The impact of the moderate Republican


On Oct. 28, 1980, a beleaguered President Jimmy Carter stood on a debate stage with his Republican challenger, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan.  Carter’s one chance to save his presidency depended on his ability to portray Reagan’s views as extreme. The best levers appeared to be Reagan’s criticisms of Social Security, but especially his vocal opposition in 1961 to a federal program to provide medical care to seniors — a plan that became law, as Medicare, in 1965.  

With his characteristic pinched and humorless mien and preachy schoolmarm look, Carter noted that Reagan had begun his career by opposing the future Medicare program. As Carter spoke, Reagan laughed, and when it was the Republican candidate’s turn to respond, he said, “There you go again,” and went on to say that rather than opposing the concept of Medicare itself, he had actually preferred an alternative piece of legislation that was before Congress.  (There is no evidence of such legislation at the time.) Carter’s charge drifted away, and with it, the election.

The process of reassurance continued, even into Reagan’s presidency. In fact, it was Reagan who, as president a year later, invented the term “social safety net,” to assure voters that his budget cuts to domestic programs would not eviscerate support for the “truly needy.”

As we observe the final days of the 2012 election campaign, I’m reminded of the difficulty Democrats have faced in their attempts to highlight the rightward turn the Republican Party has taken since Reagan’s rise. Even as Republicans have adopted positions that are increasingly unpopular with the American electorate, they have nevertheless managed to remain closely competitive in presidential elections. How have they done this? The question is particularly relevant as Mitt Romney, who committed to very conservative positions throughout the campaign, now seeks to move toward moderate positions that will resonate with voters in the final days before the general election.  

While Republicans have marginalized their moderates, Republicans nominate presidential candidates with moderate histories like John McCain and Mitt Romney, then demand that they toe the conservative line and bring on running mates like Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan to lock in the base. It was McCain who memorably said in 2008 that, if his own immigration plan came to his desk, as president he would certainly veto it.

Voters want to believe that the Republican candidate for president does not really share, or would not really act upon, the party’s extreme views in such areas as abortion, immigration, international relations, taxes and spending. The slightest moderate noises are magnified by voters’ own wish that it be so.  According to Robert Draper in The New York Times (July 5, 2012), Democratic pollsters have found that when they “informed a focus group that Romney supported the Ryan budget plan — and thus championed ‘ending Medicare as we know it’ — while also advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”

It is, indeed, hard to distinguish between a real moderate (such as Arlen Specter, who died on Oct. 14, or former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan) and moderate-sounding politicians. A long history of moderate Republicanism remains ingrained in our minds and clouds our view of the contemporary Republican Party. It was ingrained in my own mind growing up in New Jersey.  Clifford Case, a moderate Republican, was my U.S. senator. In New York, Nelson Rockefeller was the popular Republican governor, and Jacob Javits was a well-loved Republican senator.

This is why the Obama campaign made the shrewd decision not to focus only on Romney as a “flip-flopper,” someone whose positions on issues such as abortion or Medicare seem to be constantly in flux. A politician who changes positions may seem safe if the change is in the moderate direction that voters prefer. While we like consistency in our politicians, we also like them to agree with us and to reassure us that they could not possibly hold such extreme positions as giving tax breaks to the rich while privatizing Medicare.   Fortunately for the Democrats, Romney’s insensitivity to working Americans has provided a much more fruitful target than the hard-to-pin-down charge of extremism.  

This analysis suggests that Republicans can remain competitive at the presidential level, as long as they nominate candidates who can seem moderate when they need to, and who reassure voters that the real changes in the Republican Party will somehow not affect them. The picture, though, is quite a bit different at the state level.

In the states, to the joy of Democrats, Republicans are far less cautious and have nominated some candidates who are obviously out of the mainstream.   Democrats openly rooted for Republicans to nominate candidates like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell in 2010; her bizarre campaign (including denials of witchcraft) helped keep the Republicans from winning a majority in the Senate. Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape,” have turned a sure Republican victory in Missouri against the vulnerable Claire McCaskill into a likely Democratic win. And Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is being dragged toward defeat by his association with his national party, and therefore with candidates like Akin.

Democratic candidates have a stake in encouraging Republican radicalism at the state level. In 2002, Gray Davis helped Richard Riordan lose the Republican nomination by highlighting to Republican primary voters Riordan’s moderation on abortion. Davis then went on to win against the more conservative and much weaker Bill Simon. When Davis faced the moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger the next year in a recall election, he had no chance. So, while conservatives go after Republican moderates for ideological reasons, Democrats want those same moderates to lose Republican primaries for tactical reasons.

At this point, Democrats would rather face right-wing Republicans than Republican moderates. But, as unlikely as it seems today, it would certainly be better for the states and for the nation if real moderates somehow recovered their standing in the Republican Party. A moderate Republican party would force Democrats to compete to offer the best solutions, with both parties offering to solve problems, respect science and weigh real-world evidence. 

Wishing, though, will not make it so, nor will a willingness to accept reassurance instead of real moderation. 

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Six degrees of Senator Joe Lieberman


It was an innocuous interview about a subject I no longer remember.  A dozen years ago, I made arrangements to meet Joe Lieberman in a Manhattan office building where he had other business.  The Connecticut senator, who announced this week he won’t seek re-election for a fifth term, would be able to spare 15 or 20 minutes between appointments for a taped conversation to be broadcast on the television network where I was then employed.

I arrived at the location with my cameraman, who had barely started to unload his equipment when Senator Lieberman walked into the room.  Knowing that it would take a minimum of 15 minutes to set up the lights and camera, I had to play for time… and what better game than Jewish geography?

“You know, Senator”, I began, “I think we know some people in common.  My friend Mindy is principal of a day school in New Haven, where you live”.  “Ezra Academy?”, he replied.  “Of course I know it… and I know who she is too!” 
We went down the list of who among his friends and relatives attended or supported the school, and spoke of other acquaintances in the area.

The videographer was barely halfway through his process, and paying little attention to our banter as he tested camera angles and audio levels.  I started to shvitz… just a little… and the lights weren’t even on yet.

“You’re not originally from New Haven, though, are you?”, I ventured.  “Oh, no”, Lieberman said, “I’m a Stamford boy, born and bred.  My mom still lives there”.
“Really?  Do you know the Goldsteins?”, I asked.  “The Goldsteins?  With those two wonderful disabled sons?  Sure I do.  How do you know them?”  “Went to Camp Ramah with the older boy, Howie”, I answered.

And so my filibuster went for another ten minutes until finally, thankfully, we were ready to roll tape.  The interview went well, and we bid each other a fond farewell after taking a typical politician-posed photo together.

As we packed up the equipment, the cameraman said, “So, how do you know him?”  “What do you mean?”, I asked, confused at the question.  “Obviously, you guys go way back; I was eavesdropping a little as I set up”.

“Actually, no”, I said.  “Never met him before”.  The cameraman looked at me, incredulous.  “What are you talking about?  You were like old buddies, talking about all your friends and relatives!”

I mumbled something about “Coincidence, I guess”, as my colleague continued to express his astonishment at the many links between Lieberman and myself.
I had no idea how to explain to a non-Jew the concept that we Hebrews are all connected somehow in one grand, global mishpacha… and that a member of Congress can be just another Member of the Tribe.

Steve North is a longtime broadcast journalist, currently with CBS News

Where in the world is Joe Lieberman?


The spirit of Jonathan Swift, Rotbart should apologize


ALTTEXT

It Can’t Happen Here

I was shocked by Rob Eshman’s article wherein he found an unnamed organizer telling him that a coalition of blacks and Mormon leaders have begun laying the groundwork for a 2012 ballot initiative that would ban Jews from marrying Jews (“It Can’t Happen Here,” Nov. 14). I immediately went to my spiritualist, and he put me in contact with that great English satirist, Jonathan Swift, so I could get his opinion on the article and on Proposition 8.

As a Westside liberal Democrat and Barack Obama supporter who voted yes on [Prop.] 8, I needed assurance that my position was correct. Swift agreed with me that homosexuals should have all the contractual rights and obligations that heterosexuals get when they enter into a marriage contract. Swift also agreed with me that the word marriage should not be changed in its meaning and that some word should be found for homosexual contracts.

He also agreed that modifying the word marriage to include homosexuals, in fact, changes its meaning, thus giving confusion to the English language. It would be the same as if we eliminated either the word homosexual or heterosexual from English and applied only one of those words to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

I hope that Mr. Eshman, who is a journalist and words craftsman, agrees with my position.

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Your very poor attempt at satire was the most appalling article to come out of this newspaper, particularly since you decided not to include the disclaimer in the printed copy of the paper. I suggest you grow up and take it on the chin.

Proposition 8 did not pass because the majority of Californians did not agree with it. Smearing other minority and religious groups is a shameful act that is not becoming of us Jews. I’m sure our Mormon and African American friends agree.

Dalia Moghavem
Los Angeles

By concocting a story about a black-Mormon coalition conspiring to ban Jews from marrying each other, Rob Eshman tries to scare the 8 percent of Jews — and 52 percent of Californians — who voted for Proposition 8 into changing their minds about gay marriage. With all the subtlety of an after-school special, he attempts to teach us a lesson in intolerance. The comparison, however, is ridiculous.

The op-ed piece’s anti-Jewish conspiracy fantasy — labeled as satire on The Journal’s Web site but, irresponsibly, not in the paper — does not lend legitimacy to the argument that homosexuals’ legal rights have been trampled upon by the passage of Proposition 8.

Those rights are secured by domestic partnership laws. For those against Proposition 8 because of church-state separation issues, then I’ll counter that gay marriage should never have been voted on and passed by the California Supreme Court. Once it was, the church-state line had already been crossed, and the people of California needed to be heard.

Through our democratic process, Californians have spoken. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman. I guess if gay rights activists, the ACLU and Rob Eshman disagree, then democracy be damned.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

In your Nov. 14 “It Can’t Happen Here” column, you failed to make an important point. If the proponents of an anti-Jewish marriage initiative want to outlaw Jews marrying Jews, should they not be condemned for failure to propose — using the same “logic” — that Mormons not be allowed to marry Mormons, blacks not be allowed to marry blacks, Christians not be allowed to marry Christians, etc., etc?

Do those advocates — using any degree of common sense — think their biased proposal can, under any circumstances, be constitutionally upheld?

Joseph Ellis
Woodland Hills

Your editorial, “It Can’t Happen Here,” mocked the passage of Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage by suggesting that one day Scripture might be used to ban Jews from marrying Jews.

However, the ban on same-sex marriage has nothing to do, necessarily, with either Scripture or equal rights. The demand for same-sex marriage, with its eligibility to adopt children, denies the biological reality of male-female differences and ignores children’s developmental needs, which same-sex marriages could never provide, no matter how loving the two dads or two moms might be.

It is bigoted to deny that men and women are different and that these differences are precisely what children need from their parents as role models and as sources of male and female nurturing. Yet, ironically, by rejecting the other gender as sexual partners, homosexuals validate these male-female biological and psychological differences.

No homosexual couple has ever, or could ever, produce a child, and only traditional male-female marriage reflects the undeniable, biological reality of male-female differences, with their necessary psychological consequences for children’s healthy development. Biology trumps social agendas, and adults’ desires are secondary to children’s needs.

Bob Kirk
via e-mail

The people of California have now spoken twice, and they’ve made it resoundingly clear that they don’t want gay marriage. The majority rules in this country.

Your protestations simply sound like sour grapes.

Charles Zucker
via e-mail

Correction
In “It Can’t Happen Here” Rob Eshman erroneously stated that the Mormon Church gave $22 million in support of Prop. 8. That number is an estimate of the amount members of the Church donated to Prop. 8 at the urging of the Church. Also, the column was satirical, or, rather, was an attempt at satire.

Political Apology

As an open-minded Jew and Green Party member, I would like to apologize to other open-minded Democrat and Green Party Jews for Dean Rotbart’s fear-mongering and hate-inspired article (“I Apologize for the Jewish Vote for Obama,” Nov. 14).

Rotbart needs to realize that the Jews of today are not the scared and uninformed Jews of the past. Jews of today use the Internet, communicate with all religions, including Muslims, and still manage to love Israel and care for other Jews.

Saying that Jews in America do not care about Israel because of an Obama vote is ridiculous. More Jews chose to vote for Barack Obama because he is against the war in Iraq, wants to help the poor and middle class and is far more intelligent than both John McCain and Sarah Palin combined.

Rotbart wants us to feel guilt, regret and fear; the very emotions that the conservative party and our past presidential party have been trying to make us feel for years now. I’m happy to say that we voted for change, and the days of Jews being stuck in an uninformed past are over.

Rotbart, kindly leave your racist views out of The Jewish Journal!

Rob Joseph
Los Angeles

I want to let Dean Rotbart know that he should not include me in his apology to the most reactionary forces in America for my proud vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

Those of us who voted for Obama are actually following a political philosophy that has been a central part of Jewish life in America. Jewish immigrants started many of the labor unions in this country; they supported the civil rights movement and social programs to help the poor.

Mark Elinson
Los Angeles

As one of the nearly eight out of 10 Jews who voted for Barack Obama on Nov. 4, I strongly reject Dean Rotbart’s apology on my behalf. I voted with hope, pride and confidence for a candidate who represents the best in what America is and what America can become.

How dare Rotbart reduce my vote to political correctness and voting for the feel-good candidate.

While The Jewish Journal can and should print the opinions representing a range of views, I would urge The Journal to stop short of providing space, and thereby legitimizing, this type of hateful speech.

Ronni Hendel-Giller
Los Angeles

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and gave demagogic credence to the poisonous venom that spews like raw sewage from the convoluted minds and mouths of conservative television and radio hosts.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and embraced hatred, bigotry and fear, while eschewing the traditional Judaic values of love, acceptance and hope.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and want the continuation of the war in Iraq, a war that has left Israel with more enemies and fewer choices and options to chose from.

I apologize for the 22 percent of Jewish voters who voted Republican and abandoned the majority of non-Jews who elected a president that carefully addresses the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio and seeks to end the Wild West shootout that has become the Republican substitute for thoughtful diplomacy.

And finally, I apologize for Rotbart and his ideological cousins at the RJC, who believe that in Orwellian doublespeak, a fact is an epithet and a falsehood is the truth.

Marc Rogers
Sherman Oaks

I have never written a letter in response to an opinion piece before, but I was so troubled by what you wrote, I felt compelled to respond.

Your assertion that those of us who voted for Barack Obama don’t have good sense or the intellectual maturity is condescending and elitist. Your fear of Obama is nothing more than Republican talking points that I have heard bellowed from every host of a FOX News show. Get a new narrative — this one clearly didn’t work.

Your veiled comparison of Obama to Hitler was the last straw. Obama is not even president yet, and the reason why we are “teetering perilously on the brink of catastrophe” is because of President Bush, Dick Cheney and all the other neocons that John McCain embraced in his campaign.

I hope in the weeks and months to come, your ears will hear what we hear (an intelligent, pragmatic voice in the White House) and your eyes will see what we see ( a world standing with the United States again). Instead of publicly apologizing for the 78 percent of Jews that did see past the fear-mongering, angry rhetoric and lies, you should be thanking us.

Debby Pearlman
via e-mail

Dean Rotbart’s opinion piece, in which he apologizes to Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama, was wildly off the mark and remarkably offensive.

Rotbart and others who share his view need to take a close look at themselves in the mirror. Do they want to continue supporting people like Ann Coulter, who said that Jews need to be “perfected,” and Sean Hannity, who invited Andy Martin, an anti-Semite, as a guest on his show?

While I do not believe Rotbart to be an anti-Semite, nor do I believe that Rotbart thinks that Jews need to be perfected, I do know that the 78 percent of Jewish voters who, according to exit polling, chose the Obama-Biden ticket have no need to apologize.

You do deserve an apology for Rotbart’s use of “the gathering clouds of Holocaust II” and his outright statement that the “nuclear holocaust won” in this election.

Rotbart does need to write an apology letter; he just addressed it to the wrong people.

Marc R. Stanley
Chairman, National Jewish Democratic Council,
Dallas

I guess Dean Rotbart would have voted for President Bush again if he had had the choice. Talk about hubris. No wonder his insulting viewpoint is considered, if one counts the votes, flawed by the vast majority of the Jewish voters and clearly shortsighted.

Israel needs not only a committed ally in the United States but also a competent ally if it is to achieve all of its goals. Most American Jews seem to agree that what benefits Israel most is a strong and internationally respected America.

Norman Schulman
Beverly Hills

I just read Dean Rotbart’s brilliant tongue-in-cheek apology for the Jewish vote for Barack Obama. The tip-off, of course, was his naming of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Mike Gallagher as deserving of an apology.

These talking heads — with Rush Limbaugh — have committed one of the worst of Jewish sins, i.e., malicious gossip. Rotbart even repeats some of them in his positive take on guilt by association and fear-mongering.

Unfortunately, as Rotbart points out, there are about 22 percent of Jewish voters who will look upon his opinion piece as being serious, which supports President Lincoln’s observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Gilbert H. Skopp
Calabasas

The Kids Are All Right

I wanted to thank Marty Kaplan for his article, because it helps me to believe that maybe others in your generation can look upon mine with kindness and appreciation (“The Kids Are All Right,” Nov. 14).

We have been told our entire lives that we’re indifferent, apathetic, lazy and isolated. On election night, one chant united us in our enthusiasm for the country: “Yes we can.”

Mickey Slevin
via e-mail

Begone, bygones! Green is the new blue and white


Bygones

Let Bygones (Not) Be Bygones” (Nov. 7) infuriated me. Marty Kaplan is not happy that Barack Obama was generous to his opponents and their supporters in his victory speech, because in his opinion, they are guilty of lies and character assassination for suggesting the possibility that a Chicago politician who associated with the likes of the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers to launch his political career might not be trusted to always put the best interests of his country above his own political ambitions or the best interests of his political party.

I have never read a more mean-spirited opinion piece, and I urge The Journal to stop printing such garbage.

Steven Novom
Tarzana

The Republicans have smeared many American citizens and disrespected us as human beings, called us traitors, called us un-American, made the word “liberal” into a mocked, disrespectful term, etc.

