The Democrats won for the wrong reasons


The Republicans deserved to lose, but the Democrats did not deserve to win.

After McCain had the good luck to win the nomination early, he squandered valuable time, failing to use his advantage to define his campaign, or Obama. In contrast, the brilliance of Obama’s campaign implied Obama’s ability to govern. Once McCain impetuously took Obama’s chameleon moderation off the table, the unqualified Obama, who had more energy and seemed more coherent, gained credibility and endorsements, synergistically. Consequently, the late attacks, though legitimate, against Obama as a stealth candidate seemed like smears.

Yet, on election eve, even New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, speaking for Obama at a Florida synagogue, implied his candidate knew what Rev. Wright stood for, but had lacked the “political courage” to repudiate his pastor. Earth to Nadler: If you’re Jewish and you feel your candidate lacks the guts to confront the bashing of America and Israel, why would you support him?

Generally, voters continue to want something for nothing: On Tuesday they rejected Republicans for their un-Republican policies of borrow-and-spend and embraced Democrats for their un-Republican policies of tax-and-spend. But, there’s more to this year’s political soap opera than economic bad times and the class warfare to which Democrats pander demagogically. Indeed, truly hardworking people properly blame a government that (under Clinton, as well) seemed to favor parasitic Wall Street bankers over them.

But what about people who had put nothing down on a home, then borrowed on it to live beyond their means, and believe their predicament is somehow everyone else’s fault? In Obama’s presumed cradle-to-grave nanny state they now have a savior. When candidate Obama said everyone has a “right” to be provided day care for their children and a college education for them and universal health care and …, how does one distinguish between Obama’s peculiar constitutional theory of civil rights and his pedestrian campaign rhetoric of bold promises? As one Obama voter interviewed on television said, “I owe money on a car loan. I helped him out, and now he can help me out.”

The more liberal Jews often speak of “tikkun olam” and the Jewish ethic of caring for the less fortunate. Yet, they favored Joe Biden, who gave almost nothing to charity. Instead, his concept is to tax others to enforce his concept of social justice. Why not have an honest dialogue?

Before his election, Obama said he wants “to fundamentally transform America.” Most of us believe his election itself testifies to the innate greatness and wonderful goodness of America, and we do not believe our country requires a fundamental transformation, and certainly not into the mold of European social democracy — secular and stagnant. Yet, as an American, I never thought I would say that I find a new French leader, the pro-opportunity, pro-defense Mr. Sarkozy, closer to the American ideal than our own president-elect. In giving President-elect Obama the benefit of the doubt, I hope sincerely that he can grow into the job, and I can revise that assessment.

Back to the campaign. Why did voters believe that Obama and his backers (examples: Finance Chairs Chris Dodd in the Senate and Barney Frank in the House of Representatives), who aggressively supported the massive program of sub-prime loans and stubbornly resisted critical reforms, were somehow better qualified and more likely to resolve the economic crisis than McCain, the maverick who had outspokenly opposed Fannie and Freddie excesses? The dysfunctional McCain campaign failed miserably to anticipate, and communicate, on the issue of the economy. Indeed, it is McCain, not Obama, who would more quickly get government out of the bailout business. Obama’s campaign words, “We’re seeing the final verdict on Bush’s failed economic policies,” cleverly evaded this unreported or underreported fact: Wall Street favored Obama. It did so because the wealthy, with their tax lawyers, do just fine under Democrats; it’s the middle class that disappears.

McCain was not a leader on the economic issue. His anemic, often irrelevant, campaign advanced silly proposals like a gas tax holiday. When he suspended his campaign, he had an opportunity to dominate the White House meeting, oppose the bailout and insist on oversight and taxpayer protections, and emerge as the leader. Instead, he fumbled, and Obama picked up the ball.

The blatantly biased media did not explain the origins of the economic crisis; instead, the media consistently boosted Obama, who never actually had taken on his party, as the candidate somehow for change, while resisting any serious investigative reporting of Obama’s myriad deficiencies and inconsistencies. For example, Obama, who once said gun ownership was not protected against the Second Amendment, reversed himself, just as he did on public funding of campaigns, offshore oil drilling and many more issues, with a free ride from reporters. But the media magnified every alleged error by Sarah Palin and at the same time barely publicized Joe Biden’s numerous, even egregious, blunders. In fact, more investigative reporting was directed at Palin than at Obama.

The media’s role should be considered in context. Bill Clinton inherited a world void of the Soviet threat, thanks mainly to the policies of Ronald Reagan; Clinton had little to do with the resulting calm. Further, Clinton was required to show fiscal restraint at home, thanks mainly to Republican control of Congress; Clinton had little to do with the cyclical economic recovery. But in the Clinton mythology, relative peace and prosperity were, perversely, his accomplishments. Now, we face this coming trajectory: lower oil prices, a recovering stock market, a turnaround economy, and stability in Iraq, no thanks to the emerging one-party rule of Barack Obama, who is likely to take credit.

