Jewish world,” Seserman said. “We as a Jewish community mobilize well in times of crisis whether it is a war in Israel, Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a wildfire in Colorado. We have this demonstrated ability to mobilize in times of crisis, and here is another one we face and will overcome.”

Rabbi Bruce Dollin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and senior rabbi at the Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, said that on Shabbat many area congregations recited prayers for the victims.

“It was an incredible shocking and stunning tragedy,” he said. “Everyone in the Jewish community is feeling like the rest of the community; we can’t believe it happened. Life is so fragile and can end in a split second.”

On Sunday, Congregation Beth haMedrosh Hagagdol-Beth Joseph, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, plans a moment of silence for the victims to coincide with the observance of Tisha b’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar associated with some of Jewish history’s greatest calamities.

“The message of Tisha B’av is that despite all the tragedies, the persecutions, despite all the suffering we still look forward to a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” said Rabbi Ben Greenberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “We see that there can be a future despite all the darkness.”

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on Friday night, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about the incident with their younger children.

“It was emotional,” Cohen said. “There was also the bombing of the Israeli tourists and this hit home for me. I have kids who certainly have gone out to midnight movies.”

Dollin said that many people are participating in communitywide events such as donating to blood banks or attending vigils.

“I don’t think we’ve come together as a Jewish community, but as a general community,” Dollin said. “Many of us have gone to the same theater, and so we are feeling the connection to the general neighborhood. We are not just Jews here; we are fully members of our general community.” 

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil Sunday at the Aurora Municipal Center to honor the victims of the massacre.

“It was really powerful to be with crowds of people directing their anxiety, frustration and confusion to God,” Greenberg said. “As a Jewish member of society and as a rabbi, it is critical to say that we hurt also and that the loss of a life of a 6-year-old child tears our heart as much as it tears anyone’s heart.”

Tim Tebow is Jewish


“Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?”

That was the headline last week on a blog posted by New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane.

Brisbane is The Times’ ombudsman; his job is to hold the paper accountable to journalistic standards and to act as its readers’ representative. The blog caused a lot of jaws to drop and tongues to wag. The reactions were either “duh” or “yikes.” Those in the first group were appalled that an arbiter of professional values was calling the very pursuit of accuracy into question; the others, pouncing on how the question was framed — “vigilante”? really? — read the headline as a sign that the propagandists charging “liberal bias” had succeeded in intimidating even The Times.

The headline, in other words, begged the question. Its implicit answer is that Times reporters should faithfully record what sources claim, and depict conflicting claims within the framework of he-said/she-said. An adroit reporter might juxtapose goofy claims with credible contrary evidence; an enterprising editor might assign a sidebar, within whose walls it’s acceptable to check facts. But by and large, especially in the realm of politics and public affairs, this conception of journalism casts us as arbitrators in a dispute between warring press releases.

What kind of journalism would empower us as citizens instead of blowing us off with, “We’ll have to leave it there”? It would have to step up to two responsibilities, each of which carries risks, but ducking either one is as good as giving up on what a free press can do for democracy.
Take my headline, above. When I say that Tim Tebow is Jewish, I’m doing two things. One is making a factual claim. The other is pursuing an agenda. Journalism’s job, I think, is to investigate both.

You can check whether Tim Tebow is Jewish (he’s not), just as you can check whether Barack Obama was born in America (yup); whether the Earth is 6,000 years old (nope); or whether the United States has the best health care system in the world (we’re No. 37). There’s a big chunk of rhetorical real estate to which the words “true” and “false” can be appropriately applied. People who say that climate change is a hoax are wrong. So are people who say that taxes have gone through the roof in California.

Some assertions, like Mitt Romney’s claim that Bain Capital netted 100,000 new jobs, can be checked in principle, but not in reality, because Bain refuses to release the data needed to confirm or disprove it. That 100,000 claim is the equivalent of an ad for a male enhancement pill; a consumer warning is the least the media could provide. A reporter or host who fails to call a falsehood false — on the spot, within the story, in real time — is committing journalistic malpractice.

