New Hampshire Jews trust Bernie Sanders, but voting all over the map


Michael Harris probably isn’t your typical New Hampshire Republican.

A 71-year-old from Hollis and president of his synagogue in nearby Nashua, Harris isn’t sure who he would support if the general election came down to the two iconoclasts on either side, Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

While the brash real estate mogul running as a Republican and the independent lawmaker from Vermont seeking the Democratic nomination might seem like polar opposites, there are a couple of traits they share that appeal to Harris: their independent-mindedness and their New York bona fides – Trump grew up in Queens, Sanders in Brooklyn.

“There’s certain basic things about people from New York that they have in common philosophically, like liberalism on social issues,” Harris said. “Trump makes these outlandish comments, but a lot of his policies are sort of similar to Bernie Sanders’ policies. I might support Trump in the primary and Sanders in the general election.”

As the Granite State gears up for the nation’s first presidential primary on Feb. 9, America is paying close attention to the political proclivities of this state’s tiny population of 1.3 million. And like their non-Jewish neighbors, the political leanings of the state’s estimated 10,000 Jews are all over the map.

Ken Kowalchek, a Jew from Portsmouth who spent his life in the foreign service until his retirement not long ago, is an independent who plans to vote Republican – either for Sen. Ted Cruz or Ben Carson.

“They’re both brilliant, humble and truthful,” Kowalchek said. “I like Carson’s tax policy of tithing. That’s also in the Torah. I think everyone should contribute something, even the poorest.”

The New Hampshire election makes for great political theater not just because of its place on the primary calendar, but because it’s one of the few states where independent voters – known here as undeclared – can vote in either party’s primary (but just one). With more independent voters in New Hampshire than either registered Democrats or Republicans, that can make for an unpredictable result.

While many independents vote for their favored candidate, some try to game the system by casting ballots for their opponent of choice – aiming to weaken the political opposition to their favored candidate. Roberta, a Jewish voter in her 60s from Swanzey and one of New Hampshire’s undeclareds, says she likes the Democrats but may cast her vote in the Republican primary to help steer the GOP away from candidates she considers extreme.

“I’m not fond of Trump or some of the other leading candidates, so I might vote in the Republican primary,” said Roberta, who asked that her last name not be published to protect her privacy. “In general, I don’t think the Republican candidates reflect the values that I hold. They don’t seem to be open to the needs of ordinary people.”

On the Democratic side, Roberta said she has yet to make up her mind between Clinton, whom she considers “eminently qualified” to be president, or Sanders, whom she says is “an eminently honest man.”

In interview after interview, Jewish Democrats in New Hampshire leaning toward Sanders cited his authenticity as one of his most appealing characteristics.

“I was on the fence between Sanders and Clinton, but after watching the Republican and Democratic debates, the one thing that stood out for me was there was an honest politician and a man of his word on stage, and I haven’t ever seen that,” independent voter Jenny Rosenson said of Sanders.

“Part of me wanted to vote Republican against He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken,” Rosenson said, indicating Trump, “but I think I want to send my vote to the Democratic Party.”

Asked if she had any concerns about Sanders’ electability in the general election, Rosenson said, “Does he have a chance? Golly gosh, I don’t think so.”

Steve Clayman, a Jewish architect in the Manchester area and a lifelong Democrat, shares that view – which is why he’s planning to vote for Clinton.

“I like Bernie Sanders a lot and I would align myself with a lot of his positions, but I just can’t visualize him as a president, and I can’t visualize him winning beyond New Hampshire, Vermont and a few other areas,” Clayman said. “I think Hillary Clinton has the experience in the political arena internationally as well as nationally, and also is politically astute.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that there isn’t a deeper field on the Democratic side. If it wasn’t for Bernie being there, the discussion would be pretty limited.”

Ron Abramson, a 47-year-old immigration lawyer from Bow, said he’s voting for Sanders – and that his being Jewish has nothing to do with it.