And many of us would like some accountability. Especially of the kind that lies us into wars and gets our kids killed. Because I am not just going to “get over it.”

How do we get it? What can we do to make sure that happens, because I am behind that campaign?

Bill Davis
Secretary, Democrats Abroad
Melbourne, Australia

Marty Kaplan so eloquently expressed my own disdain for the politics of personal destruction practiced by John McCain and his campaign. We as Jews know only too well that words count and that there are people who can be whipped into committing dangerous acts when encouraged by a leader they respect.

I once had enormous regard for McCain, but it will take me a long time to forgive him after he condoned — expressly or tacitly — the ugly accusations against an honorable opponent. We can’t allow this to be excused as politics as usual. It is unacceptable, dangerous and profoundly un-American. Enough is enough!

Barbara H. Bergen
Los Angeles

It seems a bit disingenuous when Marty Kaplan writes, “Along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions,” right after making so many unsupported accusations against John McCain, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and President Bush.

The one quote he does supply is from McCain’s concession speech: “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him [Obama] but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together,” which surely supports the idea that McCain is indeed a class act.

Kenny Laitin
via e-mail

New Jewish Agenda

You could not be more right when you said green is the new blue and white (“A New Jewish Agenda,” Nov. 7). Our community has been slow to grasp this. AIPAC has been slow to grasp it in a meaningful way. There is a sentence or two in its annual policy document but not much by way of content in the annual conference.

The League of Conservation Voters is in the same building as AIPAC in Los Angeles, and I can’t get my friends in each to have coffee. Israel’s percentage of solar energy is 4 percent, which is 1 percent higher than California.

I encourage you to stay on this topic.

Howard Welinsky
via e-mail

Thou Shalt Not Lie

I can understand why Teresa Strasser would want to lie to her grandmother in order not to break the old woman’s heart by telling her that her Catholic husband was not Jewish (“Thou Shalt Not Lie…ish,” Oct. 31). What I cannot understand is the obvious relish she received from the ruse.

The article made me very sad. If we are lucky enough to live to our 90s, is it better to live out our last days being lied to by our loved ones? When everything else is taken away from you, do you lose the truth as well?

Pat Weiner
Los Angeles

Same-Sex Marriage

Orthodox Judaism doesn’t even recognize civil marriage for Jewish couples (Advertisement, Oct. 31). Besides, we live in a constitutional democracy, not a theocracy. Why do you care that same-sex couples wish to marry?

I am the proud, Jewish father of a wonderful girl, and I was born gay.

I will not tolerate anyone telling my daughter that her family is less legitimate than any other.

William Kaplan
Los Angeles

It is troubling that some Orthodox rabbis have joined with the Christian right to eliminate same-sex civil marriage. Banning same-sex civil marriage is about as relevant to Orthodox Judaism as banning the sale of shellfish.

Jack Rosenfeld
Los Angeles

Policy Statement

We are in complete agreement with your policy statement regarding accepting advertisements (Advertorial, Nov. 7). The Jewish Journal is a paper that speaks to the entire and marvelously diverse Jewish community in greater Los Angeles.

Middie and Richard Giesberg
Los Angeles

Larry and Me

Jews have always felt for the downtrodden and then allowed themselves to be used and abused (“Larry and Me,” Oct. 31). They seem to have short memories and choose to overlook important issues. Since Larry Greenfield disagrees with you, you consider him wrong. No, you are. You prefer to believe in fiction, not facts.

There are plenty of Jewish Republicans who see the world more clearly than you, but you ridicule them. Thank God for Greenfield, who presents the real world, not the dream world.

Robert Reyto
Los Angeles

Post-election healing — kumbaya in class and at the beach


Alison Weinreb, a teacher at Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, invited her sixth-grade social studies class to her home for an election-night viewing party.

As the electoral map turned increasingly blue, she noticed that her scattered Obama supporters were keeping pretty quiet — embarrassed even in victory to be in the minority among their McCain-supporting friends.

At the same time, McCain supporters — who have been the majority of students at Orthodox day schools like Maimonides — needed a fair amount of reassuring that an Obama presidency would not spell immediate disaster for Israel and the Jews, the message they had been hearing throughout the election from their friends and gleaning from conversations at home.

Weinreb wasn’t the only one facing a distressed and confused community in the aftermath of this year’s presidential race. Jews battered one another in passionate arguments throughout this election season, as each side staked out their positions, often spilling over into questionably grounded rhetoric and incivility. Friends and institutions squared off around Shabbat tables and at debate lecterns in what each considered life-or-death debates.

How children have interpreted such passion offers a revealing, though slightly distorted, mirror in which to view adult political discourse.

While children selectively perceive and then reinterpret information that comes their way, they reflect an atmosphere where issues of race, security, economic class divisions and Israel’s future have stirred up strong emotions.

At Orthodox day schools, mock elections yielded landslide McCain victories.

Students from at least one elementary school came home reporting that friends told them that if Obama were elected, he would “kill all the Jews.”

On the other side, at a another, more liberal school, one mother reported that her daughter was afraid to let on that her parents were McCain supporters, since everyone around her was so enamored of Obama.

Now that the election is over and campaign exaggerations can give way to reality, in schools, and everywhere else, people are making efforts to put things back into perspective.

At Maimonides, Weinreb helped organize a post-election assembly on Wednesday morning. On the stage, between the American and Israeli flags, two piñatas — an elephant and a donkey — stood side by side. Rabbi Karmi Gross, headmaster of the school, invited the sixth- through eighth-graders to come together to celebrate this historic triumph for American freedom and democracy.

“But we also come together for a different reason,” Gross continued. “We come together because this was one election — and I have seen quite a few — where the battle lines in America were drawn more clearly than ever, which pitted American against American, the red and the blue states, the left and the right, against each other in ways I do not recall. And sometimes the debates became very loud, and many times the debates became very nasty.”

Gross, using a talmudic parable, urged the children to understand the difference between disagreeing with an idea — which is fine — and attacking the person who holds such ideas, which is not.

Students together watched a video of McCain’s concession speech, and were asked to pull out some of the major themes.

“He said he was more proud to be associated with America than anything else,” one student offered.

“He said that we shouldn’t be upset that Obama won, because he’ll do good things for this country,” another said.

One rabbi acknowledged that many of the students were worried about Israel, but he assured them that Israel was strong, and that Israel’s ultimate fate lies in God’s hands, not in any president’s.

Jews who believed McCain was the better choice for Israel had to do a delicate dance with children.

One father, who asked not to be named to protect his son’s privacy, described a conversation he had with his 6-year-old son about the historic nature of this election and about the many reasons he was voting for McCain. In an age-appropriate way, they talked about security, the economy and issues that were important to them — such as having a president who had a record of supporting Israel. And the father posed the idea that he didn’t know whether Barack Obama would be a friend to Israel and the Jews, because there was not a very long record to rely on.

“Then — like all kids do, they pick up a small amount of what you tell them — he picked up from that that Barack Obama may not be nice to the Jewish people,” the father said, a declaration the boy made to his horrified mother.

The couple talked to their son again, softening the stance and saying that Obama might end up being a very good friend to the Jews. By the time Obama’s picture covered the front pages on Nov. 5, the boy seemed fine with his new president.

Helping kids process the broken-telephone game of information coming from the home and through their friends was a major focus at Emek Hebrew Academy-Teichman Family Torah Center in Sherman Oaks, where teachers integrated ideas about democracy or the specific campaign issues into the curriculum.

“But there were also moments where the students made baseless or exaggerated claims, repeating things they had heard,” said Gabriela Shapiro, general studies principal at Emek. “What we did at the time and will continue to do is teach the students about discernment — in other words, if someone makes a negative comment about Obama, we want the student hearing the claim to ask ‘what is the basis for your claim?'”

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills brought in Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, who introduced a pre-election debate by highlighting a moment several weeks ago in which McCain asked riled-up ralliers to stop relying on rumor and innuendo to attack Obama as a person, and to focus instead on the issues.

Rabbi Boruch Sufrin, headmaster of Hillel, plans to use examples from the election when the school starts a conflict-resolution and community-building program next week.

“We’re going to deal with issues of perception and judging others favorably, and attacking issues, not people. We’re going to talk about accepting people’s differences and understanding what you have in common,” he said.

It’s a tough message to get across to kids, when adults themselves haven’t been behaving well.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom said he found the rancor among Jewish voters “painful and discouraging.” At a pre-election debate in his synagogue, Feinstein had to put on his former middle school principal hat to discipline the crowd.

“It’s discouraging to me as an American and as a person who believes in democracy, and it’s discouraging to me as the rabbi of a synagogue where important things should be discussed that you can’t have a serious political debate without hooting and hollering and drowning out the other side,” Feinstein said.

ALTTEXTIt was such rancor that a Healing Havdalah — the ritual marking the end of Shabbat — last Saturday night aimed to overcome. The event was organized by LimmudLA, the apolitical, nondenominational, Jewish-unity organization that will hold its second annual conference in Orange County over Presidents’ Day weekend, in February.

Saturday’s event, organized by Gary Wexler, a Jewish marketing expert, attracted 150 people to Dockweiler Beach, where drums and guitars competed with the wind and planes taking off from the nearby LAX.

Warming themselves around a crackling fire, participants talked about how Havdalah, like the election, marks the end and the beginning, the perfect moment for healing.

Many kids were at the Havdalah, joining their parents in singing and dancing, basking in the very Limmud idea that no matter our differences, we can come together for a kumbaya moment of Jewish oneness.

While a lot of healing may still be needed before that sort of unity can move beyond a Saturday night at the beach, one uniting factor all agree on is that this election brought a new level of political awareness and passion across party lines and across ages.

“I’ve heard kids saying that for the first time in their lives they care about politics and elections and personally feel involved, and that is amazing — that energy is constructive,” Vicki Helfand, a teacher at Maimonides, told the students at the assembly. “When you care about something, you can do amazing things. Now that this election is over, we encourage you to keep being passionate, to keep believing that what you think matters — because it does.”

Danielle Berrin and Orit Arfa at Dockweiler Beach. Photo by Joe Haber http://funjoel.blogspot.com

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.

Let bygones (not) be bygones


That’s it?

Twelve-hundred-and-eight words, and we’re supposed to forget the months of ugly that came before?

Not so fast.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.”

A gracious gesture, and — poof! — the “Country First” ticket is off the hook, just like that, for the lying, red-baiting, character assassination, rabble-rousing, and calculated polarization that preceded it?

I don’t think so.

A dog that behaved that badly would be sent to obedience school. A child who was that reckless would face consequences up the wazoo. But just because Americans are good people, a campaign’s end requires us to willingly come down with a national case of amnesia?

Gimme a break.

What an insult it is to the idea of accountability, this notion that responsibility for the ugly emotions unleashed by demagoguery is wiped away by a concession speech. What an affront to the dignity of democracy, this remorseless draining of meaning from language, this quadrennial rush to retroactively trivialize our public discourse.

The most pernicious aspect of the media-political complex we are saddled with is its addiction to postmodern irony. Educated people are supposed to understand that politics is just theater, a pageant designed to entertain us, a Punch and Judy show whose audience realizes it’s not real. Politics is only a game, you see, a sport — a blood sport, to be sure, but the teams aren’t actually warriors, they’re performers, and their combat is ritual, not real.

You think these candidates mean what they say? Grow up, says the professional commentariat. Don’t you get it? These politicians are winking at you. They know it’s just kabuki. Don’t take this stuff seriously.

So John McCain — while claiming that not he’s not impugning Barack Obama’s patriotism — impugns Barack Obama’s patriotism, but we’re supposed to understand that it doesn’t really matter, because that’s just what people do in campaigns.

So Sarah Palin says that Obama pals around with terrorists, and she incites her crowds to look for pitchforks, but we’re supposed to believe that Pandora can just shoo the evil back into the box come Election Day.

So Rudy Giuliani bares his teeth on national television, but because he laughs with startled delight at the rancor he unleashes in his listeners, we’re supposed to construe his snarling as a harmless charade.

So the ads on America’s airwaves relentlessly pound into our national psyche the message that “liberal” is akin to traitor, that Obama is dishonorable, that he is opportunistically lying when he claims to dissent from “God damn America” – and the press covers the slurs as merely tactical maneuvers, as though the country could just take a shower once the campaign is over and wash the silly slime off its body, as though no damage had been done to the nation because no one serious takes any of this stuff seriously.

Yes, I know that some of Obama’s ads earned the ire of independent fact checkers. I realize that political rhetoric isn’t the same thing as sworn testimony. And I recognize that campaigns in America’s past have crawled with calumny even worse than this one.

But I also think that our yearning for post-election healing, our hunger for common ground, is risky. There is something wonderfully redemptive in our belief in national reconciliation. But there is also in it something naïve and self-destructive and dangerous.

Have we so quickly forgotten the rank hypocrisy of George W. Bush running as “a uniter, not a divider”? Have we no recollection of the fatuous hollowness of his inaugural promises to reach across the aisle? Is it too dispiriting to recall that his search for common ground turned out to mean “my way or the highway”? Is it just too difficult to remember the eight years during which principled dissent was demonized as being “with the terrorists”?

On Inauguration Day, no doubt Barack Obama will come up with something gracious to say about the worst president in history, just as he was generous in his victory speech to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and open-armed to their supporters.

But it does no good to pretend that the politics of personal destruction is harmless to democracy, to ignore how corrosive campaigns can be, to comfort oneself — as the punditocracy does — with the sophisticated nostrum that it’s only politics, so get over it.

Call me churlish, but I think that along with the privilege of living in a democracy comes the obligation to be accountable for your actions. And if you think that words — the currency of campaigns — aren’t actions, if you believe that rhetoric doesn’t matter, if you treat politics as just another branch of show biz, well then, you’re pretty much a sitting duck for the next demagogue to come along.

Forgive and forget? Not just yet.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. His column appears here weekly. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

MUSIC VIDEO: Oy, McCainia! (to the tune of ‘Rumania Rumania’)


The classic Yiddish folk song ‘Rumania, Rumania’ provides the inspiration for this pro-Obama music video

LAST LOOK: Where do McCain and Obama stand on the issues?


DOMESTIC POLICY

ABORTION

Abortion is an area of sharp disagreement between the two candidates. Obama said during the Oct. 15 presidential debate that he believes Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided,” although “good people on both sides can disagree.” He added that “women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers are in the best position to make this decision,” and that the Constitution “has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, anymore than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum.”

At the same debate, McCain called Roe v. Wade “a bad decision” and said that decisions on abortion should “rest in the hands of the states. McCain says on his Web site that the ruling should be overturned. McCain has backed a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother, and he said at a presidential forum in August that his administration will have “pro-life policies.”

Obama in the same debate said he is “completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life.” He voted against a ban in the Illinois state Senate because it did not contain such a clause.

McCain has voted to ban such procedures, and at the debate said that exceptions for the health of the mother had “been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.” This trend, he said, represented “the extreme pro-abortion position.”

Obama said at the August presidential forum sponsored by Pastor Rick Warren that “the goal right now” should be “how do we reduce the number of abortions” and talked about ways for those on both sides of the aisle to “work together” to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He said at the Oct. 15 debate that such efforts should include “providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.”

McCain says on his Web site that he will “seek ways to promote adoption as a first option for women struggling with a crisis pregnancy” and that government must help strengthen the “armies of compassion”—faith-based, community and neighborhood organizations—that provide “critical services to pregnant mothers in need.”

The Republican nominee has criticized Obama for voting against legislation in the Illinois Senate that requires the state to provide legal protection and medical treatment to any fetus that survives an abortion. At the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said the bill in question would have “helped to undermine” Roe v. Wade and “there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.”

Obama has said that he does approve of the version of the bill that passed the Illinois Senate in 2005—after he had gone to Capitol Hill. That legislation had a specific clause stating that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affect existing federal or state law regarding abortion.”

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

The Obama campaign has run an advertisement claiming that McCain has blocked embryonic stem cell research, but independent fact checkers have deemed the ad untrue. In fact, support for embryonic stem cell research is one issue on which the candidates essentially agree.

McCain and Obama later voted for legislation that would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments. McCain has called his vote on the bill “very agonizing and tough” and said he went “back and forth, back and forth on it.” It finally came down to the fact that “those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.”

Prior to the 2004 vote, the Arizona senator was one of 14 Republican members of Congress who signed a letter asking President Bush to lift federal restrictions on the research.

In response to a questionnaire from a coalition of scientists and engineers last month, McCain said, “While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress.”

McCain differs from both his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party platform on the issue. The platform, adopted at the GOP convention, calls for an expansion of funding for research into adult stem cells but a ban on the use of human embryos for research.

In response to the same questionnaire from Sciencedebate2008, Obama was more emphatic than McCain on the issue. The Democrat said he will “lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”

Obama and McCain do disagree on the prospects for research on adult and other kinds of stem cells. McCain has expressed hope that advances in adult stem cells could make the debate over embryonic stem cells unnecessary, but Obama said embryonic stem cells are “the gold standard” and any research on other types of stem cells should be done in parallel.

SUPREME COURT

The presidential candidates demonstrated their contrasting views on the Supreme Court in August when they were asked by Pastor Warren which of the sitting justices they would not have nominated. Obama named two justices from the court’s conservative wing, saying Clarence Thomas was not qualified at the time of his nomination and Antonin Scalia because “he and I just disagree.”

McCain named twice as many justices, citing the four commonly identified as the left wing of the court—Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and David Souter—because he disapproved of their “legislating from the bench.” But as a senator McCain voted for Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer—Stevens was nominated before he was elected to the Senate. At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he voted for them not “because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated.”

Obama as a senator has voted against both Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. He said at the Warren forum that “one of the most important jobs” of the Supreme Court “is to guard against the encroachment of the executive branch” on the “power of the other branches,” and Roberts has been “a little bit too willing and eager to give an administration” more power than “I think the Constitution originally intended.”

McCain was also a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” formed to break an impasse over judicial nominations in 2005. The Democratic senators in the group agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances,” while the Republicans pledged not to vote for the “nuclear option”—a maneuver that would have allowed a majority of the Senate to change the rules requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster. Obama declined to join the group, and said in a newspaper interview in May that he didn’t think “it was a particularly good compromise” because “the Republicans got everything they wanted out of that.”