But fact-checking is just one part of the journalist’s job. The other is to help citizens understand the intention of the speaker, to expose the purpose of an assertion. When I say Tim Tebow is Jewish, my goal is to grab your attention. I know it’s not true. I’m lying.

The mens rea of a speaker — the intent to deceive — is fair game for journalism. It’s not enough to say that Sarah Palin and Chuck Grassley are factually wrong about “death panels”; an analysis of a disinformation campaign belongs in the story (as The Times, to its credit, provided). The lies Dick Cheney sold The Times about Saddam’s uranium centrifuges cried out for political deconstruction. Good reporting on the charges about Barack Obama by Donald Trump, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich also requires reporting on the speakers’ marketing campaigns for TV ratings, lecture fees and book sales. Motives matter.

Here’s how that works, when it works: After Fox & Friends followed the money trail from “ground zero mosque” builder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to Saudi prince and purported terrorist funder Al Waleed bin Talal, not only did Jon Stewart point out that Al Waleed is News Corp.’s largest shareholder; he also used that inconvenient truth to raise the key question about Fox News’ failure to mention the connection: Are they stupid, or evil? That’s not overstepping the bounds between journalism and partisanship; it’s reclaiming the ground that journalistic cowardice has ceded to partisanship. (And yes, I know that Stewart calls himself a “fake journalist,” not a real one. But if that’s fake, the Pulitzers need a new category.)

Sometimes motive is the most important part of a story. The significance of Mitt Romney’s reinvention of his record isn’t that he’s lying about the past; it’s that he will say and do anything to be president. He wants Tea Partyers to believe that he’s one of them, but he wants the rest of us think that he’s actually winking at us while pandering to them, and at the same time he wants the press to admire his feint-to-the-right/pivot-to-the-center strategy as a triumph in narrative-making. It’s not journalistically unprofessional to call Romney’s strategy cynical; it’s professionally derelict not to.

Stephen Colbert is also winking at us, but his meaning isn’t that we’re all in on the joke that money-fueled politics has become; it’s that our civic hair is on fire. When The Times’ public editor wonders whether verification is vigilantism, it’s a sign not only that the right’s 30-plus years of working the refs has succeeded, but also that the postmodern allergy to a category called “truth” is on the verge of being fatal to democracy. When Stewart and Colbert make motive the topic and analysis entertaining, I feel a tectonic shift — a promising one — in the ground of political storytelling.

Tim Tebow ain’t Jewish, but journalism ain’t stenography.

QB’s signature pose has Jews and gentiles ‘Tebowing’


The biggest story in the NFL this season is Tim Tebow, a devout Christian quarterback who doesn’t throw very well but has helped the Denver Broncos pull off a string of last-second victories.

But the rugged Tebow’s signature move comes when play has stopped—taking a knee in prayer after scoring a touchdown. The pose has become a popular Internet meme, with fans “Tebowing” all over the world. That includes Jewish fans.

“In Denver, people see football as religion; Tebow unites people of all faiths,” said Jared Kleinstein, creator of the website Tebowing.com, in an interview with JTA.

Kleinstein, a Jewish Coloradan, created the site after watching Tebow’s TD celebration and being inspired to re-create the now iconic pose. Although some may think of it as nothing more than a sports-oriented version of planking, an analogous practice in which one lies face down in an odd place, Kleinstein believes that Tebowing is a physical manifestation of how football fans are inspired by the quarterback.

Tebowing, Kleinstein said, “is the prime example of someone not having any shame and inspiring people to be OK with whatever religion they follow.”

Tebowing has become a popular way for young fans to express pride in their beloved hero. Kleinstein says he receives an average of 10,000 pictures per day of people Tebowing and has to sift through piles to find the exceptional ones. While many of the pictures are silly, such as Tebowing in the office or in front of the U.S. Capitol, many have inspired others.

“Tebowing.com is 100 percent pride,” Kleinstein says proudly. “If you’re Jewish and you see this, I think you can be inspired to be as open about your religion as he is.”

During a recent trip to Israel, the 10th-grade class at Denver’s Jewish Day School—Kleinstein’s alma mater, incidentally—was photographed Tebowing in front of the Western Wall.