“He feels like a conscience that’s been lacking in our political discourse for a while,” Abramson said. “I’m more drawn to the fact that he was a runner in his younger days – I used to be a distance runner – than him being a Jew. Like me, he’s a pretty secular Reform Jew, and like me he didn’t marry a Jew.”

Sanders’ wife, Jane, is Roman Catholic. His first wife, whom he divorced in 1966, is Jewish.

Joel Funk, a professor of psychology at Plymouth State University, said he’s voting Sanders, too – “not because he’s Jewish, but because his policies are progressive, fair, long overdue and he’s the kind of candidate I feel I can trust.”

David Kochman, 60, of Swanzey, who lost his job two years ago after 26 years at Liberty Mutual and has not been employed since, said he’s voting for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – in part because of the Republican candidate’s position on Israel.

“What I really like about him is his leadership and his temperament,” Kochman said of Rubio. “I think he has got the temperament to be president of the United States. I think it’s good that he’s young, Hispanic, has a nice family. And he’s a lot less divisive, frankly, than either Cruz or Trump.”

Kochman said he attended a couple of events with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie but was turned off by his bluster and the so-called Bridgegate scandal in which Christie’s aides shut down traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge, creating epic gridlock, as political retribution against a local Democratic mayor.

“It’s not only what happened, but what he did as a leader that made the people who work for him act that way. I didn’t like it,” Kochman said. “Of course, in New Hampshire we would have just knocked down the barriers and driven right through.”

Almost half of U.S. voters unaware of Sanders’ Jewishness


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cannot capture a TV audience without being identified as Jewish, or as some tweeps see him as the “Jewish uncle from Brooklyn.” But it seems that despite the chatter, few Americans can identify the insurgent Democratic-Socialist candidate by his religion.

According to a poll conducted by Emerson College Polling Society over the weekend, only 23% of registered voters identify Sanders as Jewish, while 48% were not sure. 1.5 percent identify Sanders as a Muslim.

If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish president. A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed that 91% of Americans would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who is Jewish.

In several appearances over the past few months, Sanders claimed that his Judaism in the post-Holocaust era has shaped his policial philosophy in a “very deep way.”

“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important,” he said. Adding, “Historically, the Jewish people have been strong advocates fighting discrimination and fighting for social and economic justice.”

The Emerson College poll also shows that if Biden chooses not to jump into the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton’s lead over Sanders extends to 48 percent – 68% to 20%.