On his Web site, McCain says that he will “nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat.” He also stresses the importance of federalism and separation of powers in his judicial philosophy.

At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he believed “that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test” on abortion, although he added that “I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade would be part of those qualifications.”

Obama has said that qualifications for the high court go beyond academic and professional accomplishment.

“What makes a great Supreme Court justice,” he said in a November 2007 primary debate, is “not just the particular issue but it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority” and “those who don’t have a lot of clout.”

Sometimes, he added, “we’re only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower] court. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that’s the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.”

More recent, during the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said he would look for judges “who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.” The Democrat also rejected a “strict litmus test” on the abortion issue.

FAITH-BASED SOCIAL SERVICES

Obama and McCain both want to continue President Bush’s faith-based initiative providing federal money to religious groups to perform social services. But they differ on one key point: Obama has said he would not allow religious groups receiving government funds to discriminate in hiring, while McCain has concurred with Bush in saying he would.

In a July interview with The New York Times, McCain said, “Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view.”

And in a response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, McCain said, “I would permit faith-based organizations to improve their volunteerism numbers by allowing them to hire consistent with the views of the respective organizations without risking federal funding.”

Obama in a July speech laid out a vision for his Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that would include an allocation of $500 million a year specifically for faith- and community-based efforts to bolster summer learning programs for 1 million children. He said in the speech that Bush’s version of the faith-based initiative “never fulfilled its promise.”

A summary of the Obama plan released by his campaign states that recipients of federal funds “cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs” and “must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Obama also said he would undertake a pre-inauguration review of all executive orders related to the faith-based initiative, especially those having to do with hiring. He also said he would consider elevating the director of the initiative to a Cabinet-level post.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Both candidates have expressed support for the principle of the separation of church and state. But McCain sparked controversy in a September 2007 interview with Beliefnet in which he said, “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” He quickly added that all religions are welcomed, “but when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”

A spokeswoman later said that McCain believes “people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely,” but that the “values protected by the Constitution” are “rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, America is a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim.”

In response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, Obama called the separation of church and state “critical” and said it has “caused our democracy and religious practices to thrive.” On the same questionnaire, McCain said, “choosing one’s faith is the most personal of choices, a matter of individual conscience. That is why we cherish it as part of our Bill of Rights.” He added that “all people must be free to worship as they please, or not to worship at all. It is a simple truth: There is no freedom without the freedom of religion.

Obama told a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer in July 2007 that “whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.”

Asked by the AJC whether they would back legislation directed at strengthening the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice, both candidates expressed support.

I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious practices,” Obama said. “I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace.”

“I am committed to ensuring that no Americans are discriminated against in employment because of their religious beliefs. I will support any legislation that improves our commitment to a pluralistic society, both inside and outside the workplace.”

As to vouchers for private and parochial schools, Obama said he is against them because he believes “we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support.”

McCain supports voucher plans, arguing that “it’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have—to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.”

FOREIGN POLICY

IRAN

Obama and McCain both back isolating Iran to bring an end to its suspected nuclear weapons program and have said that the military option should remain on the table. This summer, senior surrogates from both campaigns signed onto a position paper from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy advocating intensified U.S.-Israel dialogue aimed at preventing an Israeli attack on Iran.

The campaigns differ on how to isolate Iran and the degree of engagement with the Iranian government such an effort would prohibit. McCain has criticized Obama for suggesting he’d be willing to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In response, Obama has compared McCain to Bush, accusing both of hurting America’s standing in the world by turning their backs on diplomacy.

The Obama campaign has committed itself to the full list of sanctions currently advocated by Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, including targeting Iran’s central bank, getting the five major players in the re-insurance industry to boycott Iran and stopping the export of refined petroleum to Iran. The McCain campaign expresses generic support for sanctions but has resisted sharing details. In the Senate, Republicans have blocked sanctions legislation without explaining why. The Bush administration opposes the AIPAC/Israel list in part because, the White House claims, the list would upset sensitive efforts to bring the Europeans, Russia and China on board with the effort to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.

Obama campaign officials say that after rallying international support for tighter sanctions—a top priority that would take place as soon as February, they say—they would start reaching out to Iranian officials with “carrots.” These incentives would be aimed at getting the Iranians to end uranium enrichment. No one says so out loud, but the implication is that one such carrot would be to recognize Iran’s preeminence as a regional power, giving it veto power over military decisions in the region. Other incentives would include expanded trade.

McCain’s campaign does not speak of such incentives; rather, it emphasizes isolation and sanctions as the means to bring Iran around. It also favors isolating Iran through a “league of democracies.” That formula would exclude China and Russia, undercutting a key element to Israel’s strategy on Iran, which is to cultivate Russia and China. Overall, McCain’s strategy suggests confrontation with Russia, particularly over the expansion of NATO.

Last year, Obama opposed a non-binding amendment that would have designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist entity. Obama was not present at the vote, but 76 senators favored the amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), including top Democrats. The amendment was also backed by AIPAC.

McCain favored the amendment, and his campaign has accused Obama of pandering to the Democratic base, noting that his primaries rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) voted for the amendment and suffered the consequences.

Obama said that he backed similar language in different legislation but opposed the amendment because it tied Iran to attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq—language that he said could be used by the Bush administration as a pretext to launch an attack on Iran. Obama has said he supported Bush’s subsequent issuance of the executive order declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity and subject to relevant U.S. sanctions.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Both campaigns have endorsed a two-state solution, voiced strong support for Israel, called for U.S. backing of Palestinian Authority leader Mahoud Abbas and signed on to the policy of boycotting Hamas. They have also counseled caution and exuberance when it comes to the Bush administration’s late-term push for peace.

In the Obama campaign, Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, favors intensified involvement in the peace process, and has advocated—in the context of his own writing, not as a campaign spokesman—open pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Dennis Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator and the Obama campaign’s top adviser on Israel, says that an Obama administration would be fully engaged in brokering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But, he adds, it would avoid setting any artificial timelines for a deal. Ross says that Palestinian statehood would be impossible as long as Hamas terrorists control the Gaza Strip.

Two top McCain advisers, historian Max Boot and diplomat Rich Williamson, have expressed the same concerns as Ross, but they say the Israeli-Palestinian track will not be a top priority. The GOP running mate, however, has sounded a different note: Gov. Sarah Palin said a McCain government would sustain the Bush administration effort launched by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said that reaching a two-state solution was a top priority. McCain himself has promised to be the “chief negotiator.”

Both candidates back an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving the city’s final status to Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Obama stumbled when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in May that he would strive to keep the city undivided and Israel’s capital. Palestinians, and Arabs in general, were infuriated by Obama’s remark, leading to clarifications from Obama’s campaign claiming the candidate “misspoke.”

What Obama meant, the campaign and the candidate said, was that while Obama doesn’t want to see Jerusalem divided, the city may well be shared one day by Palestinians and Israelis and that Jerusalem’s final status should be left up to negotiators. McCain’s backers used the clarification to portray Obama’s remarks as inconsistent. On substance, however, the campaigns’ positions are identical.

McCain, however, has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem right away; Obama has not. Many candidates-turned-presidents have made such pledges in the past; none have delivered.

SYRIA

Syria is an issue where there are clear differences between the candidates.

Some in the McCain campaign, like the Bush administration, have made clear McCain would discourage the Israeli-Syrian negotiations currently taking place under Turkish auspices. The thinking is that the negotiations allow Syria to maintain some degree of hegemony in Lebanon, which the United States opposes.

The Obama campaign says this opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks preempts Israel in its ambitions for peace. However, Kurtzer, in a private capacity, has warned Syrian officials that they should not expect deep U.S. involvement until the talks truly are at an advanced stage. That would consist of Syria showing a serious effort toward meeting the key Israeli demand that it peel itself away from Iranian influence.

—- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Race ends with GOP slamming Obama on Israel


WASHINGTON (JTA) – As the presidential race came to a close, the McCain campaign ratcheted up its efforts to paint Barack Obama as a threat to Israel.

The major thrust involved new salvos revolving around a Palestinian-American academic and activist, Rashid Khalidi, who was friends with the Democratic nominee during their days as professors at the Univeristy of Chicago.

Both John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, have played up the issue in recent days, and in an interview with CNN, McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb accused Obama of having a “long track record of being around anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric.”

In addition, McCain’s new campaign surrogate, Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber,” jumped into the fray: At an Oct. 29 rally in Ohio, he agreed that a vote for Obama “is a vote for the death of Israel.”

The latest attacks come on the heels of new polls showing that Obama significantly expanded his lead among Jewish voters since August and is now poised to match the totals recorded by previous Democratic nominees.

The executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, Ira Forman, dismissed the late attacks as “pure desperation, a Hail Mary.” He said Republicans had been “counting on Jewish votes” in states such as Ohio and Florida, and “those hopes have been evaporating,” so they decided to “throw the kitchen sink.”

Wurzelbacher found himself on the receiving end of some tough questioning from a Fox News anchor about his claims about Obama and Israel. Similarly, Goldfarb was widely ridiculed after he refused to name anyone else that he would consider an anti-Semitic associate of Obama. Instead, Goldfarb kept insisting that CNN knew who he was talking about.

At the center of the Khalidi flap is Obama’s attendance at a 2003 farewell party for the Palestinian academic, who was headed to Columbia University to become director of the school’s Middle East Institute and the Edward Said professor of Arab studies.

The Los Angeles Times reported in April that the party featured the recitation of a poem by a Palestinian-American accusing the Israeli government of terrorism and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. Another speaker likened “Zionist settlers on the West Bank” to Osama bin Laden, saying both had been “blinded by ideology,” according to the newspaper.

Obama also spoke at the party, saying that his conversations with Khalidi and his wife, Mona, over the years were “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases.”

Obama and Khalidi became friends at the University of Chicago in the 1990s and as neighbors in Hyde Park. The Khalidis held a fund-raiser for Obama’s unsuccessful congressional bid before he went on to become a U.S. senator from Illinois.

In recent days, McCain and his campaign have demanded that the L.A. Times release a videotape of the party. The Times has refused, saying it promised its source it would not publicly show the tape.

McCain quipped that the newspaper would probably handle the situation differently had a tape emerged with the Republican nominee at a party with a neo-Nazi – a comment that Khalidi’s defenders interpreted as an unfair attack against the professor.

Palin in a speech last week pressed for the tape’s release, echoing an old claim – denied by Khalidi – that the professor is a former spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Khalidi is considered a moderate by Palestinians and many in the pro-Israel community. The Times article notes that he has called killing civilians a “war crime” and often has been critical of Palestinian leadership, although Khalidi has also long been critical of Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Some liberal observers have noted that earlier in the campaign, McCain expressed confidence in the peacemaking abilities of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat’s longtime No. 2 man in the PLO and the organization’s current chairman.

Others were quick to note that McCain has his own ties to Khalidi. The Arizona senator has been chairman of the International Republican Institute since 1993, an organization that “advances freedom and democracy worldwide by developing political parties, civic institutions, open elections, good governance and the rule of law.” In 1993, the institute began providing support to the Center for Palestine Research and Studies–an organization co-founded by Khalidi that he has served on its board of directors from 1993 to 1998–for conducting opinion polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The McCain campaign has noted that a number of other organizations, including the U.S. government, funded Khalidi’s operation, and that McCain does not know the professor personally.

Goldfarb said the alleged ties to the PLO are not the issue.

“We’re not interested in Khalidi, we’re interested in Obama’s reactions” to the anti-Israel rhetoric, he said.

Goldfarb argued that a media organization should not be holding back something of “news value.”

It is unclear whether the tape includes any footage of Obama’s reactions to the more inflammatory speeches that night – Goldfarb said that’s why the the newspaper “should release it.”

Asked about Obama’s reactions to the speakers at the party, a campaign spokesman reiterated that the Democratic nominee does not agree with Khalidi about Israel or the Middle East.

“This is just another recycled, manufactured controversy from the McCain campaign to distract voters’ attention from John McCain’s lock-step support for George Bush’s economic policies,” said the Obama spokesman, Ben LeBolt. “Barack Obama has been clear and consistent on his support for Israel, and has been clear that Rashid Khalidi is not an adviser to him or his campaign and that he does not share Khalidi’s views.”

Obama himself, in an appearance at a Florida synagogue in May, acknowledged that he had a relationship with Khalidi but warned the audience to be “careful about guilt by association.”

“To pluck out one person who I know and who I’ve had a conversation with who has very different views than 900 of my friends, and then to suggest that somehow that shows that maybe I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel, I think is a very problematic stand to take,” he said. “So we got to be careful about guilt by association.”

Dennis Ross, an Obama adviser and former U.S. peace negotiator, said it was silly to attack the Democratic nominee for his friendship with Khalidi.

“Because you know somebody,” he told a Georgetown University forum about the Jewish vote, “this is supposed to be a reflection” on your beliefs?

More important for voters, Ross said, is that he – and not Khalidi – is a foreign policy adviser to Obama.

As for the overall attacks on Obama’s Israel record, Ross said the anti-Obama advertisements from the Republican Jewish Coalition reminded him of Arafat’s tactics: “You have to understand something about Arafat. He makes up facts, then he repeats the made-up facts, then he believes what he made up.”

The RJC has defended its advertisements as completely truthful and offered to hold a debate with liberal critics of them.

Jewish vote not a sure bet in swing state Nevada


Support for presidential candidate Barack Obama remains strong among Nevada’s Jewish population, but Jews can no longer be counted on as a bloc vote for the Democrats.

It is a startling revelation to many Jewish leaders in the state, including Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom, one of the largest congregations in Las Vegas, whose members include Mayor Oscar Goodman and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

When it was announced that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would speak at the temple in September, Goodman saw a divisive split among his members.

“Before we announced a Democrat was coming, people were up in arms,” Goodman said of a subsequent visit by former California Congressman Mel Levine. “And then, of course, there were those who were delighted” at Lieberman’s visit. “You could really see that the group was divided. The same amount of calls came in telling me it was wonderful as came in saying they were upset.

“People usually think the Jewish vote is a Democratic vote,” he said. “In this day and age, it’s very much split.”

“I see a divide, but I see it as a divide that’s been within them,” said Rabbi Hershel Brooks of Temple Bet Knesset Bamidbar, a Reform Las Vegas congregation. “There’s a divide about who will be a little more for the State of Israel. The divide isn’t like they’re all choking each other. It’s still respectful; they’re still friends. I don’t think there will be this divide after the election. Not at all.”

Goodman sees the change as longer term: “I think more and more Jews are shifting toward the right ideals, at least in Las Vegas,” he said.

There are two main causes for the shift, all agree: First, many Nevada Jews supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and have been hesitant to put their full backing behind Obama. But also, the support of Israel by the Bush administration — and by the McCain camp — has many questioning their allegiances.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton was more popular than Obama,” said Rabbi Kenneth Segel of Las Vegas’ Temple Sinai. “She had very strong standing here. She had the support of the muscled insiders. She would have been for many Democrats in this state a more logical choice than voting Republican.”

Added Goodman: “There are certain issues that affect people in Nevada, specifically. The taxation issue is near and dear to their hearts. People don’t accept it or admit it, but I think it’s there. Yes, the support of Israel is a big part of it. The same is true on the other side of the coin. I’ve seen a lot of people who have turned. It’s not only about Israel.”

Many view the state as still up for grabs, even now. And because of Nevada’s role as a swing state, many Jews on both sides of the ticket in surrounding states are flocking to Las Vegas to help stump for their cause, including Democrats from the blue state of California and Republicans from the red state of Arizona, McCain’s home state.

“We do have a tremendous number of volunteers from California,” said Paul Kincaid, spokesman for Nevada State Democratic Party. “They see that their state really isn’t going to be a swing state, but Nevada might be one. A lot of folks are coming from all around —California, Arizona, even Utah.”

Leo Bletnitsky, co-chair of the Southern Nevada chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said California Republicans also are devoting their efforts to Nevada. “We’ve had a lot of people come here from California, because they know it’s a lost cause [at home]. They understand how important it is to knock on doors and do some phone-banking. And it’s been nice this year to make calls and not have people hang up the phone on me. People are at least listening now.”

All this attention puts Nevada in an unfamiliar place.

For the first time in recent memory, major candidates are treating the state as a battleground, despite the fact that it offers the winner just five electoral college votes.

“Nevada in the past has largely been neglected by the major candidates, simply because of the five electoral votes,” Segel said. “Nevada was sort of left behind. Because of the closeness and because of the division in the state — the competitive aspect of it — everyone is scrounging around.”

It’s their turn


Before moving to Pico-Robertson, I spent three years in trendy West Hollywood, where I was the lone independent/conservative voice during an early morning

schmoozefest at the Urth Caffé on Melrose Avenue. The term “aggressively liberal” doesn’t begin to describe the political leanings of my cappuccino compadres.

But the conversations were sharp and alive, and they charged you up for the workday ahead. Even though our views often diverged, I enjoyed the company of my leftist mates and became friends with many of them.

The thing that stuck with me about my liberal buddies in those years was their extraordinary venom toward the Bush administration. Every cell in their bodies oozed contempt for the “reckless cowboy” who had become the sad emblem of their country. They craved a change in the White House more than a heroin junkie craves another fix.

Now sweep wipe two years later, and I’m sitting at a Shabbat table in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood with a group of politically savvy Orthodox Jews, and, not surprisingly, I’m getting a whole different take on who should occupy the White House.

Clearly, most of my Orthodox brethren are in the Republican camp. There are significant exceptions, of course, especially at the more liberal B’nai David-Judea Congregation, but it’s fair to say that the majority of Orthodox voters are an ideological world away from my liberal buddies at the Urth Caffé.

And since almost everybody is assuming an Obama victory, I’ve been mulling over this crazy question: If you’re a McCain voter, can you still feel OK about an Obama victory?

As someone who is friendly with both sides, and who has witnessed all the partisan hysterics, I think the answer is, possibly, yes.

First, after eight years of being on the hot seat, the Republicans can use a break. Let them be the ones who kvetch and throw the arrows for a change. Sometimes it feels good to say: “Here, big mouth, you think you can do better? Take the wheel.”

And if we conservatives believe in fairness, it’s only fair that Democrats should get their turn at the wheel. We’ve had our turn for eight long years — and we should fess up to the obvious: America has veered off course, and it’s a lot worse off today than it was eight years ago.