“They knew that their Tebowing would identify them as being from Denver,” said Sara Caine Kornfeld, a teacher at the school. Tebowing, she said, is “clearly a source of pride.”

Indeed, the Colorado Jewish community has warmed to Tebow despite their difference in religious beliefs.

Rabbi Marc Gitler of the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue described the 24-year-old quarterback as a source of pride for anyone who could be mocked for their devotion.

“Even from people who are very [religious Jews], they are happy to just have a guy who is religious and a good role model,” he said.

“I think it’s a great story, a person who was doubted and showed that he can win games in this miraculous fashion. It’s great for this country and great for this religious, moral human being.”

As a Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft choice, the Broncos and their fans had high hopes for Tim Tebow when he entered the National Football League last season. But his sloppy form and poor statistics cast doubt on the University of Florida graduate. Tebow saw little action, and many assumed his quarterbacking career would be short-lived.

But after the Broncos started the 2011 season with a 1-4 record, new coach John Fox benched Kyle Orton halfway through a game against the San Diego Chargers. Tebow, for better or for worse, now was the starting quarterback.

Not surprisingly, Tebow has come up short statistically. His completion rate of 48.5 percent this season is well below par for an NFL starter, and he has only 1,290 passing yards. In comparison, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league, has a nearly 70 percent completion rate with 4,125 yards.

Yet Tebow in his second season has seen an astronomical rise to fame based on his late-game heroics. Led by their lefthander, as well as a solid defense, the Broncos have won seven of their last eight games with Tebow as a starter—some of the victories can only be described as miraculous—to vault into first place in the American Football Conference’s Western Division.

Add in Tebow’s wholesome persona and some fans and commentators are left wondering what role faith has had in his unlikely success.

“He isn’t the football player who says ‘I love Jesus’ and then is found with a stripper the next day,” Gitler said. “He presumably isn’t just paying lip service to his beliefs but actually does what he says he does, and that is front and center.”

Tebow’s public displays of faith are not ecumenical—he is unabashed in stressing his faith in Jesus. But that hasn’t turned off Jewish fans, said Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News.

“For those who are Christian, [Tebow’s fame] has been positive,” Goldberg said. “For those who are Jewish, it hasn’t been negative.”

Though admittedly ambivalent about football, Goldberg says he recognizes that Tebow has infused a different spirit into the city.

“This is a long religion—and by that I mean football-starved city,” Goldberg said. “Whoever revived it has made things better for all.”

Netanyahu cancels GA appearance


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to address the Jewish federations’ annual General Assembly.

“The Prime Minister hoped to go to the GA, but unfortunately he will have to be in Israel during that week,” the Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement Monday, less than to weeks before this year’s GA launches in Denver.  “The Prime Minister and his staff made considerable efforts to adjust his scheduling to allow for a visit to the GA, but in the end, this turned out to be impossible.”

Sources said Netanyahu pulled out because the GA conflicted with planned commemorations of the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

VIDEO: Blacks and Jews are back together and working side by side for an Obama victory


JTA’s Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas on Thursday’s events at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.  With a focus on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, they explore a new emphasis on rebuilding the Civil Rights-era alliance of Jews and Blacks.  Included—Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Lewis.

Obama says GOP ‘tough talk’ doesn’t help Israel; Transcript of speech


DENVER (JTA) — Barack Obama said Republican “tough talk” was not protecting Israel.

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) derided the Bush administration and his Republican rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to contain terrorism.

“You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq,” he said, in a speech to an estimated 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. “You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.”

Obama has accused Bush and McCain of undermining alliances through unilateralism. He favors intensifying diplomacy as well as sanctions in a bid to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the evening, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Reform movement’s Washington public policy office, the Religious Action Center, delivered the invocation at the opening of the Thursday session of the convention. Saperstein asked for God’s blessing “on all the leaders of our nation,” but he singled out by name Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, as well as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“May your name be invoked only to inspire and unify our nation, but never to divide it,” Saperstein said.