Courting Adelson is not Jewish outreach


This weekend, a collection of GOP presidential candidates will arrive in Las Vegas for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that these candidates are making a real attempt to appeal to American Jewish voters. Their presence is all about winning over a single Jewish donor: Sheldon Adelson.
Obviously, these candidates are familiar with how Adelson’s largesse almost single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive in 2012. But the casino magnate does not speak for the American Jewish community, and the GOP candidates’ courting of an Adelson-funded super PAC should not be mistaken for genuine outreach.
There is a reason that more than twice as many American Jews identify as Democrats than as Republicans. The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, empowerment, justice and opportunity. These are values that are closely aligned with the values that define our Jewish faith.
Growing up, my parents taught me that tikkun olam – repairing the world – is a central tenet and one of the most important outward expressions of our faith. As Jews and as active citizens, it was our responsibility to help and advocate for others. As I grew up, I also sought to exemplify other Jewish values like tzedakah and gemilut hasadim. Like many other American Jews compelled to stand up and speak out for the causes of justice, equality and righteousness in public policy debates, I found a natural home within the Democratic Party.
It is Democrats who seek to right injustice, promote tolerance and constantly strive to move our nation toward a more perfect union. Jews overwhelmingly support women’s rights, workers’ rights, gay rights and civil rights for all Americans. We know that when we help those around us, our community and our country are stronger as a whole. We understand the importance of America as a place of new opportunities, and believe in immigration reform that will pave the path toward a better future that welcomed our ancestors when they arrived on America’s shores. These are values for which Democrats have fought and Republicans have not.
Instead of changing their positions on the issues that matter to American Jews, Republicans have chosen the dangerous strategy of politicizing Israel’s security as their strategy to win over Jewish voters. This strategy is not good for Israel or for the long-term relationship between our two great nations.
And to be clear, this strategy to try to convert Jewish Democrats to vote Republican has not worked. Democrats are proud of America’s bipartisan support for Israel, and the GOP’s attempt to undermine that relationship for political gain has backfired.
As a Jewish woman, a member of Congress and as chair of the Democratic National Committee, I am proud of the efforts made by the Obama administration to solidify the relationship with one of our nation’s closest friends and strongest allies. Under President Obama, the United States and Israel have had unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation and strong economic collaboration. President Obama continues to fight for the issues that the Jewish community prioritizes – millions of Americans have gained access to health care and he is fighting every day to secure a fair and living wage so that those who work hard are able to support themselves and make a better life for their children.
When I think of the future I want for my three beautiful children and for our country, it’s one centered on those core Jewish values that defined my childhood. I know that all Americans understand these values and wish the same for their families. As American Jews, we understand how our values demand correcting income inequality and expanding opportunity for those fighting to get into the middle class.
Unfortunately, Republicans are light years away from where we stand. When their presidential candidates court a single big Jewish donor while attempting to attract voters through fear mongering, we see straight through that. Until Republicans are prepared to change more than just their rhetoric, Jewish voters will continue to overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates and policies.
(U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd District in Congress and serves as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.)

How voter turnout could sway Israel’s election


Israel’s politicians have spent the past three months telling voters they’re the best choice to serve Israel. But their success tomorrow will depend not just on whom they convince, but on how many of their supporters make it to the ballot box.

Since 2001, voter turnout in Israel has hovered around 65 percent, and the right wing or its offshoots has won every election. But this year, according to Israeli Channel 2, around 80 percent of Israel’s nearly 6 million voters plan to cast ballots.

That rise in turnout could be good news for the left. The last two times Labor has won the election, in 1992 and 1999, voter turnout was about 77 and 78 percent, respectively. Nimrod Dweck, the executive director ofV15 — which aims to draw center-left voters to the polls — told JTA that an increase of just 5 percent over last year’s 67 percent turnout could make the difference for Isaac Herzog, who heads the center-left Zionist Union.

This hasn’t escaped the notice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who exhorted tens of thousands of right-wingers at a rally last night to fight V15 (he mentioned it several times by name) and go “house to house, street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood” and to “come in masses to the ballot.”

But Netanyahu’s largely religious audience — clad in the trademark large knit kippot and modest dress of the hawkish religious Zionist crowd — won’t need convincing. Settlers, religious Israelis and their supporters — perhaps out of strong ideology, or fear of a left-wing government that might negotiate away their homes — have generally had higher-than-average turnout.

In 2013, three of the top four cities with the highest turnout were settlements, each with turnout above 84 percent. Many haredi Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem also had above-average turnout, in the 70 or 80 percent range, giving the haredi UTJ party a plurality of the vote in Israel’s capital.

On the flip side, Arab Israeli voters, and those living in Israel’s often economically disadvantaged periphery, generally do not vote as much as the average Israeli. Arab turnout was 10 percentage points lower than average last year, due in part to the little influence that Arab parties have in the Knesset. Peripheral cities like Ashkelon, Sderot and Beersheva, whose residents also complain often of government neglect, postedsimilarly low voting rates.

In a video urging Israelis to vote, President Reuven Rivlin says “apathy and despair aren’t an option,” even as he refuses to tell a (fake) police officer whom he’s voting for.

And at least among Arabs, the get-out-the-vote drive seems to be working. Galvanized by a new united Arab party — the Joint Arab List — with a charismatic leader, Arab voter turnout is expected to top 60 percent this year.