Let’s review. Most of the world has stopped fearing us, respecting us or admiring us (let alone listening to us), which can’t be too good for our national security. Israel is now surrounded by terrorist armies and a soon-to-be nuclear enemy, who has mocked and outsmarted the tough-talking hombres in the White House. The Republican president I voted for allowed hundreds of my fellow Americans to perish in New Orleans before waking up and doing something. His administration has been extraordinarily divisive and has alienated large and important segments of America. Surge or no surge, we’ve dropped $600 billion and counting to rebuild Iraq — while our airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure have become an embarrassment. We are more dependent than ever on oil from terror-sponsoring nations. We’ve racked up record deficits, we owe a trillion to China, consumer confidence is at an all-time low, and to top it off, we’re going through the worst economic crisis in 80 years.

Seriously, if the Republican White House were a corporation, it’d be drowning right now in malpractice suits from angry shareholders.

Instead, in all likelihood, it will suffer the political equivalent: It’ll get voted out, and the opposition party will get voted in. That’s democracy in action.

John McCain’s candidacy — even had he run a better campaign or chosen a different running mate — was doomed from the start by its ideological connection to a failed and unpopular administration, a connection McCain could never credibly shake.

Which brings us to Obama. I’ve met Obama haters who are sure he’s a disaster, and Obama lovers who are sure he’s a savior. I think he’s neither. For me, he’s a decent, intelligent man who needs more experience, who’s had some dubious relationships, and who has some ideas I like and others I don’t. He also has an even-tempered and reflective nature that might have a salutary effect on a nerve-wracked nation. (And regarding Israel, let’s be honest: Having our biggest supporter ever in the White House hasn’t made Israel any safer, or stopped Condi Rice from pestering Israel into making dangerous concessions. So I’m keeping an open mind.)

My key point, though, is this: Regardless of how negatively one may feel about Obama or his policies, after eight years we conservatives deserve our failing grade, and our opponents deserve their turn at the plate. If you’re not happy with that result, at least remember that it comes from something you love: free elections.

These same free elections might also help this country regain some emotional balance. For too long now, half of the voting public has been stewing in the political wilderness — feeling angry and powerless, feeding only on the “red meat of outrage.” This is not healthy. It breeds bitterness and cynicism. A return to a position of leadership would breed enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility among this alienated group, and encourage their renewed emotional investment in the country.

It’d be like a treatment of mood-stabilizing medication for a bipolar nation.

Republicans, if they lose, would get their own therapy: A chance to reflect on how they betrayed many of their own principles and on how they will need to evolve to stay relevant. They would go through the humble and difficult self-examination that only comes with the sobriety of defeat. If, like my Orthodox neighbors, they are God-fearing, they will see all this as part of God’s plan, and they will work to renew themselves for the new century.

That would really be putting “country first.”

As for me, if things get too heavy or lonely in the neighborhood, I might just check out my old buddies at the Urth Caffé and tweak them about how President Obama is messing things up.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.


Larry and me


I have been through three presidential election cycles while at The Jewish Journal.

The candidates change. The issues ebb and flow. Administrations come and go. But Larry Greenfield — that dude abides.

On Thursday evening, Oct. 30, I’m going to see Larry. Again.

Greenfield is the regional director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Over the past few months, as the race narrowed to Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain and the polls tightened and the rhetoric and tactics grew nastier, Greenfield has manned the front lines, appearing at dozens of debates, lectures, parlor meetings and rallies to promote McCain and oppose Obama.

Thursday evening at Valley Beth Shalom he’ll appear at his last one, facing off against Rep. Howard Berman, with me moderating. Frankly, I find it inconceivable that there is a Jew south of Fairbanks who hasn’t made up his or her mind about this election, but I suppose many people still feel the need for reassurance, the same way you can’t help but read the ads for the car you just bought.

I’ve attended or moderated too many debates with Greenfield to count. He is always the most eager, least jaded person in the room. He shows up with his jet-black hair, his dark suit, a ready smile bursting across his ruddy cheeks, and immediately he’s working the crowd, shaking hands. He’s a Mormon missionary crossed with a shtetl tummler — and I mean that as a compliment.

Republican Jews are small in number. They set themselves apart from that great majority of their co-religionists — the most consistent Democrat voting bloc in the nation, perhaps in the nation’s history. They feel persecuted. They work hard to leverage their passion, money, talents and time in order to have an impact disproportionate to their numbers. In doing so, they risk unpopularity, they overstep boundaries, they make some friends and many enemies. They are the Jews among Jews.

Greenfield and I can disagree on many candidates and issues. And I cringe when, at these debates, his temper flares or he stoops to some of the tactics he accuses his political enemies of employing. But I have a soft spot for anyone who tilts at windmills. Kol koreh b’midbar, the prophet Isaiah says, “a voice cries in the wilderness.” For many years, in Los Angeles at least, this voice has been Greenfield’s.

And the voice is relentlessly optimistic. A Democrat in his student days at UC Berkeley, Greenfield, like so many Jewish Republicans, was inspired by Ronald Reagan. The Gipper’s there-must-be-a-pony-in-a-room-full-of-manure philosophy is Greenfield’s own. Early in this election, Greenfield and I compared notes on the Republican field. He was giddy from the embarrassment of riches.

“Rudy is great, he’s one of us,” he said of one-time candidate Rudy Giuliani. “But I think you really ought to watch Mitt Romney.”

When McCain won the nomination, I ran into Greenfield again. He predicted a big chunk of the Jewish vote going the Arizona senator’s way.

He ran down the list of Obama’s “negatives” from the Jewish perspective: limited track record on Israel, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, unsavory past affiliations.

For a while I believed him. McCain was the moderate, pro-Israel Republican who could sweep up many independently minded Jewish voters. Early polls showed McCain getting more of the Jewish vote than Bush.

But all that momentum stalled when McCain picked Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

“Homerun!” Greenfield e-mailed me within five hours of the announcement.

In fact, it was close to a third strike. Independents, and independently minded Jews, bailed.

If the polls and pundits are right as of today, next week Greenfield and his fellow Republicans are going to be standing on the beach when a Democratic tsunami hits. The House, Senate and White House may go to Democratic majority. Some favorites are most at risk. A New York Jewish Democrat, Al Franken, may actually defeat a New York Jewish Republican, Norm Coleman, for a Senate seat in Minnesota.

I am anxious to hear on Thursday if Greenfield still sees a pony. And if not, I’m going to ask him to explain what happened.

I have my own theory: given a choice between playing to the center-picking Sen. Joe Lieberman, for instance, or playing to the base of Christian evangelical conservatives, McCain chose the latter. Instead of inspiring potential Jewish Republicans, like Reagan, he turned them off, like Bush.

The Lee Atwater-Karl Rove strategy that welds culture to religion for use as a political club never seemed to hold much appeal to McCain, a fact that endeared him to more socially liberal Jews. But Palin turned out to be that club.

Four years ago Greenfield stood amid admirers at a victory party for George W. Bush at the Level One club in Beverly Hills and proclaimed that half the country’s Jewish vote would go Republican within a decade. But the needle, which might have jumped in this go-round, doesn’t look like it will budge.

So Larry Greenfield may just go back to being, if not the only Republican Jewish voice, one of the relative few.

Except, you know, for Joe Lieberman.

ANALYSIS: Who advises McCain and Obama?


WASHINGTON (JTA) — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.

It may be easy to read too much into who a candidate’s advisers are during an election campaign, but it’s also risky to avoid the tea leaves.

Obama’s Advisers

In sizing up the candidates’ advisers, most of the scrutiny in the Jewish community has been on Barack Obama — in part because of his inexperience on the national stage and in part because of Republican campaign tactics.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a string of statements and ” title=”Dennis Ross”>Dennis Ross, who played a lead role in peace talks during the first Bush and Clinton presidencies. Ross is now at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is joined by a staff that has leaned more toward neo-conservatism — and Republicans — than he has. Ross’ position at the institute is a testament to his ability to cross the aisle — an approach that jibes with Obama’s insistence that he will be a bipartisan president.

Ross is widely respected in the Jewish community but has been criticized in more conservative circles for what critics say was his failure to hold Yasser Arafat accountable for failing to live up to Palestinian commitments.

In his 2004 book, Ross made it eminently clear that at times he found then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be untrustworthy. But Ross also has insisted that the United States and Israel should have done more to hold the Palestinians to their agreements — and has consistently blamed Arafat for the failure to reach a final settlement at the end of the Clinton administration.

Ross has criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough in peace talks — but also for announcing unrealistic goals for achieving a two-state solution.

By contrast, he told JTA, an Obama admnistration would play a more hands-on role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking — but also steer clear of any “artificial” timelines. He says the creation of a Palestinian state is impossible so long as Hamas controls Gaza.

For these reasons, Ross has suggested, Obama’s emphasis would be more on Iran. Ross is one of the principle architects of Obama’s Iran policy: engagement induced through tough sanctions. His laundry list of possible new sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program — the re-insurance industry, refined petrol exporters, central bank — echoes exactly those of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Obama’s other key advisers include:

  • Anthony Lake, Clinton’s first national security adviser and an early Obama backer, apparently hopes to return the post. A relatively recent convert to Judaism, Lake has said that rallying the international community to further isolate Iran would be Obama’s first foreign policy priority.
  • Mara Rudman, a deputy on the Clinton national security team, also could end up in an Obama administration. Since leaving government, she served as a deputy to Lawrence Eagleberger, the former secretary of state, during his chairmanship of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. Last year, she helped launch Middle East Progress, a group that puts out a thrice-weekly e-mail bulletin partly to counter the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s influential Daily Bulletin, which has been accused of having a sharp neo-conservative tilt.
  • Dan Shapiro and Eric Lynn are two Obama campaign officials who straddle the policy and politics arms of the campaign. Lynn is Shapiro’s deputy. Both help shape policy — Shapiro is said to be the lead writer on Obama’s Middle East speeches — and both spend a lot of time campaigning in the Jewish community. Both also have Florida connections and can boast of insider status in the pro-Israel community. Lynn was an intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 1998; Shapiro played a major role in drafting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, that year’s marquee victory for AIPAC.
  • Daniel Kurtzer joined the Obama camp during the primaries. President Clinton made him the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and the current President Bush went one better, making him the first Orthodox Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel. Kurtzer, who left the diplomatic corps in 2005 after his Israel stint for a teaching job at Princeton University, may have the most dovish views on the foreign policy team.

    Prior to joining the campaign this year, Kurtzer co-authored a U.S. Institute of Peace tract that advocated equal pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. While he was ambassador to Israel, the Zionist Organization of America pressed Bush to fire him. But Kurtzer’s Jewish street cred has helped alleviate concern in many pro-Israel circles — in addition to his stint in Israel, Kurtzer is a product of Yeshiva University and trains kids for bar mitzvah.

  • The word from Obama circles is that two Republican senators — Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is retiring and whose wife has endorsed Obama, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — could end up in an Obama administration.

    Both men have shared Obama’s concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war. Of the two Republicans, Hagel is the more problematic for the pro-Israel community. He didn’t make friends last year when he told an Arab American Institute dinner that his support for Israel was not “automatic.” Lugar has not made such missteps, but his willingness to criticize Israeli policies in Senate hearings and his advocacy of direct dialogue with Iran have raised eyebrows.

McCain’s Advisers

” title=”self-described Independent Democrat”>self-described Independent Democrat for secretary of state. Lieberman’s longstanding friendship with McCain and a shared commitment to a tough interventionist neo-conservative foreign policy led to an endorsement a year ago that helped McCain resuscitate his campaign in New Hampshire.
  • James Woolsey, like Lieberman, is one of a small army of “Scoop” Jackson Democrats at the core of the McCain campaign: Like their late idol Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), who ran a couple of abortive presidential campaigns in the 1970s, they are domestic liberals who have set aside social differences to join conservatives in pressing what they consider the more urgent matter: American preeminence overseas.

    Woolsey, a Clinton administration CIA director, is a tough-minded environmentalist: According to Mother Jones, a Web site devoted to investigative journalism, Woolsey drives a hybrid car plastered with the sticker “Bin Laden Hates This Car.” Early on he pressed for the Iraq war, and he is notorious for being among the first to blame Iraq — erroneously — for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also exemplifies how the McCain campaign talks tough about confronting Iran while emphasizing behind-the-scenes that the military option should be a last resort.

  • Randy Scheunemann, like Shapiro in the Obama campaign, straddles policy and politics in the McCain campaign. A veteran of years on Capitol Hill who worked principally for former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and an icon among neo-conservatives, Scheunemann has shaped some of the toughest campaign attacks on Obama, including those related to Obama’s stated willingness to sit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Scheunemann also led efforts to pitch the Iraq war to the American public prior to the invasion.

    In recent years, Scheunemann has lobbied for a number of nations seeking membership in NATO. His expertise on Georgia helped McCain gain the upper hand over a flustered Obama during the crisis over the summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

    Scheunemann is also close to the pro-Israel community. Working with Lott, he authored the 1995 legislation that would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; a year later, Scheunemann’s advice led Bob Dole — the Republican presidential candidate that year — to pledge to do so. This year, McCain has picked up that pledge.

  • Max Boot is too young to have been an architect of neo-conservatism; at times he embraces the term and at times he chafes at it.

    A historian who is probably the McCain adviser most steeped in theory and least steeped in policy-making, Boot wrote the definitive article arguing for the expansion of American power in the wake of 9/11. At a recent retreat organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Boot said a McCain administration would de-emphasize Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian talks to an even greater degree than the Bush administration (though McCain and his running mate both have suggested that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be a top priority). Boot, currently a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, says the late push by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is regrettable.

  • Richard Williamson is President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan. His work pressing the regime to end the genocide in its Darfur region have deepened his ties with the Jewish community, which date back to Williamson’s time as a member of the Reagan administration’s U.N. team.

    Williamson’s pre-campaign writings are very much in the realist camp. A veteran of disarmament talks, he wrote an article in 2003 for the Chicago Journal of International Law praising the efficacy of multilateral treaties, a bugbear of neo-conservatives. But Williamson’s shift at the recent Washington Institute retreat to neo-conservative talking points could be a signal of how much McCain has invested in that camp.

    At the retreat, Williamson suggested that a McCain administration would not avidly pursue Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, and he touted McCain’s proposal for a “league of democracies,” a repudiation of conventional thinking on multilateralism.

    Move over, Willie Horton


    I just hope Peter Feldman isn’t Jewish.

    In my parents’ New Jersey home, when the perpetrator of some awful act in the news was not yet known, I could always count on them to say, “I hope he isn’t Jewish.”

    This worked out well in the case of Lee Harvey Oswald, but for Jack Ruby, not so much. Sighs of relief greeted the announcement that the “Mad Bomber” terrorizing New York was George Metesky, but not when the “Son of Sam” killer was identified as David Berkowitz.

    Peter Feldman is the McCain-Palin campaign’s communications director in Pennsylvania.

    I don’t know Peter Feldman, and the only mayhem he’s suspected of is metaphorical, and the drip, drip, drip of evidence against him is coming out in the court of public opinion, not in a court of law. I realize that politics ain’t beanbag, and I’m familiar with the riptides and undertows that can seize anyone working in a presidential campaign, especially an apparently losing one, in its final days. Still, for the sake of the reputation of Jewish ethics, and even for the sake of the reputation of Republicans, I sure hope he didn’t do last week what it kinda sorta looks like he did.

    By now everyone knows that Ashley Todd, the 20-year-old McCain volunteer from College Park, Texas who told Pittsburgh police that a 6-foot-4 black man robbed her at an ATM machine and carved a backwards B on her face, has (in the words of a Pennsylvania prosecutor) “not insignificant mental health issues.” She made it all up.

    But what everyone may not know is that before the contents of her allegation were fully known, let alone verified, it appears to be Peter Feldman – not the police – who told local reporters that her (fictional) big black assailant said to her, “You’re with the McCain campaign? I’m going to teach you a lesson.”

    Move over, Willie Horton.

    “>if you believe that Peter Feldman was just repeating what he had heard from the police, it is nevertheless arguable, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said, that Mr. Feldman’s actions showed “not just a willingness to believe it, but an eagerness to incite a …racial backlash against the Obama campaign.”

    On Saturday night, the same Peter Feldman ” alt=”ALTTEXT” width=”381″ height=”288″ vspace = 8 hspace 8 8 align = right />said that the party had not authorized the email; he blamed it on Bryan Rudnick, a consultant whom he said had drafted it. Mr. Rudnick denied that, saying that he had been hired by the party to do outreach to Jewish voters, and that “I had authorization from party officials.”

    “>as he told the Des Moines Register, that he always tells “100 percent absolute truth” – that he is not winking at us ironically, not signaling “it’s just politics, my friends,” not asking us to pardon him for just-doing-what-a candidate’s-gotta-do, when he says that Jerry Falwell “>fire Rumsfeld; or that he’s the only presidential candidate not to receive “>balance the budget in four years; or that Obama wants kindergarteners taught “comprehensive “>expert on energy.

    It is even conceivable that Sarah Palin really does think it’s true that the Troopergate investigation “>natural gas pipeline really is under way; or that Obama really does “>with terrorists; or that Obama’s economic plan actually amounts to

    ANALYSIS: Rough race takes toll on McCain’s image


    NEW YORK (JTA)—When John McCain stopped in New York one Tuesday in October 2007 to make his pre-primaries pitch to a room full of Jewish bigwigs, he spent virtually all his time discussing foreign policy—but only after an emotional introduction from James Tisch that focused less on policy than the character of the presidential candidate standing before them.

    Tisch, a scion of a family real estate empire, proud Republican and decorated Jewish communal leader, invoked the memory of the late Washington power lawyer David Ifshin and his unlikely friendship with McCain.

    Back when McCain was a prisoner of war being held and tortured by the North Vietnamese, Ifshin—then a hard-core anti-war protester—visited Hanoi to speak out against U.S. involvement in the war. His remarks were piped into McCain’s cell.

    A few years later, the story goes, Ifshin found himself living on a kibbutz in Israel when the Yom Kippur War erupted. Watching U.S. aircraft arrive with supplies to aid the beleagured country triggered a transformation in Ifshin that would culminate with his becoming a lawyer for AIPAC and then the Clinton administration.