Following is prepared text of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest – a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia – I love you so much, and I’m so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job – an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great – a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

That’s the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us – that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I’ve seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I’ve seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they’d pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I’ve seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Dems use speeches to hit GOP on Israel


DENVER (JTA)—President Bush and John McCain backed policies that have endangered Israel, Democrats argued during their convention speeches Wednesday night.

In a night dedicated largely to foreign policy and national security issues, several speakers at the Pepsi Center argued that Israel’s enemies have been emboldened by Republican mishaps. The strategy reflected an increased willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the Bush administration over Israel, after years of simply insisting both sides of the aisle were equally supportive of the Jewish state.

Alan Solomont, a top fund raiser for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this time around, told JTA that four years ago it was the “belief of the Kerry campaign that [Israel] was not a point of differentiation therefore the campaign did focus on other issues.”

Not this year. Among those who used their speeches to hammer home the new talking points were:

* Kerry: “George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march. North Korea has more bombs, and Iran is defiantly chasing one.”

* Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.): “Under George Bush, the Middle East has become more troubled. That hurts America and endangers our ally, Israel, which has been forced to confront a resurgent Hamas, an emboldened Hezbollah and an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. That is not the change we need.”

* Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.): “We entered into an unnecessary war and remain bogged down in Iraq as Afghanistan backslides and the architects of Sept. 11 remain free. On Bush and McCain’s watch, we have witnessed the growing influence of a belligerent Iran that has destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel.”

During their respective speeches, President Clinton and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), focused on the harm done by what they described as the Bush administration’s failure to utilize diplomacy.

Clinton argued that America’s “position in the world has been weakened by,” among other things, a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Center and Eastern Europe.” As for Biden, he pointed to Iran as a hot spot where the United States has failed diplomatically.

“Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he rejected talking with Iran and then asked: What is there to talk about? Or Barack Obama, who said we must talk and make it clear to Iran that its conduct must change,” Biden said. “Now, after seven years of denial, even the Bush administration recognizes that we should talk to Iran, because that’s the best way to advance our security. Again, John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

Obama drew criticism from his onetime primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and from Republicans for his statement last year that he would be willing to meet with the president of Iran; he and Biden were two of just two dozen senators to oppose an amendment urging the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has since said that he supported the Bush administration’s ultimate decision to take such a step, but objected to the amendment out of fear that the Bush administration would unduly treat it as an approval for attacking Iran. In general, the Obama campaign has argued that its ticket would adopt a tougher and smarter approach to isolating Iran in an effort to short circuit its nuclear pursuits.

Republicans, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier this week, have been painting Obama as naive and undependable when it comes to safeguarding Israel. And, in recent days, they have also attempted to challenge Biden’s pro-Israel bona fides. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement Wednesday citing a 1982 clash that Biden had with Israel’s then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, in which the Delaware senator criticized Israeli settlement expansion and reportedly raised the possibility of cutting U.S. aid to Israel over the issue. In addition, the RJC cited several pro-Israel congressional letters and resolution that Biden did not sign on to.

Biden, who has worked closely with Israel and Jewish groups on many issues, was praised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee upon being tapped by Obama.

During his speech, Wexler—who boasts of being the first Jewish congressman to back Obama’s presidential bid—described the nominee as a staunch supporter of Israel.

“In his heart, in his gut, Barack Obama stands with Israel,” Wexler said, adding that the candidate “understands the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. And as President, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”

VIDEO: JTA’s Wednesday Convention Summary


Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas summarize the jewish events of the day at the election, while attending a jstreet function in downtown Denver.

 

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions


DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

Obama camp to raise domestic issues in bid for Jewish vote


DENVER (JTA)—After months of playing up their candidate’s support for Israel, Obama advisers say the campaign is opening up a second front in the battle for Jewish voters.

Obama Jewish outreach director Dan Shapiro told JTA the campaign will now be emphasizing that the presumptive Democratic candidate’s “values” are “in sync” with historic “Jewish values” on a variety of domestic issues, while Republican “John McCain’s values are not.”

Shapiro cited Obama’s commitment to the separation of church and state, his economic policies to “protect the middle class and the less fortunate,” his choice of justices for the Supreme Court, and his backing for energy independence and protecting the environment as issues falling under the Jewish values umbrella.