Tomorrow, we’ll see if those higher numbers — among Arab-Israelis and across the board — have an impact on who wins and loses.

Obama’s second term: More of the same, at least until Iran flares


The day after the election looks a lot like the day before for President Obama, particularly in areas that have attracted the attention of Jewish voters: Tussling with Republicans domestically on the economy and health care, and dancing gingerly with Israel around the issue of a nuclear Iran.

With Obama's victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the Senate remaining in the hands of Democrats and the U.S. House of Representatives staying Republican, that means more of the same, said William Daroff, who directs the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“What's amazing from a political point of view is that it's hundreds of millions dollars being spent and it's still the status quo,” he said.

The advantage, Daroff said, is that the sides get back to work, and straight away.

“There's not going to be a delay in everyone feeling out their new roles and figuring out what color the rug in the Oval Office should be,” he said.

Jewish federations and other Jewish social welfare organizations have said their immediate focus will be the “fiscal cliff” — the effort to head off sequestration, the congressional mandate to slash the budget across the board at the start of 2013.

“The fiscal cliff and specifically sequestration is a major concern,” Daroff said. “Our concern continues to be that as the nation and our political leaders continue to assess how to make cuts in spending that those cuts don't fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations that rely upon social service agencies that depend on our funding.”

Cuts of about 8.5 percent would immediately affect the viability of housing for the elderly, according to officials at B'nai B'rith International, which runs a network of homes. Officials at Jewish federations say the cuts also would curb the meals and transportation for the elderly they provide with assistance from federal programs.

Obama and Congress would have had to deal with heading off sequestration in any case, but as a president with a veto-wielding mandate of four more years, he has the leverage to head off deep cuts to programs that his top officials have said remain essential, including food assistance to the poor and medical entitlements for the poor and elderly.

David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Obama's priorities would be domestic.

“While a victory in the second term tends to give you some political capital, capital is still finite,” he said, citing George W. Bush's failure in 2005 to reform Social Security, despite his decisive 2004 triumph. “This suggests to me the president will keep his focus on the economy and health care,” and not on major initiatives in the Middle East.

More broadly, four more years of “Obamacare” mean the health care reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress passed in 2010 will be more difficult to repeal for future GOP administrations. By 2016, American voters will have habituated to mandates guaranteeing health insurance for all, including for pre-existing conditions and coverage of children by their parents until they reach the age of 26.

On these issues — entitlement programs and federal assistance for the poor — Obama and Senate Democrats have the backing of an array of Jewish groups led by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s public policy umbrella.

Additionally, Jewish advocacy organizations will look to Obama to appoint to the Supreme Court justices likely to uphold the protections favored by much of the Jewish community, including abortion rights, women’s equal pay guarantees and gay marriage gains in the states.

The exception will be the Orthodox groups, which generally align with conservative Christians on social issues.

The potential for domestic tension between some Jewish groups and the new Obama administration — and its Democratic allies who continue to lead the Senate — lies in Democrats’ plans to let lapse some of the tax cuts passed by the George W. Bush administration.

Senate Democrats in recent years have pressed organized Jewish groups to advocate for raising revenue through tax increases. Some groups have advocated for the increases, but the major social welfare policy umbrella, the Jewish Federations of North America, has resisted in part because tax hikes are controversial among a substantial portion of the federations’ donor base.

Daroff said that Jewish federations would continue to push for keeping the tax deduction rate for charitable giving at 35 percent and resist Obama administration proposals to cut it to 28 percent.

“We see from the response to Hurricane Sandy how vital charities are,” he said. “To put stumbling blocks in the way of our ability to raise charitable funds is the absolutely wrong policy.”

Unlike the looming sequestration, Obama’s most vexing first term foreign policy issue — how to deal with Iran — has gained some breathing room in recent weeks with the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arriving at an agreement that Iran will not be poised to manufacture a nuclear weapon until the spring at the earliest.