    Along the way, after McCain had entered the U.S. Congress, Ifshin sought out the Republican lawmaker and asked his forgiveness.The two became friends and worked together on human rights causes.

    “It was,” Tisch told the 50 people assembled, “an inspiration for many of us.”

    And, one could reasonably add, a powerful example of why—before the twists and turns of an increasingly bitter presidential race—McCain commanded respect in Democratic and liberal circles. To be sure, the veteran Arizona senator has always been a staunch conservative on a range of economic, social and foreign policy issues. But when it comes to grand themes—his emphasis on personal redemption, reconciliation, bipartisanship, sacrifice—McCain’s message has resonated across party lines.

    It is true that in the heat of the race, McCain’s “Country First” campaign slogan can sound to the Democratic ear like a swipe at the patriotism of the opposing ticket. But when voicing the fuller version—when grounding his commitment to country in his realization in a Vietnam prison camp that the greatest fulfillment in life is serving a cause greater than one’s self—McCain could be mistaken for John F. Kennedy urging a new generation to embrace the notion of putting service to country first.

    Just as important in understanding McCain’s initial appeal among Democrats, independents and the mainstream media is his willingness to work with liberal stalwarts—Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on immigration and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance—and his willingness to criticize conservative efforts to demonize politcal opponents.

    During his own failed bid for the 2000 Republican nomination, McCain lashed out at the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, calling them “agents of intolerance” after they lined up behind then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

    And on Election Night in 2002, while others in his party were celebrating big Republican gains, McCain was on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart lamenting the defeat of Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. It was not the first time that McCain tore into the GOP over its strategy of questioning the patriotism of Cleland, a fellow veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

    It was not so long ago, in other words, that McCain was known for palling around with liberal East Coast media elites and being a target of some evangelical leaders and conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

    In recent weeks, however, as McCain ratcheted up his attacks on Obama, he has found himself being accused of embracing the same dirty campaign tactics that he has so often criticized. McCain’s detractors argue that his reputation for straight talk is no longer deserved, pointing to ads suggesting that Obama wants to teach kindergarten students how to have sex and accusing him of associating with domestic terrorists.

    Even several Republican lawmakers and McCain’s own running mate have joined Democrats in criticizing his campaign’s recent strategy of flooding the phone lines in swing states with anti-Obama robo-calls.

    Democrats have also taken aim at McCain’s status as a maverick, increasingly painting him as a clone of President Bush when it comes to the economy and foreign policy. They note that the candidate has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers who back the Iraq war and oppose robust diplomatic intiatives with Syria and Iran.

    Despite McCain’s opposition to abortion rights, as well as the mounting assertions that he has betrayed his reputation as a straight-shooting maverick, the Republican nominee had seemed poised to make serious inroads among Jewish voters. Polls for months showed McCain already surpassing the 25 percent of the Jewish vote that Bush took in 2004, with plenty of undecideds still up for grabs.

    Undoubtedly, McCain received a boost from his reputation for bipartisanship and bucking religious conservatives, his long record of support for Israel, tough talk on Iran, a prominent endorsement from U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and lingering questions about Barack Obama.



    AUDIO: John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s conference call with Jewish leaders


    While Jewish GOPers have attempted to paint Obama as someone who might end up tilting toward the Palestinian side in the peace process, McCain has focused more on Iran and Iraq in attempting to challenge Obama’s preparedness to lead on the Middle East. McCain has pounded again and again on Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iran’s president, and argued that Obama’s timeline for a pullout from Iraq would threaten Israel and the United States.

    “Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much emboldened Iran,” McCain told thousands of pro-Israel activists in June. “We must not let this happen.”

    One of his key advisers on such issues is Lieberman, who crossed party lines to endorse the McCain shortly before the New Hampshire primary. Even before the endorsement, Lieberman had infuriated many Democrats with his unflinching support for the Iraq war and decision to carry on with a third-party bid after losing Connecticut’s Democratic senatorial primary in 2006.

    In the process, however, his stature seemed to grow within centrist and right-leaning pro-Israel circles, and he still can draw a crowd at Florida retirement communities that remember him fondly as the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate.

    “From the moment the next president steps into the Oval Office, he or she will face life-or-death decisions in this war,” Lieberman told a Republican Jewish Coalition crowd in January during a stop in Boca Raton shortly before the GOP primary in Florida. “That’s why we need a president who is ready to be commander-in-chief from day one, a president who won’t need any on-the-job training. John McCain is that candidate and will be that president.”

    It was one of the first of many appearances that Lieberman would make in the Sunshine State and in front of Jewish audiences on behalf of McCain.

    But Lieberman has emerged as more than a surrogate. The Connecticut senator is a trusted adviser and has become a regular travel buddy joining McCain on many of his campaign trips, as well as his visit in late May to Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

    It was Lieberman who quietly pulled McCain to the side during a news conference in Jordan, prompting the candidate to correct his mistaken assertion that Iran was training members of al-Qaida. And it was Lieberman who was dispatched by the McCain campaign to brief reporters after Obama and McCain both delivered solidly pro-Israel speeches at the AIPAC policy conference in June.

    Soon after, in the weeks leading up to the Republican convention, speculation was rampant that McCain wanted to tap Lieberman as his running mate—a move that some observers say would have helped the Republican nominee with many Jewish undecideds. But according to some reports, warnings from prominent Republican strategists that the selection of a pro-choice quasi-Democrat would trigger a conservative revolt ultimately led McCain to settle on the surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

    (Lieberman is said to remain on the short list for either secretary of state or secretary of defense in a McCain administration.)

    From the start, the McCain camp appeared bent on underscoring Palin’s pro-Israel bona fides. Her first meeting at the convention was a closed-door session with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The Republican Jewish Coalition circulated a video clip showing a small Israeli flag displayed in her office in Alaska.

    Palin herself took up the task of speaking out against Iran and defending Israel’s right to defend itself. Like McCain, she did so while also voicing support for a two-state solution, saying during the vice-presidential debate that it would be a “top priority.”

    Ultimately, however, it appears that attempts to paint her as unqualified and a product of the religious right have been successful. A survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee in early September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin choice, compared to just 15 percent who felt that way about Obama’s selection of U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

    Increasing unhappiness with Palin, along with the economic crisis, has coincided with a drop in the polls for McCain, both in the general electorate and among Jewish voters. New polling data from Gallup released Oct. 23 shows Obama winning 74 percent of the Jewish vote. Of course, even more alarming for the McCain camp is the overwhelming majority of surveys showing him trailing nationally and on the state-by-state map.

    And if a signifcant defeat were not enough, McCain’s critics appear ready to carry on the fight beyond Election Day.

    “Back in 2000, after John McCain lost his mostly honorable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he went about apologizing to journalists—including me—for his most obvious misstep: his support for keeping the Confederate flag on the state house” in South Carolina, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein recalled in a recent blog post titled “Apology Not Accepted.”

    “I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain—contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat—talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment,” he added. “Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.”

    This view is the overwhelming verdict among liberal bloggers as they rush to permanently redefine the real McCain as a dishonorable fraud, and it is gaining ground among media pundits and Democratic officials. In fact, the attempts at McCain revisionism during this presidential cycle go back to at least 2006, when he faced criticism for accepting an invitation from Falwell to speak at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

    Liberal bloggers ripped into McCain, pointing to the speech and the accompanying sit-down with Falwell as proof that the Arizonan was set to sell out his principles to win the GOP nomination in 2008.

    But taken together with separate addresses McCain delivered in New York a few days later to students at Columbia College and the New School, the speech at Liberty could just as easily be seen as reinforcing the image of McCain as someone willing to cross lines and build bridges. After all, how many other presidential candidates could boast of such a trifecta, especially in one week?

    In all three speeches, McCain argued for vigorous debate—and mutual respect. To help make the point, during his Columbia speech, McCain reflected on his relationship with Ifshin.

    “I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy but my countryman … and later my friend,” McCain reportedly said.

    “His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals,” he said. “David remained my countryman and my friend until the day of his death, at the age of 47, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.”

    If nothing else, for anyone paying attention, McCain’s willingness to bury the political hatchet with Falwell should have seemed perfectly in character.

    ANALYSIS: Obama worked hard to gain Jewish trust


    YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (JTA)—A major Republican tack against Barack Obama has a simple theme: By his friends you shall know him.

    For the McCain campaign, in recent weeks this has meant repeatedly linking the Democratic presidential nominee to William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground. But Jewish Republicans had been employing the strategy for many months in the run-up to the Nov. 4 vote, with the goal of portraying Obama as soft and unreliable in his support for Israel.

    Jewish GOPers point to Obama’s 20-year membership in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his associations—however limited—with Palestinian activists and his consultations with some foreign policy experts seen as critical of either Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

    To buttress this line of attack, they stress Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Hovering in the background—and at times right up in the voters’ faces—have been Internet campaigns and outright pronouncements by some conservative pundits depicting Obama as an Arab or a practicing Muslim.

    Obama has responded by explaining how he has dropped troubling relationships, touting his ties to some Jewish communal leaders in Chicago and pro-Israel lights, casting himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel and presenting himself as a leader who would work to revitalize black-Jewish relations.

    He has insisted repeatedly that Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” cited his defense of Israel’s military tactics during the 2006 war in Lebanon and pressed for tighter U.S. sanctions against Iran as part of his pledge to do everything in his power to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

    The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious traditions, as well as the early influence of Jewish and Zionist writers on his worldview. And last Martin Luther King Day, Obama used the pulpit of the slain civil rights leader to condemn anti-Semitism in the black community.

    “I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Obama told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, noting “theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”

    “So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

    Such policy and ideological pronouncements were enough to secure support during the Democratic primaries from a few pro-Israel stalwarts in the U.S. Congress (most notably Robert Wexler of Florida) and the media (New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz). And even the recently defunct New York Sun—a neoconservative newspaper that had plenty of problems with Obama’s domestic and foreign policies—felt inspired to publish an editorial in his defense on the general question of support for Israel.

    “We’re no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven’t checked their facts,” the newspaper declared in the January 9, 2008 editorial. “At least by our lights, Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”

    Still, despite such sentiments and Obama’s feverish efforts to allay Jewish concerns, polls showed him having trouble with Jewish voters—first during the primary season, when he reportedly trailed his main party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and then throughout much of the general election race when surveys showed him failing to match the totals of previous Democratic nominees.

    In recent weeks, however, as the Republican ticket has had to cope with the nation’s economic collapse and the declining popularity of vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, Obama has been able to flood swing states with waves of newfound Jewish surrogates who were either neutral or with Clinton during the primaries but are now speaking out for him.

    Their effectiveness was in evidence last week in a Gallup Poll that showed Obama breaking through a plateau that had dogged him for months: The Democratic candidate garnered 74 percent Jewish support, matching past Democratic candidates and bypassing the persistent 60 percent showing since the primaries.

    The trend toward Obama was tangible earlier this month at the B’nai Israel synagogue in Rockville, Md., where the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Noah Silverman made the case for GOP nominee John McCain in a debate with Michael Levy of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

    Unlike the false depictions of Obama as a radical Muslim that have spread through the Internet, Republican Party reminders of Obama’s past associations with alleged radicals “are not smears,” Silverman said.

    The packed hall burst into sustained laughter. Such derision, however, has not inhibited the guilt-by-association attacks. John Lehman, a Reagan administration Navy secretary, at this city’s Jewish community center last week cited the usual litany. He even tossed in Wright, though McCain has banned the use of the pastor’s liberation theology as a cudgel.

    “You’re known by the company you keep,” Lehman said several times.

    He later defended his mention of Wright, who once described Israel as a colonial power and used the phrase “goddamn America” in a sermon about the continued struggle facing blacks.

    “It’s an important issue,” Lehman told JTA. “I don’t see how someone could sit in a pew for 20 years and listen to that crap.”

    The Youngstown audience wasn’t interested—it peppered Lehman and the Obama surrogate with questions about policy.

    That doesn’t mean that some of the attacks are not substantive. In an interview with JTA during the primaries, Obama failed to say how he could not have been aware of Wright’s radical views on Israel over a 20-year relationship with his church.

    “It doesn’t excuse the statements that were made, it’s just simply to indicate it’s not as if there was a statement like this coming up every Sunday when I was at church,” Obama said at the time, evading the question, which was how Obama responded to Wright’s radicalism on those occasions, however infrequently he may have encountered it.

    A few weeks later, Wright’s public appearances grew intolerable, and the Obamas left the church and cut off the pastor.

    On other fronts, Obama has been less decisive in walking back from what many Jewish and pro-Israel activists—including his own supporters—see as obvious blunders.

    Obama still won’t acknowledge that his “I would” reply to a debate question in 2007 about whether he would meet unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant just that. And his clear declaration of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital at the AIPAC policy conference in May was followed up by poorly conceived clarifications to the Palestinians, then to the pro-Israel community, then to anyone who was still bothering to ask.

    The most effective Republican tack has been his status as a blank slate: Obama is 47 and has barely four years of experience on the national stage.

    What has smoothed these concerns has been a strategy of systematically cultivating the Jewish community since his first run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness to scions of Chicago’s most influential Jewish families—including the Pritzkers and the Crowns—propelled a state-by-state outreach that strategically targeted similar dynasties.

    For instance, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came on board after a meeting between the candidate and his father, Ron, a leading Cleveland developer. The campaign has set up Jewish leadership councils in major communities and hired Jewish outreach directors in at least six swing states.

    Obama used the same strategic outreach in building his policy apparatus. The foreign policy team making the case for an Obama administration that engages in intense Middle East diplomacy features several accomplished Jewish members.

    In addition to Wexler, Obama’s circle of advisers on Israel and Iran policy includes familiar veterans of the Clinton administration such as Dennis Ross, once America’s top Middle East negotiator; Dan Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Mara Rudman, a former national security councilor.

    Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-or-break figure among Florida’s Jews, before announcing for president, and since 2005 has been consulting with Ross—the most reputable name among Jews in Middle East peacemaking.

    “His vision of direct American engagement” with leaders in Tehran “for the purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it,” Wexler told JTA.

    “Direct American engagement” with Iran was once inconceivable as a pro-Israel position. Due in part to a concerted effort by Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it has gone mainstream, most recently in a bill co-authored by the Democratic nominee that promoted tightened anti-Iran sanctions as well as the utility of engagement. The bill, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but was killed by Senate Republicans without explanation.

    The bill is just one example of how Obama has offered detailed policy proposals that have meshed his emphasis on diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially when it comes to Iran. By the time Obama or his surrogates have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan that includes targeting refined petroleum exporters to Iran, the insurance industry and Iranian banks, listeners at some forums almost appear to have forgotten about Obama’s one-time pledge to meet with Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t hurt that the McCain campaign is short on such specifics.

    In a trip to Israel over the summer, Obama impressed his interlocutors by internalizing their concerns over Iran and immediately integrating them into his own vision for the region, Ross said in an interview.

    “He told the Israelis during the trip that ‘Iran with nuclear weapons was not only an existential threat to Israel, and I view it that way, but I also would view it as transforming the Middle East into a nuclear region, undermining everything I’d hope to accomplish,’ ” said Ross, who accompanied Obama on the trip.

    None of this guarantees a smooth pro-Israel presidency. During the primaries, Obama cautioned Cleveland Jewish leaders that to be “pro-Israel” does not mean being “pro-Likud,” an encomium that could haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship if Obama is elected and the Likud Party—as projected—returns to power in case of early elections in Israel. Still, Obama supporters credit a meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for some of the nominee’s initiatives dealing with the Islamic Republic.

    But it is the overemphasis on Obama’s Middle East views and associations—real or imagined—that might prove the critical weakness in Republican efforts to cut down Obama’s support among Jews. It’s not just that it’s true now, as it has been in past campaigns, that Jews are not single-issue voters. It is also that Obama has uncovered an exquisite Jewish spin to his broader appeal to generous notions of America’s liberal past.

    In making the case that Obama is an unreliable flip-flopper, Republicans note that one of the biggest applause lines in his AIPAC speech was his Jerusalem pledge. But they don’t mention that the biggest applause line had nothing to do with Israel—especially extraordinary considering the foreign-policy-first crowd.

    “In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said in his conclusion. “They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man—James Chaney—on behalf of freedom and equality. Their legacy is our inheritance.”

    In Washington’s culture of sarcastic bon mots, surely there lurks a line about what it takes to make an AIPAC activist cry. Judging by some of the faces in the crowd that day in May, Obama found the soft spot.

    Return to sender



    ‘Obsession’ trailer

    I’ve never understood why they call a last-minute election ploy an “October Surprise,” other than the fact that it usually happens in, you know, October.

    As a hard-fought election winds to a close in a divided country, campaigns will of course give their candidate that extra 1 percent or 2 percent push by any means necessary.

    So I’m not surprised that someone in Washington is making it rain missiles on Waziristan in what has to be a last-ditch effort to attach the head of Osama bin Laden to Sen. John McCain’s belt loop.

    I’m not surprised that vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin accused Sen. Barack Obama of making playdates with terrorists. Anyone who remembers the vitriolic rallies leading to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has to be disgusted by such incendiary words — but not surprised.

    And I’m not shocked that now the Democrats are resurrecting the ghost of crooked banker and one-time McCain pal Charles Keating. Those aren’t surprises — those are what-did-you-expect?

    But I am surprised that people who truly want to alert Americans to the dangers we all face from worldwide Islamic radicalism have chosen this month to politicize the issue.

    The vehicle they are using is an effective work of agitprop documentary filmmaking called, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.”

    The one-hour film is an all-hits compilation about how violent Muslim fundamentalists are bent on using any means necessary to destroy the rest of us.

    Yes, the movie lacks nuance. Its many valid claims against radical Islam sometimes bleed into blanket claims against all Muslims.

    “It’s important to remember most Muslims are peaceful and do not support terror,” reads a title card at the opening of the movie — just before an image of a man in a kaffiyeh pointing an automatic weapon at the viewer overwhelms the screen. In other words, this is not a sober “Frontline” special.