He added that the campaign also would point out that Obama is the “only candidate who can rebuild the historic ties between the Jewish and African-American communities.”

Shapiro and others close to the campaign stressed that the new “Jewish values” message would complement and not replace a continued emphasis on Obama’s “rock-solid support for Israel.”

“We are not in any way moving away from foreign policy,” said Shapiro, who has been advising the Obama campaign for months but recently signed on for a full-time position. “We think his foreign-policy stands are one of his strengths.”

While the Illinois senator has been leading consistently in recent polls of Jewish voters by about 30 points, his level of 61 to 62 percent is significantly below the percentage of the Jewish vote that recent Democratic presidential candidates have garnered—including John Kerry’s 75 percent in 2004 and 79 percent for Al Gore four years earlier.

Many have attributed Obama’s lower numbers to a variety of factors—from concerns raised by e-mails falsely claiming he is a Muslim to his association with controversial Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright to the unfamiliarity of Jewish voters with a politician who was first elected to the U.S. Senate less than four years ago.

Other analysts attribute McCain’s relative strength to his “personal appeal” as a moderate and maverick. That was the line used by Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call and Richard Baehr of the politically conservative American Thinker Web site during a discussion of the Jewish vote that took place Monday in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention taking place here this week.

Jewish Democrats say focusing more attention on domestic issues such as the Supreme Court and reproductive rights will change that perception of McCain in the Jewish community.

“John McCain has been very effective in appearing to be much more moderate than he really is” because of his support of campaign finance reform and immigration reform, said Mel Levine, a former congressman from California who is advising the Obama campaign on Middle East issues.

For example, National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira Forman noted that he often speaks to groups of Democrats and independents who are surprised to learn that McCain has proudly touted his “pro-life” record.

Jewish Democratic leaders in Denver praised the promised new domestic thrust, saying it was critical for the Obama campaign to flesh out for Jewish voters the sharp distinctions between the two candidates on many domestic issues of traditional importance to the Jewish community.

A top Jewish Republican leader also liked the strategy, but for different reasons.

“This signifies they’re putting up the white flag” on the Israel issue and have decided to “play to their base,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks. He said voters to whom the new message would appeal are “already Obama supporters.”

The new strategy was on display at the inaugural meeting of the Obama campaign’s Colorado Jewish Leadership Committee. But on Sunday morning in Denver, it was clear that Israel remains a major element of Obama’s Jewish outreach.

Featured speaker U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) discussed the candidate’s positions on Israel and Iran, then said, “While it is clear Barack Obama’s support for Israel is strong, it is even more clear there is only one candidate who represents all of our values in the Jewish community—and that candidate is Barack Obama.”

Wasserman Schultz earned her loudest applause when she went on to note Obama’s support for “protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

Two-thirds of her speech, however, was devoted to foreign policy, and most of the questions were requests for clarification or explanation of Obama’s Middle East positions, including the future of Jerusalem and where to locate the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

Also noticeable at the meeting was the Obama campaign’s willingness to be aggressive in challenging the McCain campaign on Israel-related issues.

In response to a question about whether Obama would support moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the campaign’s Jewish vote director, Eric Lynn, said McCain was “100 percent disingenuous” when he says he will move the embassy to Jerusalem on “day one.”

“The U.S. Jewish community,” Lynn said, “should not be lied to … about where the embassy will be at what day and time.” Lynn noted that President Bush made the same pledge during his 2000 campaign, but has signed a waiver every six months of his presidency deferring the move for national security reasons.

“Senator Obama has stated that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and as such the U.S. embassy shall be there,” Lynn said, adding that “he will not make promises that will not be kept.”

Obama and his surrogates have been pushing the argument in recent weeks that Israel has been made “less safe” in the past eight years of a Republican administration because of President Bush’s failure to engage in the peace process until the second half of his second term.

“They’re not playing from the old Democratic playbook of saying … ‘We’re just as good on Israel, don’t worry about it, you should care about other things,’” said one senior Jewish community official who asked not to be identified. “They’re saying they’re better on Israel.”

