Is Obama’s presidency done?

Is it too early to declare Barack Obama’s presidency a failure?  It seems to be the talk of Washington pundits lately and a new poll showed a clear majority thinks so.

When Obama came on the scene, I like others, warned that someone who had pretty much done nothing of significance short of giving a great speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and that alone did not show any gravitas, was not a good choice to be leader of the free world and commander in chief.

Before I continue, let me say this.  Although I did not vote for Obama, either time, I think it was a great thing for the country to elect a black president.  And because it was so historically significant, I even recorded his first inauguration, and I still have the tape.

But by the same token, I will also say, I get very tired of people who accuse critics of the president of being mentally deficient in some way, unpatriotic or worse, racist.  And the word “racist” continues to be the excuse du jour of those who just can’t say, “Yeah, our guy screwed up.  Again.”  Are there bigots who castigate Obama because he is black?  Of course.  Every ethnic and religious group has their haters.  There are white racists and black racists, and Christian and yes, even Jewish racists.  But the histrionics of many liberals to find the race card every time Obama is denounced, and he deserves it, believe me, is way out of control.

When Obama started his presidency in 2009, his popularity was close to 70%, even higher in some polls.  Now it is in the low 40’s, sometimes lower.  Did 30% of the country all of a sudden become stupid, unpatriotic or heaven forbid, racist?  Is Jimmy Carter – and in my opinion, Obama is mimicking his ineptitude – who just criticized Obama for waiting too long to confront ISIS, a racist?  (Wow, when even Jimmy Carter thinks you are too slow to act forcefully, Barack, you have a problem.)  Is Leon Panetta, the well-respected and highly experienced public servant (Army veteran, Congressman, Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget Director and White House Chief of Staff, Obama’s CIA Director and Secretary of Defense), a racist?  It was OK to lambast both Bush’s and Ronald Reagan when they were president, and even call them racists (and a lot worse), but say Obama has screwed up, and well, you are a racist.  By the way, it is hard for some Democrats to label Panetta a racist so he is being called disloyal and even unpatriotic.  Right.  A guy who has devoted nearly his entire life to serving our country is unpatriotic.  And if he is being disloyal, good for him.  Loyalty to one’s country comes before loyalty to one’s boss.

[And I am sure we will hear more about the so-called “war on women” when Hillary Clinton finally ends her “tease tour” and officially announces her presidential candidacy.  I would like to remind all who support her of her own words, forcefully given, words that can be used now regarding the current president: “I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration, somehow you’re not patriotic.  We should stand up and say we are Americans, and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.”  Of course if Hillary becomes president, many who criticize her will be called misogynists rather than patriots.]

Look, both sides make ridiculous assertions when defending their own, and Republicans have had, and yes, do have, their own irrational and obstinate pols and supporters, but some people on the left are just so hysterically biased and unreasonable that it is impossible for them to be objective and fair.  They hurt their credibility when they yell, “Racism!” at every turn, and it only makes those who legitimately condemn the president and others, more angry and reactive, and the political discourse even more poisonous than what it should be in a normal democracy.

Has Obama done anything right?  Certainly he has.  And I will list a few things.  Ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden, even though I think any president would have, was a very good thing.  Increasing the drone attacks against terrorist targets another good thing.  Ordering the navy to kill Somali pirates back in 2009 who were holding the captain of a US cargo ship hostage, yep.  The surge in Afghanistan, although it took him way too long to approve and order it, and so, keeping and putting US troops there in danger.  Requesting funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.  And by the way, its development and initial funding was done by Israel itself.

But what else?  Our foreign policy is a mess; the list of mistakes and failures keeps growing.  And domestically, yikes.   Don’t get me started. Either Obama has done the wrong thing, domestic or foreign, not done or given up on doing the right thing, or just plain waited too long to do the right thing, as with ISIS.  And this newest mission is still confused and weak.  Obama’s incompetence is no surprise to me.  He did not have the right experience; in fact he had hardly any experience.  And he had had some very questionable associations to say the least.  Our president was just the “perfect storm” of a candidate in 2008.

As loyal as his base is to him, and the Democratic base is more loyal to their own than the Republican base, Obama has caused major damage to his party much like George W. Bush did to his.  The current president lost his House of Representatives majority because of Obamacare among other things in 2010, when the Republicans claimed victory in a landslide of 63 seats gained.  And he will lose his Senate majority, which could have already been in Republican hands had that party not fielded weak and even laughable candidates in the last couple election cycles.

In this election cycle, Democratic Senate (and other) candidates are doing their best to distance themselves from Obama.  He is so radioactive that a couple days ago, Kentucky’s Democratic Senate candidate even refused to say, when asked repeatedly, if she had voted for him.

And it’s not just Republicans chastising Obama.  Liberal pundits and other Democrats have been disapproving.  David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief campaign strategist said it was a mistake for the president to say that he may not be on the ballot this election cycle, but his policies are.  Sometimes, even the script shown on the teleprompters can be sloppy and not well prepared.