    Some critics fear that as much as “Obsession” may inspire people, including moderate Muslims, to fight against the extremists, it might just as easily inspire non-Muslim extremists to lash out against all Muslims. An obsessive anti-“Obsession” campaign launched by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) accuses the film of “demonizing an entire community.”

    I ran this concern by Tom Trento, a Florida-based businessman who told me he was so inspired after watching the movie upon its release in 2006 that he founded WatchObsession.com to help spread its gospel.

    “Not one negative backlash with 20 million people seeing it,” Trento told me.

    That might or might not be entirely true. Four days after the Dayton Daily News distributed copies of the “Obsession” DVD, two men sprayed a chemical toward a 10-year-old girl at a local Islamic center Police have said there is no evidence the act was a hate crime, but many Muslims there and elsewhere say “Obsession” incites such attacks.

    What’s undeniable is that the movie is intended to rile people up and that its supporters believe it can be an effective tool in swaying the election.

    In late September, copies of the DVD started showing up on people’s doorsteps, wrapped along with their morning paper in states that are the most hotly contested in this presidential election: Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

    An organization called The Clarion Fund paid for distribution, but denied the effort has anything to do with the presidential campaign. A Clarion spokesman told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that 28 million copies of the DVD were being distributed nationwide. The intent of the distribution, he said, was “not to sway voters’ opinions about the presidential candidates.”

    That, of course, is absolute, pure, 100 percent BS. Trento, refreshingly, didn’t take that tack.

    “I’m doing a major educational outreach effort with this movie that will continue long after the election,” he said. “But certainly I have a goal to wake people up and have them vote intelligently for our national security. Who does that mean at the top of the ticket? Me personally, Tom Trento, I would vote for John McCain.”

    I asked him if that’s what he hopes others will want to do after watching “Obsession.”

    “Yes,” Trento said. “My goal would be that a person fully informed will conclude that John McCain is the best choice.”

    This, then, is the dangerous ground backers of “Obsession” are treading: Turning a serious if flawed movie and a life-and-death issue into a partisan campaign ploy.

    A recent Fox News poll found that 88 percent of Americans agree that radical Islam is a serious threat — you’d be hard pressed to find another issue that so many Americans agree on. The “Obsession” campaign causes unnecessary dissent and division when what we need is united and thoughtful action.

    The fact that “Obsession” and the Clarion Fund draw financial support from a network of overtly Christian, Jewish and pro-Israel activists doesn’t exactly help either.

    The Clarion Fund and Aish HaTorah are headed by twin Israeli-Canadian brothers, Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. Several newspaper accounts report that the two groups appear to be connected, as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish HaTorah, the Orthodox Jewish outreach organization.

    An Aish spokesperson has denied a connection, but said that individuals affiliated with Aish may be involved in Clarion on their own.

    Scroll the Web sites promoting “Obsession,” follow their links, and soon you are in a world of vigilante “Minutemen,” abortion clinic protesters, Creationists, End Timers, Greater Israelites and Islam-bashers. One click away from Trento’s Web site is another whose headline reads, “Allah is nothing but a pagan moon-god.”

    All these folks have a right to their opinions, but we can’t afford for the struggle against Islamic fascism to get mired in this country’s political, cultural and religious divides.

    If you want to know what it’s like to get bounced around in that muck, ask my friend Howard Gordon. When “Obsession” first came out, Gordon, a writer and executive producer of the television series, “24,” agreed to write a laudatory blurb for the producers.

    But last month, Gordon decided he didn’t want to boost a movie he had at least mixed feelings about, based, in part, on its use as a partisan political weapon.

    “While I remain committed to the film’s essential message — that the hate-mongering promoted by radical Islamism presents a real threat to Western values of tolerance and pluralism — I also appreciate that the goal of co-existence and tolerance is not being served by films like ‘Obsession,'” Gordon wrote in his public retraction.

    To read the reactions to Gordon’s simple change of mind, you’d think he was the one with the machine gun and the kaffiyeh.

    At some point, you’d think “Obsession’s” backers would realize they’re not doing a cause most of us believe in any good by turning off the likes of me, you or Howard Gordon.

    “It is too bad,” Trento told me of Gordon’s retraction. “I mean, I love his show.”

    Should we ‘roll the dice’ on untested Obama?


    The pretentiously messianic Sen. Barack Obama would be comical, except many people vote apparently not for president but for debate team captain. While partisans argue unconditionally for Obama or Sen. John McCain, both candidates are, as in any election, flawed. It isincreasingly unlikely the imperfect McCain will win, but he should. And he still could.

    There has been a liquidity crisis, which means the dysfunctional credit markets collapsed temporarily, not forever. When people lack confidence in economic calculation, the economy paralyzes. Meanwhile, the Iraq War has improved, so General Obama’s opposition to the surge is discredited, another reason he neatly changes the subject.

    Stocks were sold as if the world is coming to an end. The media encouraged fear of an economic Armageddon, consequently, a political panic ensued. The schizophrenic McCain campaign — Obama is wonderful, no, risky — has been slow to adapt. People do not understand what has caused the economic mess. They want change. This inescapable synergy tilts toward Obama, who is mindlessly applauded when he boasts he was for change first, as if he defined a profile in courage.

    The common misconception fed by the infatuated media is: Wholesale deregulation by the Bush administration is the culprit. In reality, most Democrats and some Republicans share a long history of irresponsibility. The machinations are largely creatures nurtured in government test tubes, broken, the virus highly contagious. History is thus: Government intervention, per Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, actually exacerbates instability.

    Without the collusion, if not the encouragement of the feds, these mortgages would not have been given to poor credit risks — unknown income, no down payment. But the federal government, via its quasi-governmental agencies known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, subsidized the loans, assumed the risk. Fannie and Freddie should never have been created. President Bill Clinton expanded their charter.

    A few years later, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said we should not ” fix something that wasn’t broke.” She praised “the outstanding leadership” of Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines, who subsequently left in disgrace but with $90 million of bonuses after an accounting scandal.

    Obama is the largest recipient ever of campaign money from Fannie/Freddie, which generously supported mainly Democratic Fannie and Freddie defenders like Senate Finance Committee chair Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and his House Financial Affairs Committee counterpart, Barney Frank. Frank resisted reform: “I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.”

    Do we now similarly “roll the dice” on the untested Obama? We do not know much about Obama. He portrays his community organizing as altruistic. In fact, he parlayed those community contacts into a political base.

    Ambition is not bad. Own up to it. More to the point, Obama affiliated with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church not because of its spirituality but because of its politics.

    I cannot say Obama hates America or Jews, but Wright, in my opinion, hates both. That someone as bright and curious as Obama could attend Wright’s church for so many years, where his sermons were available on tape, and not know what Wright was/is about is implausible.

    Obama used Wright and his church for political volunteers, voter registration and turnout then this year opportunistically discarded him. Obama succeeded as a go-along, get-along Chicago machine politician, not as an anti-establishment reformist.

    Voters confuse Obama stagecraft with vision. He is articulate and confident but also glib and cocky. This is not a humble man who knows what he doesn’t know. This is someone who earlier this year dismissed Iran as a threat because it, unlike the former Soviet Union, is “a small country.”

    The Soviets, precisely as a major power, acted rationally; the doctrine of mutually assured destruction deterred nuclear war. Iran has no such inhibitions, professor Obama: Such small rogue nations are temperamentally capable of a nuclear first strike.

    Readers of this newspaper are interested in Israel. We know McCain is absolutely solid. Obama is, at best, evolving. For example, immediately after his American Israel Public Affairs Committee speech endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Obama abruptly reversed himself.

    If Israel were under attack and its prime minister called the White House at the proverbial 3 a.m., who would you want at the other end of the line? If you’re for Obama for other reasons, that’s fine. But don’t say it’s because of his position on Israel.

    Many voters see Obama as an agent of change, when he, in fact, is an ideologue — most left voting record in the Senate. In a centrist nation, the favored Obama is much, much farther to the left than the struggling McCain is somewhat to the right.

    On the economy, maverick McCain would be more likely to take on the establishment. McCain had warned more than two years ago, “American taxpayers will continue to be exposed to the enormous risk that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pose to the housing market, the overall financial system and the economy as a whole.” As even the liberal Washington Post editorialized, Obama was AWOL.

    Obama had an undistinguished record as a part-time member of the Illinois Senate, where he often voted simply “present.” Then in his brief two years in the U.S. Senate, he has never taken on his party’s leadership. Unlike McCain, Obama does win the congeniality award not because he worked in a bipartisan way but because he never made waves.

    The unqualified Obama communicates well; the qualified McCain communicates poorly, and communicating is a qualification. But when the American economy requires seismic change to compete in the global economy, who will adapt? McCain — long pro-change record — or Obama — short anti-change record?

    Who would be more likely to embrace a Smoot-Hawley Tariff associated with the Great Depression — protectionist Obama or free-trader McCain? An economic corollary: If you think education reform is essential, do you want McCain, who champions innovation and supports school choice, or Obama, who is beholden to the teachers union and opposes school choice?

    Obama has not run anything, met a payroll or served in the military. No Obama legislation or even bipartisanship. Admittedly contentious, McCain has challenged his party’s leadership, even worked collaboratively with opposing Democrats who, until recently, praised him.

    For the economy, the present cure could be worse than the disease, unless down the line we get the government out of the banking business. McCain can do that. He believes in limited government, low taxation, economic opportunity and growth.

    Obviously, we can’t bet the farm on Obama.

    Arnold Steinberg is a political strategist and analyst.

    Questions for Obama’s California strategist, Mitchell Schwartz


    Mitchell Schwartz heads up Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in California and also sits on the board of Temple Israel of Hollywood. He has worked on campaigns for Sen. Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He also traveled to Israel with Clinton while working for the State Department.

    Schwartz’s Los Angeles-based public relations firm, Bomaye Co., directed publicity for the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the Save Darfur Campaign.

    Jewish Journal: How did you get involved with Obama?

    Mitchell Schwartz: I’m 47, have been involved in politics for quite a while. I thought I was too old but got very inspired by his message. I went to a rally in February of ’07 and was very impressed with what I saw.

    JJ: What more does the campaign plan to do to appeal specifically to Jewish voters in close races like Florida and Ohio?

    MS: Many members of Congress are Jewish. We have those who know Obama speak everywhere. They will go to Florida, where the condos are, and go to synagogues and temples. Mel Levine, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Henry Waxman, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer all speak for us. We have them go out and say Obama is a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel.

    JJ: Why should a Jew believe that Obama would be a friend of Israel and the Jewish community?

    MS: I think the concern in the Jewish community is overstated. I think we will do great. AIPAC give him a great record; Jewish [representatives] and senators say what a great friend of Israel he will be. For a lot of people, we are still learning about Obama and getting comfortable with him. The numbers I’ve seen are that Jews are strong supporters of this ticket. He does have a name that sounds foreign, and he is new. We just have to get his record out there, and we feel confident we will garner support of the majority of the Jewish community.

    JJ: Was Gov. Sarah Palin wrong to have alluded to Obama’s relations with Bill Ayers?

    MS: As President Clinton said that campaigns are a contact sport. I won’t complain; I’ll let others decide what is moral or not. Everything is fair game.

    What I would ask is, is that really important that he knew that guy? I would ask, is this what Americans are really interested in? I don’t think so. It is completely irrelevant to what is going on today. It’s not going to work.

    Frankly, the McCain campaign is doing anything to not talk about issues. That that even got attention when stock market is going down and hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on bailout, that she wants to talk about someone he knew in Chicago is just indicative of the kind of campaign they are running — a meaningless, devoid of issues campaign.

    JJ: And what of Obama’s connections to people like Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia professor who worked as a PLO spokesperson while it was listed as terrorist organization and has been a strident critic of Israel since?

    MS: I don’t know anything about that.

    All this stuff is what I think we will see from McCain — more and more attacks. They will desperately avoid talking about the issues. They will try to smear him with passing relations. They won’t talk about the issues and just attack our guy. So we expect these unwarranted attacks, because there is no way they can talk about the issues.

    JJ: What is the biggest difference between Obama’s approach to Iran and McCain’s?

    MS: What McCain did by supporting war in Iraq was helping Iran. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the war is Iran. He did it unwittingly because of a lack of judgment, and it made Iran stronger; they were the big winner. Now Iran is stronger and poses a bigger threat to Israel.

    Both said they won’t allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Obama’s position on ending war in Iraq will be a huge factor in making that whole area hopefully less … in bringing down the temperature a bit.

    JJ: How did President Clinton handle or mishandle the peace process, and how will that compare to Obama’s plans?

    MS: What I give President Clinton tremendous credit for is how engaged in the peace process he was. You can’t have Bush’s hands-off policy. America has to be a leader in the peace process. It is not easy and not sexy.

    [President Clinton] worked hard ’til his last day in office trying to make a peace settlement. He was unsuccessful, but he tried and it didn’t work. You can make treaties. Israel has treaties with Jordan and Egypt. It is difficult work. The worst thing is to not engage diplomatically, and Obama will engage diplomatically. Obama will be a big break with the Republican way of handling it and more in line with what Clinton was trying to do.

    JJ: Clinton recently blamed Democrats for resisting Republican efforts to tighten regulatory and accounting standards on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when there was a push to ease home loan rates for lower-income brackets. Isn’t the current meltdown a bi-partisan mess, and shouldn’t the Obama campaign stop using it as a means to attack McCain and the Republicans?

    MS: Obama did warn that there was not enough regulation — he is on record two years ago warning about that. The blame being bipartisan, yeah, I would agree with that. But I would definitely put more blame on the Republicans — they think the market is king; they want to deregulate. That is their philosophy.

    We saw what happened when they thought that they didn’t need safeguards, and now we are paying the price. The barn door opened, and the horses are out, and now they want to lock the door. They have to live with what they did when they were in charge. They can’t back out of what is their philosophy. That is why they will try to smear Barack with attacks.

    Politics, rabbis, gotcha


    Presidential Politics

    In response to the Oct. 10 Letters on Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin:

    I noticed the advertisement on Obama with the questionable people he is photographed associating with. I read the weekly news and view television debates, and I don’t know who to believe is the best vote for the Jewish community and pro-Israel.

    Both used Israel, and that is a sensitive catch phrase with the Jewish community, and both are trying to get the Jewish voters. Our vote needs to be the right one.

    I for one intend to contact the Israeli Consulate to inquire and seek their advice as to which candidate they would prefer in the presidential office. I will ask them, “Why?”

    Frances Kruger
    Los Angeles

    Sen. Barack Obama is clearly the only sensible choice to protect Israel’s best interests (“The Debates Won’t Matter,” Oct. 3). He understands what the challenges are from today’s perspective and not from a decades old perspective.

    Sen. John McCain may be a nice man, but he seems to be another trigger-happy American who will shoot first and ask questions later. What’s worse is that his running mate’s interest in protecting Israel stems from her Christian faith and her expectations of the second coming.

    Obama will ask the correct questions first but will not hesitate to use force if the answers to the questions are not acceptable.

    Joel Gossman
    Los Angeles

    Rabbis and Politics

    The Jewish position on politics as stated in Pirkei Avot does not mince any words:

    “Be careful in your relations with the government, for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a man in his time of stress.”

    With approval ratings of the president and Congress quickly approaching that of low-fat milk, rabbis who decide to practice politics should not wonder if they are held at the same level of contempt as our politicians. (“Obama Conference Call With 900 Rabbis,” Sept. 26).

    I naïvely believed that rabbis should rise above all politics to serve all community members, which is why it is disappointing to see them using their status and influence as spiritual leaders to promote their favorite political candidate in this paper. One would hope that these rabbis would leave politics to politicians and instead focus on what they are trained to do: guide us on spiritual growth, and leave us alone to decide on our politics.

    Avi Zirlerhas
    Via e-mail

    McCain, Obama and Israel

    The opinion articles of Dennis Ross and Morris J. Amitay, which describe their respective positions in this increasingly heated and venomous debate, lay bare the true and scary differences between the two presidential candidates on the issue of the safety and security of Israel (“Why I Support Barack Obama,” “McCain for America — and Israel,” Oct. 10).

    Amitay’s opinion reads like one of Sen. John McCain’s diatribes, full of visceral and impulsive reactions, little to no premeditation or follow-through thinking and waving the jingoist flag of patriotism. The only statement missing from this piece is that McCain has approved this political message.

    Ross’ opinion reads like one of Sen. Barack Obama’s treatises, devoid of rash reactions, full of reasoned compassion and empathy and extending an open hand that can become a closed fist — but only as a last and not a first resort.

    Ross’ Obama piece reflects a future predicated on reality, dialogue,intelligence, compromise and a walk softly but carry a big stick military position.

    Amitay ‘s McCain piece reflects a future that is a reprise of the past, dominated by fantasy, unilateral monologues, raw and unfiltered emotion and a dictatorial military position that has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, shredded the international monetary system and turned our vaunted morality into a turpitude of the lowest caste.

    So can a Jew remain true to the Talmud and Torah while simultaneously voting Republican? He not only should not — he cannot.

    Marc Rogers
    Sherman Oaks

    Gotcha Journalism

    I read [Marty Kaplan’s] article with great interest (“Gotcha? You Betcha!” Oct. 10). In fact, I posted it at OpEdNews.com. That failure of the press to cover the real issues hits close to home for me. That’s what I and the rest of the election integrity advocates have been bellyaching about for years.

    How many stories, really big ones, have the media passed up? Which is how, of course, we are in the pickle we are in regarding our elections and the inability of anyone to know how the official results line up with the actual ones. Yikes.

    Joan Brunwasser
    Election Integrity Editor
    OpEdNews.com

    Outstanding article. I live in Okeechobee, Fla., population 12,000, three Jews, including my wife. These rednecks fully believe that the media is waging a war on the beloved Gov. Sarah Palin.

    She can’t answer a question with a follow-up to save her life.

    Keep up the good work. I am subscribing as soon as I’m done.

    Dennis Hamilton
    Via e-mail

    What a terrific article. It should also be published in the New York Times and the Washington Post. You should be a guest on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, etc. Thank you for telling it how it is.

    Our media is not doing its job of informing the average guy and gal, and the public, being so ill informed, has absolutely helped create this financial crisis. Going to listen to all the NPR shows you suggested.

    Sydni Moser
    Long Island, N.Y.