Without intimations by Israel that it might strike before then, Obama has a window to see if the tightened international and U.S. sanctions introduced during his administration will goad the Iranians into making their nuclear program more transparent. Iran’s government insists its nuclear program is peaceful but has resisted probative U.N. inspections.

Makovsky said he expected a quick return to talks with Iran, which could lead to bold new proposals, setting some of the bottom lines that have been eagerly sought by Israel. Makovsky said one scenario could be removing some sanctions in exchange for keeping Iranian uranium enrichment at 5 percent, down from the 20 percent level it currently achieves and well below the 93 percent that would make a weapon.

Another Iranian give, he said, would be to export the stockpiles of enriched uranium already on hand.

“I would predict there will be much more of a focus on bottom lines, there will be some sort of an American offer — after consultations with Israel,” Makovsky said.

Two personnel changes in the coming months in both Israel and the United States will help shape how the two nations interact.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long-standing relationships with much of the Israeli leadership, has said she is certain to quit, and there is much speculation about her successor.

Three names have been touted — Tom Donilon, the national security adviser; Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations; and U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Of the three, only Donilon has warm relations with his Israeli interlocutors. Rice has steadfastly defended Israel against formal condemnation at the United Nations, but Israeli and pro-Israel officials have been galled by the tough language she has used to describe Israeli settlement expansion.

Kerry raised some eyebrows with his sharp language about Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip following the 2009 war with Hamas. And some conservatives questioned his insistent outreach to the Assad regime in Syria prior to the protests that set off the regime's bloody oppression and the country's resulting civil war.

The other personnel change is in Israel and will be closely watched by the Obama administration. Elections there are scheduled for January, and Netanyahu and his new right-leaning alliance with Avigdor Lieberman, currently the foreign minister, may be facing a serious centrist challenge.

What do (suburban) women want?


If you watched any of the debates on CNN, you saw two worms at the bottom of your screen. Well, they looked to me like worms, or maybe caterpillars, scrunching and stretching throughout the 90 minutes. Actually they were real-time graphs — with one color for men, another for women — recording the instant reactions of members of undecided focus groups to what they, and we, were watching. As they listened to the debate, these influential voters turned their hand-held dials up into the plus zone when they liked what they saw, and down when they didn’t. CNN calls this its “exclusive on-air undecided voters meter.” What they should call it is junk journalism.

How many voters? In the second presidential debate, 35 people in Ohio were wired to the worms. Actually, they weren’t completely undecided. As CNN anchor Erin Burnett explained, half of the 35 were for Obama, and half for Romney, but they said they might change their minds. I’m guessing the split was actually 18 to 17, or vice versa, unless they turned up one voter in Ohio who was split in two, half for Obama and half for Romney, or maybe they found someone all for Obama and all for Romney simultaneously — Burnett didn’t say. (The 35 were also split between men and women, suggesting that the odd man out was more precisely the odd man-woman out.)

I don’t know whether the TV screens these focus groups were watching carried the same CNN feed that I or anyone else in America might have been watching.  If they were — if their instant reaction to their own instant reaction could, in turn, instantly affect their own reaction — then Jorge Luis Borges and the makers of “The Matrix” have nothing on CNN.

Even for those of us in the audience not controlling the caterpillars, watching these meters’ ups and downs has been a strange experience. If you’re tuned to CNN, which brands itself as the only news network not committed to a candidate, your view of the debate is literally framed by the scrolling political vital signs of a non-nationally representative focus group. I bet it’s been pretty much impossible for anyone to watch the debates without paying attention to, and even being affected by, the impact of the candidates’ and moderators’ words and body language on this sample of a teeny tiny but immensely empowered sliver of the American electorate.