The Obama Jewish strategy involves not just message, but also organization. The Colorado Jewish Community Leadership Committee is one of more than 15 such groups across the country comprised of Jewish Obama supporters sponsoring house parties and other events to persuade friends to vote for the Democrat.

“Nothing is more powerful in a political campaign than expressing the message on a voter-to-voter basis,” said Alan Solomont, a top Jewish backer of Obama from Boston.

Barbara Goldberg of Potomac, Md., one of four co-chairs of the Washington-area Jewish Obama group, said her committee has a group of high-powered surrogates—from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to former State Department official Stuart Eizenstat to Obama foreign policy adviser and Clinton administration national security adviser Tony Lake—“ready, willing and able” to speak any time they are needed, from Jewish house parties to synagogue forums.

The group also has planned Sunday canvassing in the swing state of Virginia through the Nov. 4 election.

“We think of ourselves as a force ready to be used whenever necessary,” Goldberg said.

Members of the Jewish outreach groups are being armed with talking points to respond to the most prevalent falsehoods circulating about Obama, from his religious heritage to his foreign policy advisers.

Those rumors, though, continue to be a major concern of Jewish Obama backers like Michael Wager of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a delegate to the Democratic convention this week. who attended a Cleveland-area meeting last week.

Wager received the talking points, but believes such information has “not been sufficiently disseminated.”

South Florida Democrats say the same. Florida state Sen. Nan Rich said Obama surrogates have been “shocked” by the hostility towards their candidate they have encountered at condominiums in her area.

Steve Geller, who serves as the Democratic minority leader in the Florida state Senate and represents parts of Broward County, said he was nearly chased out of the “condos”—shorthand for retirement communities—when he said he backed Obama.

“I’ve noticed almost a mob mentality,” Geller said. “I can change people’s minds in a group of five or 10. When there’s 300 people in the room, they feed off each other and don’t want really to listen to us.”

Wasserman Schultz said that more face-to-face encounters with Obama are needed.

“We need to make sure he comes down to South Florida and they get to know him,” she said. “He needs to come down and have bagels and cream cheese in the condos and he will be fine.”

VIDEO: Jewish ‘condo vote’ will be hard to crack


Ron Kampeas and Eric Fingerhut file their first video report from Denver, after attending a panel discussion Monday on the Jewish vote sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council

Let the games begin: GOP plays ‘Iran card’ against Democrats Obama and Biden


DENVER (JTA)—A year ago, the push for a congressional amendment that urged the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group was signature legislation for much of the pro-Israel lobby. Only two dozen U.S. senators out of 100 opposed it.

Two of those opposed—Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.)—make up the Democratic Party ticket for president.

Republicans are hoping to score points on the issue, building on their criticisms of Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the head of Iran without preconditions.

In a bit of political jujitsu, however, the Democrats are trying to turn the candidates’ opposition to the amendment into an asset.

Jewish Democrats rolled out the strategy this week on the first day of the Democratic convention here, saying the amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wasn’t serious. Obama and Biden, the Democrats say, have a better plan to secure Israel from attack.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a roomful of Colorado Jews on Sunday that Obama’s sponsorship of legislation that would facilitate sanctions against Iran until it proves it is not developing nuclear weapons was the substantive way to go.

“This is not some fluffy sense of Congress resolution,” Wasserman Schultz said in an apparent allusion to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was nonbinding. “This is a resolution with real teeth.”

Wasserman Schultz—whose preference in the Democratic primaries, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized by Obama supporters for backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment—elaborated later in an interview with JTA.

“Barack Obama backs up his words with action,” she said, adding that nonbinding resolutions “are great, but they don’t empower.”

Democrats are vying to maintain the traditional 3-to-1 Jewish split in favor of Democrats, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Florida.
The theme, repeated throughout the day at Jewish events: Obama’s coupling of tough sanctions with diplomacy and building alliances is likelier to face down the Iranians.

“We need allies in that war,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Sunday evening at a National Jewish Democratic Council gathering outside the modest brick Denver home that housed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was a teenager. “This administration has pushed off the people we need. We’re going to reach out to those people and pull in allies.”