So is it too early to say Obama has had a failed presidency?  Yes, I think it is.  He has a couple more years to turn it around.  The odds are not in his favor considering how I think he just doesn’t care anymore.  I have said it almost from the start, and I will say it again, Obama wants to be president, he just doesn’t want to “do” president.  And I think the chances of him leaving as a successful leader are about as good as Joe Biden going two weeks without saying something insulting, offensive or just downright nonsensical.

Time will tell.

Capriles, grandson of Holocaust survivors, calling for recount after losing Venezuelan presidency

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, is calling for a recount after narrowly losing the country’s presidential election.

Nicolas Maduro, the acting president and the preferred successor of late President Hugo Chavez, was declared the winner of the April 14 election with 50.7 percent of the vote, compared to to 49.1 percent for Capriles, representing a difference of 235,000 ballots.

In calling for the recount, Capriles cited voting irregularities. He has not accepted Maduro’s declaration of victory, Reuters reported.

Obama garners 69 percent of Jewish vote in CNN exit poll

President Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote according to an exit poll.

The poll, posted on CNN's website, was commensurate with projections by preelection polls by Gallup, the American Jewish Committee, among others, that Obama would win between 65 and 70 percent of the Jewish vote.

Both parties blitzed Jewish voters in swing states, particularly Ohio and Florida, ahead of the election.

Jews constituted 2 percent of the overall CNN response group, but the network did not reveal the total number of people polled, so it was impossible to assess a margin of error.

Republicans noted the discrepancy between Tuesday's numbers and the 78 percent Obama garnered in 2008 exit polls.

Democrats, citing a more recent broader study of the 2008 results, now say Obama earned 74 percent of that year's Jewish vote, and suggested that Tuesday's showing was within the margin of error.

On social media, Republican and Democratic Jews argued over whether Tuesday night's results showed a substantial drop in Jewish support for Obama.

Two organizations — J Street and the Republican Jewish Coalition — planned to release separate exit polls on Wednesday morning.

2008: The contest for the Jews

With Hillary Rodham Clinton’s

Why George W. Bush?

“The clear choice for president of the United States for the American Jewish community is Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.” Four years ago in a similar article, I argued for our community to support then-Gov. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

I urge you to look back at what has transpired over the past 48 months. Now, as we approach the 2004 election, the choice we must make to support our president is even clearer.

“Americans are yearning for a bold, new leader with the courage of his convictions….” In 2000, we sought a strong leader to restore the luster of a tarnished presidency and with a clear vision for America. Less than a year later, we faced Sept. 11, 2001, and the voting public learned everything it needed to know about our president. In those hours, Bush truly became our commander-in-chief.

One issue in this election overwhelms all others — the Bush Doctrine. Our president stands by his unyielding commitment to fight the forces of international terrorism, regardless of how long it takes or how much it costs to achieve victory.

The tenets of the Bush Doctrine have a special meaning for American Jews. We have unique concerns that weigh into our voting choice.

Sure, we look to the election like most Americans, interested in the candidates’ plans for the economy, health care, Social Security and more. Yet we have an additional concern: our country’s special relationship with the State of Israel. Through that prism, our community best understands the message of Sept. 11.

Terror attacks against America and terror attacks against Israel stem from the same evil. We have known that for far too long, and it is Bush’s message to America.

Perhaps the most important trait our president exhibits to our country and to the world is that of a leader “with the courage of his convictions.” He does not straddle both sides of every issue, accommodating the whims of political pollsters and the Hollywood elite.

Bush is a proven man of conviction; he knows where he stands. And America’s enemies have no doubts about his sincerity or their futures when he is re-elected.

Four years ago I wrote, “When George W. Bush is president, America will not interfere in Israel’s democratic process … his support for Israel is not conditional on the outcome of the peace process.”

Republican or Democrat, friend or foe, from the White House to the State Department, no other elected leader or appointed staff has done more to respect Israel as a dependable ally, preserve her security, stand with her elected leaders and stand up to the terrorists in her neighborhood.

Most candidates are required to detail their promises, what they will do for our community and to support America’s special relationship with Israel.

More than any other president in our history, from Harry S. Truman to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton, Bush’s actions and achievements make these ongoing promises unnecessary. For our community, this president stands on his record.

If foreign policy and his response to Sept. 11 were all Bush had accomplished, dayenu! It’s very easy to think in terms of the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan as the sole defining events of the president’s term in office. But Bush’s entire record is one of a leader, who through executive initiatives, has produced real results.

Foreign policy is the first strength we attribute to Bush, and education reform is next. Four years ago, I wrote, “Under George Bush’s leadership, we can expect the nation’s public schools will be reformed.”

The No Child Left Behind Act, proposed three days after his inauguration, has brought that fundamental change to American education, giving disadvantaged children hope and opportunity that didn’t exist before.