Congressional Republicans are hardly blameless for their predicament or bad press: Under House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his successors, they not only failed to reform, but also acted more like the tyrannical Democrats they had replaced. And where these Republicans had resisted (to his benefit) the big government of President Bill Clinton, they then supported (to his detriment) the reckless expansionism of President George W. Bush. The Bush Administration acted like Democrats — giving rise to an even greater and more costly Federal role in our failing public education system and adding a dysfunctional prescription drug benefit to our troubled Medicare program. All this, and more anti-conservatism, yet they were glaringly incapable, even after Sept. 11, of even trying to secure our borders.

The turning point for many conservatives was when the Congressional Republican leadership abandoned Federalism to convene Congress in an emergency weekend session to consider a matter in the Florida judiciary — the Terry Schiavo case involving Schiavo’s terminal illness. As for the Administration, its handling of the Katrina case, complete with political cronies, demonstrated incompetence that embarrassed conservatives and further damaged the Republican brand.

Expect to see the Democrats, who under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, have controlled Congress for the last two years, use their one-party government to produce the same sort of failures, but on a much grander scale. The (Democratic) cure can be worse than the (Republican) disease.

The collapse of the credit markets is the main reason both for the Obama victory and for the Republican losses in the Senate and House. The national vote was largely punitive — punish the Republicans for economic uncertainty and despair. What of the political onslaught we now face? Congressman Howard Berman, almost alone among Democrats, has had the integrity to resist what his party wants to do: In the name of fairness, Democrats would trash the First Amendment and silence talk radio. But will other Democrats of conscience resist the cynical plan of Democrats to eliminate the secret ballot on whether workers want a union? What about appointing nominees to the Supreme Court who share Obama’s philosophy that the purpose of income taxes is not to raise revenue, but to redistribute wealth, and that such redistribution to the recipient is a civil right?

McCain made a gracious and moving concession speech. Obama, in turn, set a tone of unity and, for the first time, tried to lower messianic expectations. But time will tell whether he grows beyond his leftist background and ideological voting record and governs from the center, or yields to the extremists in his party who control Congress.

So, finally, what does this election in the United States mean to Israel? In recent years, the American left, like its counterparts elsewhere, has been hostile to the Jewish state, and the left now controls the U.S. Congress. As for the presidency, Israel can hardly rely on Jewish voices of dubious moral authority, like Congressman Nadler, who “know” that Obama really is a friend of Israel.

The people of Israel face an existential threat from Iran, while in Obama they see, at best, a work in progress — “a man not fully formed” — as Dennis Prager observed, hopefully, the day after the election. Thus, these election results make a compelling case for risk-averse Israelis to elect a man associated not only with national prosperity but also with national security — Bibi Netanyahu.

Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst.

Now that Obama is in Israel, what should we expect?


Latest:

Barack Obama arrived in Israel and stressed the historic ties between the United States and the Jewish state.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is on a Middle East and European tour aimed at shoring up his foreign policy credentials.

“I want input and insight from Israeli leaders about how they see the current situation,” Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, said Tuesday night at Ben Gurion International Airport. “I’ll share some of my ideas. The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken and one that I have reaffirmed throughout my career.”

Obama will meet Wednesday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Earlier Tuesday in Jordan, Obama said as president he would begin working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal from his first day in office.

“There‚Äôs a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other rather than look in the mirror,” Obama told reporters in Amman before heading to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The Israeli government is unsettled, the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas, and so it’s difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace,” Obama said.

“My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I’m sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs.”

Obama was careful to point out that peace would not come about overnight and that a U.S. president could not “suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace.”



NEW YORK (JTA)—It’s not quite as big a stage as the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, but plenty of pundits and Jewish observers will be paying attention Wednesday as Barack Obama visits Israel (the first half of the sentence was a joke … I think).

Obama spoke at the AIPAC parley back in early June, the morning after the final Democratic primaries came to a close and most everyone in the country (except Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton and a few loyalists) had recognized him as the party’s presumptive nominee.

That speech was supposed to be the final word—it was going to put to rest any doubts among Jewish voters about Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides. And not a moment too soon, with hawkish Jewish Democrats starting to think about their options in the fall and a Gallup poll showing Obama winning a bit more than 60 percent of the Jewish vote in a hypothetical matchup in the general election against John McCain—five points worse than Clinton and about 15 points below John Kerry’s numbers in 2004.