    Over 65 group could decide who wins this year’s presidential election


    Many millions of dollars are being spent in both current presidential campaigns emphasizing personal qualities over clarifying the candidates’ stands on the issues. Now seniors take their politics seriously: While the 65-and-older demographic comprises only 12 percent of the nation’s population, in the last presidential election 73 percent of seniors reported that they voted—the largest percentage of any age group, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.

    But neither candidate on the campaign trail has spoken often on issues that matter to seniors, and when they have, it’s been underreported by much of the media. So at the end of the day, how different are the candidates—and their respective political parties—from each other when it comes to issues of great importance to seniors, such as long-term care, Social Security, medical insurance and taxes?

    Simply put, “the real fault lines between the two candidates’ positions are over how to treat people in the highest tax brackets. It gets to the heart of their economic philosophies,” said Leonard E. Burman, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington-based tax reform group.

    Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), specifically through his campaign Web site and implicitly through the official platform of the Democratic Party, would shore up the needs of seniors at the lower end of the economic spectrum. He has proposed to eliminate income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 a year.

    “This will provide an immediate tax cut averaging $1,400 to 7 million seniors and relieve millions from the burden of filing tax returns,” the official Obama literature asserts.

    Additionally, Obama would rescind the Bush administration’s income tax cut (that Democrats claim has benefited only the nation’s wealthiest citizens) and apply the windfall to his social programs, together with revenues from a slight tax rate increase for those earning more than $250,000. The increase would secure Social Security—without cuts and raising the retirement age—and finance his ambitious national health care proposal.

    Although seniors already enjoy universal health care through Medicare, Obama argues that the program requires some tweaking because “catastrophic expenses” were “routine” and that, as currently applied, Medicare benefits do not cover expenses for most long-term care. His goal, he told the AARP, was to ensure that the program “protect seniors and families from impoverishment and debt.”

    Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) and Obama’s positions are similar regarding the estate tax—sometimes referred to by the Bush administration as the “death tax.” Both candidates would retain a reduced version of the estate tax, although McCain would reduce it more than Obama, according to Factcheck.org and Snopes.com.

    The Democratic candidate has proposed to apply the tax only to estates valued at more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples), holding the maximum rate at 45 percent. McCain would apply it to estates worth more than $5 million ($10 million for couples), with a maximum rate of 15 percent.

    Unlike Obama, McCain would renew the Bush income tax cut when it expires, which the Republicans believe will give citizens more cash to choose their own health care coverage options, should they use their rebate to pay for it.

    The McCain attitude shaping policy—and that of the Republican Party, generally—is that seniors can manage their own lives without the intervention of government and that they should be free to choose their own way to solve many of these concerns. The Republican Party would not offer income-tax relief to seniors with incomes less than $50,000. The GOP believes that seniors already get federal help through Social Security and Medicare and often have economic advantages over other demographic groups.

    It should be noted that McCain is a major proponent of privatizing Social Security, a program he termed “disgraceful” this summer, touching off protests by seniors at his campaign appearances in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

    For seniors requiring expensive long-term care, McCain would privatize services and leave choices to individuals. He is a proponent of recent state-based experiments such as Cash and Counseling or the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, through which seniors are granted a monthly stipend from which they can choose to pay home-care workers and purchase care-related services and goods.

    McCain told AARP that eldercare matters should be decided within families and that “any way we can help caregivers” offset costs through tax credits or other financial incentives should be considered as “part of an overall policy regarding health care.”

    How the senior vote will affect the presidential race in November is still a matter of debate. In 2004, voters ages 65 and older went Republican for the first time in years, backing President Bush more heavily than the rest of the electorate. Many of today’s seniors were influenced by Reagan conservatism, according to analysts in both parties, and they’re better off financially than the Roosevelt-era seniors, a fact that may favor the current Republican candidate.

    Both campaigns are comin’ a courtin’ the senior vote. Obama has appointed a national seniors constituency director and the McCain campaign has launched an effort to encourage seniors to talk to their peers. States with the largest proportion of seniors based on total population—Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa—are considered “swing states,” meaning that pensioners could very well influence the outcome of the national election.

    How well informed senior voters will be is perhaps the most important issue of all.

    Stanley Mieses is a writer, editor and broadcast commentator based in New York.

    Don’t run Republican Jewish Coalition ads, pro-Israel group J Street tells Jewish newspapers


    WASHINGTON (JTA)—A campaign by a new dovish pro-Israel group to get Jewish newspapers not to run Republican Jewish Coalition attack ads has raised questions about what’s kosher and what isn’t in this fraught political season.

    The new group, ” alt=”ALTTEXT” width=”482″ height=”471″ />

    McCain for America — and Israel


    As a patriotic Jewish American, I care deeply about Israel’s wellbeing and security, as well as that of our own country. In having to choose between the two presidential candidates, I find myself looking closely at their statements, record of accomplishments and the people

    who advise them now and those they were influenced by in the past. I do this with America’s future foremost in mind and what we could expect their policies would mean to Israel going forward. This measuring rod is critically important in the face of the unprecedented national security challenges that we will face in the next few years.

    Today, the choice for the pro-Israel community is clear — Sen. John McCain is the one. I regret that my choice is not shared by more of my co-religionists, but I believe that too many fail to appreciate the growing menace of Islamic extremism to the United States and Israel, voting Democratic more out of habit than self-interest or deep conviction.

    I realize that for many Jewish Americans, Israel’s and America’s safety and security appear to be a lower priority than certain social issues, such as preserving abortion rights. I’ve heard this expressed often by those who sincerely feel that the next president’s Supreme Court appointments are more crucial than how a president will face up to the jihadist threat to Israel and the United States. If McCain had made the abortion issue a defining one of his public life, then this concern might have some validity. But this is not the case. Instead, McCain has focused his energies on issues pertaining to our national security and understands how to deal with the threat to America and free peoples around the world.

    Sen. Barack Obama might be the choice of those Jewish Americans who have an “it’s all Israel’s fault” mentality and who feel anti-Semitism today is the result of Israel’s own actions. But for Jews who are troubled by the moral equivalence argument sustained by our State Department and some mainstream media like The New York Times, it is time to review a predilection to support Obama because he is a Democrat and seriously consider voting for McCain.

    In my years in Washington going back to my first job in the JFK administration, I have worked for a liberal Democratic congressman and a liberal Democratic Senator. But I am much more closely aligned today with the diminishing number of Democrats who are considered centrists of the Joe Lieberman-Henry “Scoop” Jackson variety. The loudest voices now in the Democratic Party belong to the Michael Moores, Dennis Kuciniches and the moveon.org progressive types who are enamored with Obama.

    When Lieberman, now an independent Democrat, endorsed McCain for president, he said, “I have worked with Sen. McCain on just about every national security issue over the past 20 years…. I have seen Sen. McCain time and time again rise above the negativism and pettiness of our politics to get things done for the country he loves so much.”

    This resonates with me and contrasts starkly with the shallow background and thin resume of McCain’s opponent. Obama’s boosters credit him with transcending race and by extrapolation, everything else, including divisions of region, class, party, generation and ideology. But his very lean record in the Senate to date indicates none of this. Aside from winning elections and writing two books about himself, what accomplishments can he point to?

    Comparisons between Obama and the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy also come up short. Actually, it is McCain, not Obama, who, like Kennedy, was commissioned as a naval officer, awarded the Purple Heart and decorated for helping his comrades. And McCain, much like JFK, has pledged to fight for freedom around the world and not to retreat from our enemies. This is certainly what we need today, more than meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

    Many in Congress have excellent Israel-related voting records. Obama, in his very brief career, is among them. But some of these same legislators also appear reluctant to confront the growing menace of Islamofacism and the threat it presents to America’s vital interests in the Middle East and to Israel’s survival. Only one presidential candidate repeatedly states that “the transcendent challenge we face today is the menace of Islamic extremism.” McCain asserts this to all kinds of audiences and at all times. McCain offers a clear choice to voters on Nov. 4, as he acknowledged the grim reality of today’s world.

    One can respect Obama for his ambition, his meteoric rise and his rhetorical skills. But his equivocation on issues like Jerusalem, public campaign financing and the success of the surge in Iraq are disturbing, as is his approach to dealing with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    When not scripted, he has spoken of the “legitimate grievances” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Also worrisome is his ultraliberal voting record in the short time he has served in the U.S. Senate. He has been ranked as having the “most liberal” voting record in the entire U.S. Senate — a record that does not fit with one who claims to be a “unifier.” A unifier might be expected to come from the middle of a party, the place that gave us the constructive and bipartisan Senate “Gang of 14,” which forged a compromise on judicial appointments. Obama was nowhere to be seen in that group. And it is McCain, not Obama, who has pledged to appoint members of both parties to his presidential Cabinet.

    Another primary concern is Obama’s meager national security record. Instead of arriving at well-established positions through years of intensive deliberation and consideration, he will have to rely more heavily on a group of advisers — some 300 by his own count. Given both the backgrounds of several of the more permanent people who have counseled him to date and the endorsements he has received from an infamous list of Israel bashers, this is surely not a promising sign. One speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee cannot make up for off-the-cuff remarks that paint an entirely different picture.

    If one believes we live in a very dangerous world with unprecedented challenges, the choice before the American people and the Jewish community should be an easy one. On that fabled “day one,” Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, China, global terrorism, Middle East oil and, almost incidentally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be at the top of the new president’s agenda. Given the two candidates’ records, experience and core values, the choice for the pro-Israel community and the American people should not be a difficult one. McCain for president.

    Morris J. Amitay, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and founder of the pro-Israel Washington PAC (www.washingtonpac.com).

    Why I support Barack Obama


    It is highly unusual for me to be speaking out politically.

    I have worked for Republican and Democratic presidents alike. I was a political appointee during the Reagan administration, serving on the National Security Council staff in the White House. I held a senior position in the

    State Department during George H. W. Bush’s presidency. And, I was Bill Clinton’s Middle East peace negotiator — also a senior appointee position.

    I have been largely nonpartisan, living the ideal that politics stopped at the water’s edge, and foreign policy should somehow be above politics. So why am I now speaking out and calling on others to support Sen. Barack Obama?

    Put simply, because the stakes are so high. For one thing, the financial meltdown has huge implications for our place in the world. We cannot be strong internationally if we are weak at home, with an economy in crisis. Our next president must understand the global economy and financial markets — and be able to inspire confidence at home and abroad. But he must do so at a time when our standing in the world has, at least in my memory, never been lower.

    While we must never rely on anyone else to do for us what we must do for ourselves in national security, there are multiple threats today that we cannot resolve without the cooperation of others. In fact, when it comes to preventing the worst weapons from falling into the worst hands or defeating apocalyptic terror groups or coping with global health challenges or stopping global warming or avoiding an international depression, we cannot do everything on our own. We need others internationally to accept our objectives and be prepared to join their means to ours.

    When I was with Obama in Berlin and more than 200,000 people turned out in the heart of Europe to wave American flags, this was an extraordinary development. It reminded us that an American leader who is admired can lead not only our country but also make it easier for others to follow our lead. And, when I look at the Middle East — where we face our greatest threats today — we need others to follow our lead in stopping Iran from going nuclear and discrediting radical Islamists.

    Today, we are in trouble in the Middle East. Everywhere we look — whether in the Gulf, Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza and the West Bank — we see Iran challenging American interests and allies. Iran uses coercion and intimidation — using groups like Hezbollah and Hamas — to weaken existing regimes and to employ terror. It is Iran that arms these groups and threatens Israel on a daily basis.

    Consider what has happened to Israel’s strategic position during the course of the Bush administration. In 2001, Iran was not a nuclear power, but it is today. It could not enrich uranium then but it does so now and has already stockpiled several-hundred kilos of low-enriched uranium — about half of what it would need for its first nuclear bomb. The Bush policy on Iran has failed, and unless the next president can change Iranian behavior, Israel will face an existential threat. It already faces a dramatically different threat from what it faced seven years ago from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

    Hezbollah now has a veto power over any decision the Lebanese government can make and possesses 40,000 rockets — and those rockets are not only three times as many as it had only two years ago but are more accurate and have longer range than the ones that hit Israel in the summer of 2006. Hamas has taken over Gaza, creating a miniterror state there and today has over 2,000 rockets.

    Israel cannot afford four more years of seeing the threats grow against it. It cannot afford four more years of U.S. policies that are tough rhetorically but soft practically. It cannot afford four more years of America being on the sidelines diplomatically.

    When I was in Israel a few weeks ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Sheikh Hamid of Qatar were all visiting Damascus, and Israelis asked me who was there watching out for Israel’s interests? Similarly, who was there to watch out for Israel’s interests when Qatar brokered the understanding that gave Hezbollah a veto over any Lebanese decision after the fighting in May? Israel can surely watch out for its own interests in the indirect negotiations that Turkey is mediating between Israel and Syria, but will Turkey be as concerned for Israel’s interests as America would be?

    It should come as no surprise that when America sits on the sidelines in the Middle East, it creates a diplomatic vacuum, and others invariably fill it. Since the Bush administration would not engage Iran, the Europeans have taken the lead on the diplomacy. While their efforts have been serious and genuine, it is clear that they have not generated the pressure that America in the lead might have produced — and absent that pressure and absent the Iranians being forced to make a choice, Iran will not change its behavior.

    I was with Obama in Israel and in Europe, and I saw how he focused on the urgency of the Iranian threat. I saw how he used his discussions in Israel to remind the European leaders that Israelis are justified in seeing Iran with nuclear weapons as an existential threat — and that for Israel’s sake and our own we must put far more pressure on Iran if we are to stop it from going nuclear.

    Obama understands that weak sticks and weak carrots — the current policy — can’t work. We need strong sticks to concentrate the Iranian mind on what they stand to lose, and we need strong carrots, conveyed directly, to show the Iranians they have something to gain by giving up their nuclear weapon pursuit. And, if in the end diplomacy fails, the fact that we engaged directly and Iran was unwilling to alter its behavior creates a very different context for tougher options.

    Engaging without illusions might be one way to describe how diplomacy would be conducted in an Obama administration. Just like with Iran, he would engage on Arab-Israeli peace. Not because he knows it will produce peace, but because he again understands the consequences of disengagement. Who gained when the Bush administration walked away from peace making for more than six years and then in its last years pursued it incompetently? Hamas, because like all radical Islamists, they gain when there is hopelessness and frustration. Who lost? Those in the Arab and Palestinian world who favor a two-state solution but need the possibility of peace to make their case and to have the political space to build their authority.

    It is my Middle Eastern hat and my attachment to Israel that ultimately inspires my support for Obama. I saw first hand his appreciation for Israel’s predicament, its needs and his instinctive and emotional commitment to the relationship. But more than this, I know he understands that neither Israel nor America can afford four more years of Iran and the radical Islamists gaining strategic leverage in the Middle East. Slogans won’t prevent that. A fixation on Iraq won’t prevent that. But a leader who understands how to use all the elements of American power, revitalize that power and influence and get others to follow us in order to ensure we win the battle for hearts and minds will be able to do so.

    In this election, it is clear to me that Obama is that leader.

    Dennis Ross served as President Bill Clinton’s Middle East negotiator and President George H.W. Bush’s head of policy planning in the State Department. He gives advice to the Barack Obama presidential campaign and recently accompanied Sen. Obama on his trip to the Middle East and Europe.

    With the Republican base on the ropes, all eyes are on Florida — again


    Most Jews live in three states, two of which, New York and California, are already in the bank for Sen. Barack Obama.

    It’s the third one, Florida, that has the presidential campaigns in a frenzy. There are roughly 650,000 Jews in Florida, out of 18 million residents. Concentrated in South Florida in three counties (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade), they are older, high-turnout voters with whom the Democrats have a big edge.

    This is familiar territory. Unless tens of thousands of Jews had a sudden epiphany in 2000 that revealed Pat Buchanan to be a friend of the Jews, Al Gore won the election with a groundswell of Jewish votes that were interpreted incorrectly because of the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County.

    In 2000 we didn’t know how important Florida Jews were until it was too late. In 2008, elderly Florida Jews are political rock stars. Sarah Silverman has a ” target=”_blank”>Jackie Mason has recorded an online countervideo to make the Republican case. Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has had two segments featuring a ” target=”_blank”>making calls to Jewish voters that in all innocence ask if it would bother the voter to “know” that Obama has supported the PLO. That this stuff works is testimony to the challenge of a young black candidate, not yet well-known in the Jewish community, and to the complex undertow of recent black-Jewish tensions. Remember that many Florida Jews moved there from New York City, with its long and difficult history of black-Jewish conflict.

    Indeed Florida itself seemed out of reach for Obama until a few weeks ago. But as in all the battleground states, the Wall Street crash and bailout transformed the campaign and a raft of new polls give Obama a small but significant lead in Florida.

    If Obama wins Florida’s 27 electoral votes, it’s over. If Sen. John McCain holds Florida, he still has a chance. So it looks as if Florida and its Jewish bloc are back in play.

    The surrogates are all over the place, with Sen. Joe Lieberman plugging McCain and Obama pulling in former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Florida Rep. Robert Wexler and Middle East expert Dennis Ross. Joe Biden is very popular with Florida Jews, and he is pulling his weight. With the advantage of the Republican brand, and McCain’s own familiarity, he does not need as many surrogates as Obama.

    So why did McCain’s economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, pick this moment to tell the Wall Street Journal that McCain plans to pay for his health care plan by taking blocks of money from Medicare and Medicaid? Politically, this makes no sense in Florida, where an attack on Medicare, joined to McCain’s support for private accounts in Social Security, could shake loose thousands of older voters.

    McCain is on a precipice with those voters, many of whom are trying to decide whether to take a risk on the unfamiliar and cast a vote for the young black guy instead of the older white guy everybody knows. The older the voter, the more difficult the decision. Why then would McCain make it an easy choice?

    I imagine that while Holtz-Eakin spoke accurately, his timing reflects the chaos within the McCain campaign, especially in regards to economic policy. But the substantive explanation might lie in the pressure on McCain to explain his health care plan, under which he proposed to provide tax credits for Americans to buy private insurance while removing the tax deduction for employer-based health care.