Parents with children in failing schools have options to transfer them to better schools or receive tutoring. Student progress must now be measured and tested, and educational savings accounts allow parents to save — tax-free — for the schools of their choice to educate their children.

The president’s tax policy was critical to successfully ending the recession that began as he took office. In 2000, I urged you to support a candidate whose “tax plan will promote economic growth by cutting high marginal rates for all taxpayers, doubling the child credit, eliminating the death tax, reducing the marriage penalty and expanding educational savings accounts and charitable deductibility.” In the last four years, Bush delivered on each and every one of those campaign commitments.

This election, more than any other election since the Civil War, is about the critical choices we will make as an American community for our future. The world is watching what we do and who will lead our nation.

The world has changed in an essential way since the 2000 election — America has lost its innocence. Because of our history as a people, our community understands the importance of the fundamental decision we will make in November.

Bush has earned our trust and our votes to complete his responsibilities as our commander-in-chief.

Dan Cohen was a lobbyist at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (1985-92); he is currently an officer and vice president of global government affairs at Inamed Corp., a medical device company.

A Unique Sound

Considering where he’s been, it seemed unlikely that Craig Wyckoff would have been the man inducted on July 12 as president of Valley Outreach Synagogue (VOS).

The entertainment agent was once so disillusioned with Judaism that he flirted with Eastern religions, until his wife Mary reconnected him to Judaism.

Then again, second chances are what VOS is based on — the founders of the Canoga Park temple are recovering alcoholics.

The Temple’s new president, a principal at the Beverly Hills-based Epstein-Wyckoff-Corsa-Ross, reflects what congregants find unique about their temple: its interfaith contingent and its emphasis on music.

Wycoff was always drawn to music. It was what attracted him to Judaism and to entertainment.

"I’ve always loved music," said Wyckoff, 50, recalling his Dallas upbringing. "The first tune I ever heard was the ‘Kol Nidre.’ It moved me. I was in awe of it. From that day on, I wanted to do that."

And music is a big part of why Wyckoff has felt comfortable at VOS, where Cantor Ron Li-Paz and musical director Jack Bielan have, for years, employed music as a primary tool to make services more accessible at this Reform synagogue, which serves a broad demographic of Jewish, non-Jewish, converted and interfaith constituents. (Wyckoff’s wife of 15 years, Mary, is a practicing Greek Orthodox.)

Rabbi Jerry Fisher, the synagogue’s current spiritual leader, said that back in 1996 he helped Rabbi Richard Schachet to form a congregation that was "different than most," he said.

"People came to him and asked, ‘What are you doing for the holidays?’" Fisher recalled, "and [Schachet] said, ‘Well, I’m a rabbi on a cruise.’ And they said, ‘How about holding a service for us?’"

With just nine members, a "congregation" was born. Today, some 450 families gather most Shabbats at VOS, which occupies space at Kirk of the Valley Presbyterian. During the High Holy Days, with a congregation of about 1,500, VOS holds services at Shepherd of the Hills in Porter Ranch.

"The synagogue is run by volunteers," said Mickey Bilsky, immediate past president of the temple. "What we find is that the people are there because they choose to be there. It is due to their hard work that Valley Outreach is what it is."

What has attracted many members to VOS is the shul’s mission to make a difference, both through outreach and inclusion: SOVA Kosher Food Pantry, Valley Jewish Store Front, and various shelters for battered women, such as Women’s Care Cottage and Haven Hills, have been among the causes that VOS has supported. VOS will also co-sponsor the West Valley Community Health Expo on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills. Wyckoff and Richard Rice, VOS chair, recently assisted Nader and Mereille Manesh, owners of the Avant Garde clothing store, at their Shop to Support Israel fundraiser.

"They’re quite committed to the needs of Magen David in Israel," said Howard Parmet, executive director of Magen David Adom West.

Marlene Grossman, a three-time VOS dinner chair who, with husband Arthur, has been a member since 1995, loves the unique experience that the synagogue offers her family. Today, she drives all the way to Valencia to pick up her grandchildren and drive them to temple.

"They look forward to going," Grossman said. "It’s made them feel very Jewish, coming from a mixed-marriage. They have a sense of pride going there."

Wyckoff first visited VOS a decade ago on the advice of a neighbor of his in-laws when Wyckoff inquired about a good place where he could do yartzheit for his father. At the first meeting, Wyckoff got involved with the volunteer temple through its Ways and Means Committee, which Wyckoff later headed from 1995-2000. The temple named him Man of the Year in 1996, and he now brings his children, Michael, 8; James, 3; and Joy, 6 months to VOS.

"Craig is one of many very dedicated people who works very hard," Bilsky said. "He will bring dedication and fairness to do whatever is in the best interests of Valley Outreach Synagogue."

Wyckoff is looking forward to leading VOS as a "thank you" to the synagogue that helped him rekindle the joys of the Jewish experience.

"It’s going to be a big responsibility," Wyckoff said, "but I feel that it’s an honor."