To be sure, judging from the applause, the AIPAC speech was well received by the 5,000-plus in attendance, but the subsequent flap over Obama’s call for a “united Jerusalem”—culminating with one aide saying Obama had misused the term and the candidate himself blaming “poor phrasing”—took some wind out of Team Obama’s sails. It also raised some legitimate questions about whether the campaign was ready to handle the prime-time balancing act required in navigating the domestic and international politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So here we go again: Now the Obama campaign is facing yet another key moment with Jewish voters. And again it comes on the heels of a poll—this one commissioned by J Street, the fledgling left-wing Middle East advocacy group—showing Obama stuck at about 60 percent.

With that in mind, here are a few things to watch during Obama’s day in Israel and the West Bank, which is scheduled to include visits with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.

MESSAGE: The challenge is for Obama to reassure AIPAC types about his commitment to Israel’s security, without angering his base, which sees the Democratic nominee as someone willing to break from President Bush’s neocon foreign policy. Already feeling testy following Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA bill, many of his most enthusiastic supporters will not take well to an AIPAC-sounding Obama in Israel.

So does Obama focus on the need for an end to Palestinian violence? Israeli settlements and restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank? The goal of achieving a Palestinian state? Will Obama and his advisers be sure to avoid additional poor phrasings?

JERUSALEM: Representatives of Orthodox and right-wing organizations are holding a press conference and a rally in Jerusalem Tuesday night, during which organizers say they will ask for clarification on Obama’s views on Jerusalem. Organizers say they were spooked by Obama’s comment to Fareed Zakaria that the Clinton parameters from 2000—which included the idea of assigning the Israelis and the Palestinians control over different parts of Jerusalem—“provides a starting point for discussions between the parties.” Obama did go on to stress that the “parties are going to have to negotiate these issues on their own, with the strong engagement of the United States.” The “let the parties decide” position puts him in the same boat as McCain, but if Obama sticks to the idea that Clinton’s proposal is a good starting point, then he can expect some pushback from some Jewish and Israeli corners.

DENNIS ROSS: The Republican Jewish Coalition took aim at Obama when it mistakenly thought that he was bringing Chuck Hagel with him to Israel, noting that Joe Lieberman was McCain’s wing man during his trip in May to the Jewish state.

Well, as Time noted, Obama is bringing Dennis Ross with him to Israel. In Ross, Obama has a tour guide with more hands-on experience in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian leaders than Lieberman, and possibly commands more respect across a wider range of the political spectrum. Ross is a longtime proponent of an active U.S. peacemaking role with ties to the think tank most associated with AIPAC and has logged time as a commentator for FOX News (and unlike the liberals who get brought on to serve as a punching bag, Ross is often on by himself, and the hosts seem to listen to him).

The Jewish Agency for Israel tapped Ross to chair its think tank about the future of the Jewish people. In short, it’s hard to imagine a better person for Obama to hang out with in Israel if the goal is to say, “Yeah, I’m for a two-state solution—but relax, I come to it from the pro-Israel perspective, not the Mearsheimer-Walt worldview.”

MAHMOUD ABBAS and SALAAM FAYYAD: The meetings with Palestinian leaders could prove to be the most challenging part of the trip, at least politically. Never mind that Bush has repeatedly made clear that Abbas and Fayyad are his guys, or that McCain says he shares the president’s positive view of them—conservatives will be waiting to pounce on any word or image suggesting that Obama is at home with Palestinians.

At the same time Obama, like Bush and McCain, believes the U.S. should be doing whatever it can to help Fatah in its struggle with Hamas. So how does he manage to signal strong support for Abbas and Fayyad without providing too much ammo to Republican Jewish Coalition and the right-wing blogosphere. Another wrinkle: The Abbas meeting comes amid reports that the P.A. leader reportedly congratulated Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar on his release from an Israeli prison. (It doesn’t help Obama in some circles that McCain passed on meetings with Palestinian leaders during his May trip, though he made a point of praising Abbas.)

EHUD OLMERT: Last year, the Israeli prime minister ruffled some Democratic feathers at the AIPAC conference by overtly siding with Bush on the Iraq war. During his speech at this year’s gathering, he made several on-the-fly departures from his prepared text, all seemingly aimed at striking a more bipartisan tone than he did the year before.

With Obama ahead in the polls, and Israel in need of U.S. leadership on Iran, will Olmert continue to do a better job of hedging his (and by extension his country’s) bets? The Democratic candidate doesn’t need Olmert to undercut Bush and McCain, as the Iraqi prime minister did Tuesday by essentially endorsing Obama’s idea of a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. Just a decent photo op without any grumblings about Obama from unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office could provide a boost.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Bibi, the Likud opposition leader, has never been shy about making common cause with neocons and Christian conservatives (ask Bill Clinton). And Obama has objected to the “strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.”

Netanyahu and Obama are a sharp contrast in styles and worldviews. Polls suggest that come next year they will be leading their respective countries, so now would be a good time to start playing nice—or to start positioning for the upper hand in what could prove to be a bumpy relationship.