    This approach leaves the taxpayer paying more in payroll taxes for the pleasure of navigating the private market (with its well-known aversion to insuring anybody who might someday get sick or is sick now). So the McCain people said that there would be no payroll tax increase. But how to pay for the new tax credit? Thus the decision to take it from Medicare and Medicaid. From their standpoint, they get to further the privatization of health care and still avoid the charge (fatal with the Republican base) of raising taxes.

    Put more simply, it seemed safer to risk losing older voters in Florida than to risk the Republican brand of no new taxes, hoping that those Floridians won’t have heard about the interview or will believe when told that Holtz-Eakin was talking out of turn, or will just be confused because the whole thing comes across as such a complex muddle.

    Because, if the McCain camp doesn’t find a way around this, how can it continue to attack Obama for raising taxes?

    The problem for any Republican nominee is that what pleases the base (e.g. Sarah Palin, privatization, lower taxes) may end up turning off everybody else. If McCain loses Florida, that may be the lesson for his party. The base can never be fed enough.

    McCain would have probably been better off with no health care plan rather than one that eviscerates employer-based insurance and cuts Medicare and Medicaid. But it’s too late now.

    Now, the question is whether the Obama campaign can boil down for Florida voters the peril to Social Security and Medicare from a McCain-Palin administration. This is a job for Bill Clinton, the one Democrat who can reduce complex policy issues to a story about a frog sitting on a fence post. Clinton really hurt Paul Tsongas on the Social Security issue in the 1992 Florida Democratic primary.

    The Republicans meanwhile plan to push farther and deeper into the attacks on Obama as a “friend of terrorists,” as a “different kind of American” and more. It is already ugly out on the campaign trail, and reporters in the field are feeling the heat of the rising anger of a Republican base on the ropes.

    This is Florida 2008. Fasten your seat belts.

    Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is spending the semester in Paris as the Fulbright-Tocqueville Chair at the University of Paris VIII.

    Gotcha? You betcha!


    John McCain and Sara Palin have been complaining that there’s too much “gotcha journalism” going around.

    If only.

    When they say “gotcha journalism,” what they’re really trying to do, of course, is to demonize journalism itself — to de-legitimize asking tough questions, and following up with more tough questions when the answers are mealy-mouth evasions, and holding politicians accountable when they inadvertently emit a truth.

    McCain says gotcha journalism is reporting that Palin, at a public event, told a voter her thoughts about attacking terrorist targets in Pakistan — which inconveniently is the same view that McCain is excoriating Obama for holding.

    The McCain camp cried gotcha journalism when Charles Gibson asked Palin whether she agrees with the Bush Doctrine, and when Katie Couric asked her what Supreme Court cases she disagrees with, and when Gwen Ifill asked her about the powers of the vice president. But I didn’t hear Republicans complain about gotcha journalism when debate moderator George Stephanopoulos twice asked Obama, “Does Reverend Wright love America as much as you do?”

    If gotcha journalism means asking presidential candidates which of their dreams will have to be deferred because of the $700 billion bailout, as a frustrated Jim Lehrer did again and again, then maybe we need more of that kind of questioning, not less.

    We certainly could have used more gotcha journalism during the decade leading up to the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression.

    In 1999, when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, letting commercial banks go into the investment banking and insurance businesses, the country would have been a lot better off if the mainstream media had paid gotcha attention to the downside of deregulation, instead of being obsessed by the mythical Y2K bug.

    In 2000, when Senator Phil Gramm slipped a measure forbidding the SEC and the CFTC from regulating credit default swaps into the omnibus spending bill, imagine if the press had blown the whistle on that lobbyist-owned legislator taking advantage of the final moments of a lame-duck session of Congress instead of focusing single-mindedly on the hanging chads story.

    In 2003, when Alan Greenspan told global investors that he was going to keep the Fed Funds rate at an unappetizing one percent, thus opening the global floodgates to the mortgage backed securities industry, just think what might have happened if the surge in no-income-no-asset mortgages had been covered as intensely as the goings-on at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

    In 2006, when the size of the global collateralized debt obligation market approached $2 trillion, with Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia becoming the top CDO underwriters, consider how investigative journalism might have revealed the fatal vulnerability of those houses to toxic assets when the housing bubble would inevitably burst, rather than spending its energies falsely convicting the Duke lacrosse team of rape.

    In 2007, when the subprime mortgage fiasco hit, think how things might have played out differently at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if cable news had spent as much time covering the liquidity crisis as it did the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

    In 2008, when SEC chairman Chris Cox told the Senate Banking Committee that he wanted no increased authority and no increased budget to oversee conflict-of-interest riddled credit rating agencies like Moody’s, what if the consequences of Cox’s emergency ban on naked short-selling – bizarrely lasting only one month and affecting only 19 companies — had been pursued as aggressively as the first photos of the Brangelina twins?

    We could have used a whole lot more gotcha journalism about Wall Street and banking deregulation than most people regularly encountered over the past decade. And we would have been better served as citizens if terms like “naked short selling” and “mark-to-market” and the rest of the gobbledygook now haunting us had long ago become part of the minimum daily dose of financial literacy delivered to us by the news media.

    The exceptions to this journalistic inability to know what’s important, and to explain what’s difficult, are worth celebrating. Chief among them are public radio programs like “>Planet Money, and public radio reporters like “>Adam Davidson.

    There’s no better way for a lay person to understand the current crisis than by listening to two episodes of This American Life – ““>Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” which aired last weekend. And while you’re at it, check out the ““>two

    Shame on Rabbis for Obama, hooray for Amy Klein, thanks for Marty Kaplan


    Online Dating Addict

    True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict” — “Cathy” it’s not (Sept. 26). It’s brilliant, and one of the smartest singles columns I’ve read. I love reading each week’s adventure. Klein’s journey is familiar, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. This strip is so innovative, and I can’t think of another comic or column like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up with a following like “Bridget Jones Diary,” which also started as a weekly column. I hope you continue to publish it for a long time, barring Amy meeting her “Prince Charming” online.

    Alycia Witzling
    Los Angeles

    Rabbis for Obama

    I take exception with the group “Rabbis for Obama” (“Rabbis for Obama Seen As First in American Politics,” Sept. 19). When one obtains the title of rabbi, he is obligated to keep religion and state separate. A rabbi is not just an ordinary citizen. His public statements carry a subliminal message that all Jews think as he does. The separation of church and state is the foundation for religious freedom in our great country. Shame on you Rabbis for Obama.

    Hershey Gold
    via e-mail

    Economic Atonement

    God has a sense of irony (“The Crash,” Sept. 26).

    In the next few days, we’ll conclude the Shmita year, the seven-year agricultural cycle. Among the rules of the of the Shmita year, at the end of the one, all debts are nullified.

    In the past few months and weeks, and especially the past few days, we have witnessed the collapse of many financial behemoths, and the devaluation of hundred of billions of dollars of debt instruments. Many hundreds of billions of dollars of debt are being wiped off the books.

    In a similar vein, Jewish law prohibits charging interest on loans. There was something unseemly about making money from money. Thus, at the same time as massive loans are being written off, we are observing a free fall of our economy due from many obscure, and obtuse, derivative financial instruments (such as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations), which brought about the redundant pledging and excessive leveraging of financial instruments.

    Interest on a loan was the first step that led to derivative financial instruments.

    God indeed has a sense of irony.

    Jeffrey Rabin
    via e-mail

    Presidential Politics

    I must commend The Journal for the two informative articles on Sarah Palin (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” “Sarah Palin, Chabad Share Same Appeal,” Sept. 19).
    However, I cannot believe that not a single letter in favor of the articles was received.

    Allow me to correct this discrepancy by saying that the articles were superb illustrations of a uniquely capable woman.

    Larry Schlesinger
    Encino

    Two McCain advisers recently stated that a McCain administration wouldn’t “actively [engage] in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” (“McCain Advisers: ‘No’ to Syria Talks,” Sept. 26).

    Not only has a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict been the consensus position of the U.S. government for the last 10 years, but more than 70 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution, according to a recent poll commissioned by the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street. It is unclear what McCain seeks to gain by taking such an unpopular position.

    Real peace and security for Israel and the United States will only come through a negotiated end to the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and either of these peace agreements are unlikely to happen without strong leadership from an American president.

    We need a president who understands this basic fact.

    Cathy Colloff
    Toluca Lake

    Post-Palin Depression

    Since Marty Kaplan believes Democrats are far more educated than Republicans, who he says embody the antithesis of intellectual pursuit, he might benefit from learning a short history lesson he obviously missed during his academic career: That the senior Nazi officials attending the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 held advanced university degrees, including doctorates (“Post-Palin Depression,” Sept. 12).

    Apparently being highly educated and cultured did not prevent them from enacting the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

    While Kaplan is entitled to his misguided beliefs, he should realize that those of us who support McCain-Palin, especially in liberal territory, must do a lot of research to back up our views.

    It doesn’t take a genius to realize many highly degreed professors on the left are babbling fools, while lacking a college degree is no barrier to possessing common sense.

    Leslie Fuhrer Friedman
    Venice

    Rosh Hashanah and Change

    Marty Kaplan evoked all the feelings and thinking that I’ve been stumbling to communicate — to my friends on both the left and the right (“Is Change Possible,” Sept. 26).

    Our tradition and our government both offer us a mirror to reflect and an opportunity to transform what we don’t like. Of course, Kaplan said so much more, so much better. Still I wanted to let him know I’m profoundly moved and grateful for his eloquence.

    So what are you working on now?

    Bett Lujan Martinez.
    Executive Director
    The Possible Society of CA

    Tashlich on the Beach

    To set the historical record straighter concerning Tashlich on the beach (“Best Tashlich Custom Is a Toss-Up,” Sept. 26).

    In 1985, when our rabbi, Jeffrey Marx, arrived at Santa Monica Synagogue, he brought 60 of us to the edge of the water on Rosh Hashanah to toss away our sins.

    Over the years, in addition to meditations and music, we have written our sins on helium balloons and then released them up into the heavens; recorded them on edible paper which we fed to a live scapegoat; put them in a collection bag held by a scuba diver who came up out of the sea; and built a Western Wall of sand onto which we scratched our sins.

    For more than two decades, we have freely shared our Tashlich ideas and services with other Los Angeles congregations. Now, each year, as more than 800 of us gather on the beach, we kvell that Jewish communities from Malibu down to Venice, from Agoura to as far east as Hollywood, have followed our example.

    Lori Daitch
    Director of Education
    The Santa Monica Synagogue

    StandWithUs Responds

    The five academics sidestepped the issues we raised, instead focusing on issues we didn’t raise (Letters, Sept. 19). Our concern was never traditional anti-Semitism on campuses, but rather anti-Zionism, which distorts facts to demonize and incite prejudice against Israel and its supporters, a well-documented trend in academia.

    Dissenting faculty — let alone students — have difficulty speaking out for fear of ostracism and possible penalties in their reputations, grades, promotions and opportunities for publication, grants and participation on academic committees and review and editorial boards. Yet, these five academics take refuge in speaking about “negligible anti-Semitism,” thereby denying the painful experiences of many students and faculty — in effect, abandoning them.

    Our attempts to cooperate have repeatedly resulted in the attitude expressed in their letter — they alone know about campus life, and campuses are their exclusive turf.

    They disrespectfully dismissed 20,000 SPME [Scholars for Peace in the Middle East] academics, StandWithUs and students and other faculty at UCLA and across the country who believe the problem is serious. The five should at least have the modesty to admit they do not represent all students and faculty and perhaps are unaware of some information available to others.

    People can interpret situations differently. Consider UCLA. Several professors continue promoting their anti-Zionist agenda in and outside the classroom and under the guise of “Middle East history” courses with no history courses offered with alternative perspectives. On Yom HaZikaron in May 2008, students on Bruin Walk encountered a mock “apartheid wall” covered with photos of IDF soldiers aiming their guns at Palestinian women and children.

    The five academics may believe these incidents have no short- or long-term impact, and should be ignored. StandWithUs respectfully disagrees, but recognizes that this debate is important and has been occurring on many campuses. Therefore, in a spirit of cooperation, we invite the five to a private and/or public discussion about these issues.

    Roz Rothstein,
    International Director
    Roberta Seid
    Director of Research/Education
    StandWithUs

    Sarah Palin

    David Suissa’s praise for Sarah Palin, “A likable adrenalin junkie,” “folksy charm” (unlike Hillary’s “steely demeanor”), “flirting with her husband,” a woman who can cause a tough Israeli war hero to “fall under her spell,” was certainly fitting if she was an “American Idol” contestant (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” Sept. 19).

    But Palin is running for the second highest office in our land, one that is, literally, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

    What does Suissa have to say about her total lack of foreign policy and national experience? She’s a “quick study.” She has enough “street smarts” (how about education and experience?) “to quickly improve herself.” But this is the running of a country that we’re talking about here not a local business. The issues now facing our nation are far too serious and complicated for on-the-job training.

    This is not the time for any candidate for high office to begin their studies.

    Our tradition teaches us: “Don’t look at the container but what’s inside of it.”

    Suissa and all of us would be better served by looking at the political track record and experience of our candidates, not their looks and personalities.

    Rabbi Jeff Marx
    Santa Monica

    Now that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s running mate, has visited the United Nations and met with representatives of several countries, the McCain campaign can claim that she has international relations experience with countries in addition to Russia, the “neighbor” she understands well because she can see it from Alaska.

    No doubt, meeting some world leaders, even for the first time, makes her well-qualified to become vice president and to be just a heart beat away from the presidency. In fact, whenever the issue of Palin’s experience for the position arises, McCain’s campaign spokesmen respond immediately that she has more “executive” experience than Sen. Barack Obama.

    However, since when does having been in an administrative position guarantee that the individual has developed or demonstrated the qualities essential to being an effective executive? After eight years, is there anyone who still believes that George W. Bush’s executive experience as governor of Texas qualified him to be president?

    Given Obama’s extensive educational background and varied work experiences — graduation from Columbia University and Harvard University School of Law, a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, a two-term Illinois State senator, a first-term U.S. senator and almost two years on the campaign trail, he has already demonstrated the leadership, organizational, problem solving and prudent decision making abilities essential to being an effective executive. In a word, there is simply no contest between the experiences of Palin compared with those of Obama.

    As David Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column, “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

    Rachel Galperin
    Encino

    The debates won’t matter


    Let me hedge my bet.

    At the vice presidential debate, the talking points Sarah Palin’s handlers have been stuffing her head with will come out of her mouth so butchered that even Republican voters will say, like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”: “The horror, the horror!”

    Or, at one of the remaining presidential debates, a contemptuously smirking John McCain will finally become so enraged by having to share a stage with Barack Obama that he will pop his notorious cork right there in front of a hundred million Americans.

    Or maybe Obama or Joe Biden will goof or gaffe or otherwise give such a bloody bit of chum to the media sharks that the gazillionth replay of the sound bite will drive every swing voter in the country away from them. But I don’t think so.

    Sure, cable yakkers will declare after each debate who won on points, and who on body language; who played Nixon, and who played Kennedy; who won their focus groups of undecideds, and who flatlined with them.

    But my guess is that the prestige press headlines will continue to play it safe, as they did after the first debate — “candidates clash” (New York Times), “differ sharply” (Los Angeles Times), “quarrel” (Washington Post) — and that on television, it will be concluded that no one delivered a knockout blow, which will require audiences to remain in suspense, and therefore to keep tuning in, until the photo-finish end.

    This election won’t be won or lost at the debates. Nor will it be determined by the two campaigns’ “ground games” — their get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor, unfortunately, will its outcome even depend on how many Americans wake up on Election Day intending to vote for one candidate or the other.

    Instead, my fear is that the Electoral College results will hang on the swing state voting systems’ vulnerability to sabotage.

    It’s already happening.

    In El Paso County, Colo., the county clerk — a delegate to the Republican National Convention — told out-of-state undergraduates at Colorado College, falsely, that they couldn’t vote in Colorado if their parents claim them as dependents on their taxes.

    In the towns of Mount Pleasant and Middleton, Wisc., Democratic voters received a mailing containing tear-out requests for absentee ballots pre-addressed to the wrong addresses. Both mailers were sent by the McCain campaign.

    Florida, Michigan and Ohio have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates. “Because many homeowners in foreclosure are black or poor,” The New York Times says, “and are considered probable Democratic voters in many areas, the issue has begun to have political ramifications.”

    If you’re one of the million Americans who lost a home through foreclosure, and if you didn’t file a change of address with your election board, you’re a sitting duck for an Election Day challenge by a partisan poll watcher holding a public list of foreclosed homes. In states like New Mexico and Iowa, the number of foreclosures is greater than the number of votes by which George W. Bush carried the state in 2004.

    In the 2006 election, according to the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, black voters in Virginia got computer-generated phone calls from a bogus “Virginia Election Commission” telling them that they could be arrested if they went to the wrong polling place; in Maryland, out-of-state leafleters gave phony Democratic sample ballots to black voters with the names of Republican candidates checked in red; in New Mexico, Democratic voters got personal phone calls from out of state that directed them to the wrong polling place.

    Does anyone think this won’t be tried again in 2008?

    The reason behind Alberto Gonzales’ attempted purge of U.S. Attorneys was that some of them wouldn’t knuckle under to Karl Rove’s plan to concoct an “election fraud” hoax that would put Republicans in control of the nation’s voting lists.

    “We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today,” Rove falsely told the Republican National Lawyers Association, an evidence-less problem crying out for a draconian solution. Does anyone think that Rove’s move from the White House to Fox has dampened Republican ardor for this ruse?

    And if all of that doesn’t alarm you, consider the new report on electronic voting systems from the Computer Security Group at the UCSB, which concluded that “all voting systems recently analyzed by independent security testers have been found to contain fatal security flaws that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting process….

    Unless electronic voting systems are held up to standards that are commensurate with the criticality of the tasks they have to perform, the very core of our democracy is in danger.”

    And did I mention that on Election Day, some polling places in minority precincts in battleground states will be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that so many people want to vote that it will take hours of standing in line to vote? That is, of course, unless they run out of ballots.

    So while the presidential and vice presidential debates will make for swell political theater, the likelihood is that victory will be determined not by how the debates move a small percentage of undecided Americans off the fence, but by the voting experiences of a few thousand voters in a few swing states on Nov. 4.

    Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

    I think he had it half right.

    Those who decide who cast the votes also decide everything.