Republicans made an issue of the vote within hours of Obama’s announcement of Biden as his running mate on Saturday.

“Biden has failed to recognize the serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “In 1998, Sen. Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill that punished foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. Biden was one of the few senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.”

Lieberman, the one-time Democrat turned Independent who is backing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, already has made an issue of the votes in pitches to pro-Israel arguments.

The attacks already were discomfiting Democrats.

“It will be an issue only to an extent that the Republicans try to misrepresent and distort the nature of that vote,” said Alan Solomont, the Boston philanthropist who was one of Obama’s earliest backers and is one of his leading fund-raisers.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backed the Iran measures opposed by Biden. But any disagreement over the issue appeared to be history for AIPAC when it came to weighing in on the selection of the veteran senator for vice president.

“Sen. Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and he has longstanding ties to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community,” spokesman Josh Block said in a statement, echoing similar praise it has lavished on Obama and McCain. “Throughout his career in the Senate, Joe Biden has been to Israel numerous times and has gotten to know many of Israel’s most important leaders.”

Biden cast one of the four “no” votes in 1998 against the sanctions bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton, arguing that it could undermine U.S. progress in convincing Russia to curb arms sales to Iran.

“The administration had made significant progress over the six months with the threat of this bill in place,” said Biden, according to a report from the time in The New York Times. “I’m trying to approach this from a practical point of view: How do we insure this doesn’t continue?”

As for opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Obama, Biden and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)—all candidates competing in the Democratic primaries at the time – have said they did not oppose the step of labeling the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group. They had backed similar language in separate legislation, and an executive order by President Bush designating the corps as terrorist within weeks of the amendment’s passage caused barely a murmur.

Instead, according to the candidates, they objected to language tying efforts to contain Iran to American actions in Iraq. That, they said, would be handing Bush an excuse to intensify American involvement in an unpopular war.

Dodd, Biden and Obama used Clinton’s vote for the amendment as a cudgel to batter their rival among the party base—a turn of events leading some critics to accuse them of putting politics ahead of the effort to pressure Iran.

Water under the bridge, said Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and a leading Clinton backer.

“If there’s one area where Barack Obama has taken a leadership role, it’s on legislation on Iran,” Grossman said, citing the sanctions-enabling act the Democratic candidate is pushing.

The act is stuck in the Senate; an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on it.

Grossman didn’t think the Kyl-Lieberman votes would have an effect.

“Will it ultimately determine Jewish votes? I don’t think so,” he said.

In its criticisms of Obama’s choice of running mate, the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that during a debate last December, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America” and told MSNBC that he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.

Biden, who has said that a nuclear Iran is an “unacceptable” danger, made the comments following the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Iran has likely halted its nuclear weapons program. The senator used the news to paint the Bush administration as having further damaged America’s credibility and hurt its efforts to isolate Iran.

“It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier,” Biden said during the 2007 debate, sponsored in Des Moines by National Public Radio. “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we’ve made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us?”

VIDEO: Jewish Dems nosh and schmooze at Zaydees Deli in Denver


Jewish Democratic event at Zaydees in downtown Denver.

From JTA’s Election Blog:

By Eric Fingerhut on Aug 24, 2008

They didn’t get a chance to sample the corned beef sandwiches, but more than a couple hundred people, Jews and non-Jews, came out to Zaidy’s Deli in Denver Sunday afternoon for a “Nosh and Shmooze.” That was what Democratic National Committee vice chair Susan Turnbull called the welcome party she hosted for her friends from her home state of Maryland and from around the country. Among those noshing on cheese, crackers, brownies, lemon bars and other desserts were Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), American Jewish Congress president Richard Gordon and American Israel Public Affairs Committee chairman of the board Howard Friedman.

Turnbull noted that when she first talking about hosting the event last winter, some of her colleagues didn’t know what a “nosh” was. So her invitations to the event provided definitions for both “nosh” (to snack) and “shmooze” (to stand around and talk). And Turnbull pointed out that’s what everyone did.