This made me a little bit crazy, especially when I found myself yelling “Yes!” to some things, like the president’s rediscovered willingness to nail his opponent, which the yellow line of undecided women didn’t much like at all. I was torn between feeling genuinely good about my guy getting his mojo back, but also wanting him to win over these voters who still can’t make up their minds despite all they’ve heard; whose belief in can’t-we-all-get-along comity is a suicidal strategy for countering ruthless Republican obstructionism; and who nevertheless are the magical swing voters in the magical swing states with the muscle to decide the election.

Framing a successful debate performance as the successful seduction of 35 undecided Ohioans disses other criteria for success. The meter readout of a group of people that, say, regularly consumes newspapers or watches “The Daily Show,” would likely take a different path. That graph might not predict how swing voters will break on Election Day, but it also might not discount the premium that at least some citizens want other citizens — and journalists — to put on facts, context, reason, history and reality.

Of course no one’s being forced to watch CNN’s swing-o-meter. But it can’t be long before real-time tabulation of the sentiments of various audience segments becomes an expected and common element of all infotainment. As we watch the TV screen, we’re already learning in real time what topics and attitudes are trending on social media, either because we’re simultaneously checking out another screen, like the Twitter feed on our smartphones (guilty), or because that information is embedded in the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. The most popular news Web sites are already telling us which of their stories are the most popular right now so that we can check them out and make them even more popular. Self-surveillance is entertaining; we enjoy learning about us. But when technology puts a finger on the civic scale, when it skews what we esteem in political discourse, when it privileges popularity over other criteria for worth, an instant-reaction gizmo isn’t just fun, it’s potentially as subversive as the Electoral College, Citizens United or the ascendance of post-truth politics. 

This election will likely come down to the last-minute decisions of a few thousand people in a handful of states. Both campaigns conduct nightly tracking polls sensitive enough to detect each passing zephyr in undecided voters’ minds. They’re constantly testing phrases and issues to figure out what will move the meter for single noncollege undecided women in the suburbs of Columbus and Orlando, or whoever the decisive ones turn out to be at the end of the trail. Media organizations are also collecting increasingly subtle data about their audiences, some of them swapping editorial judgment for real-time metrics about what their customers want so that they can give them more of it. Micro-pandering: that’s how you win elections and ratings these days, and yes, winning is what counts. But I can’t help fantasizing about an alternative reality where candidates and coverage don’t routinely blow off the highest common denominators in their publics.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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.

Boston-area towns back pro-Palestinian resolutions


Voters in three Boston-area districts backed a nonbinding resolution supporting Palestinian rights in Israel.

The ballot question passed with 56.6 percent in favor in Tuesday’s election. Tallies were incomplete in two additional state legislative districts within Boston where the initiative appeared on the ballot.

The referendum, sponsored by a group called Massachusetts Residents for International Human Rights, an offshoot of the Somerville Divestment Project, asked voters if the state representative from their district should be instructed to vote in favor a no-binding resolution calling on the U.S. government “to support the right of all people, including non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, to live free from laws that give more rights to people of one religion than another.”

A question with the same text as Tuesday’s nonbinding resolution was passed in the Boston suburbs of Somerville and Cambridge in 2008.

Two years earlier, Somerville had voted against questions asking whether Palestinian refugees had the right to “return to their land of origin” and whether Massachusetts should divest its holdings in State of Israel Bonds.

Rabbis on anti-gay marriage Prop 8: Yes, no, maybe


“Prop. 8 is presently the most crucial battle of the culture war here.” — Penny Harrington, legislative director, Concerned Women for America in California

The arguments and epithets surrounding state Prop. 8 are rising in volume and intensity as the Nov. 4 election draws near, so it may be useful to quote its exact wording.

ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

  • Changes the California constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Jewish advocates on both sides have joined the controversy with customary vigor. Emulating the brevity of the initiative itself, the lineup for the rabbinical and congregational leaders of the main denominations, and most of their adherents, comes down to:

Orthodox: support Prop. 8, marriage only between a man and a woman.

Reform, Reconstructionist: oppose Prop. 8, marriage for all.

Conservative: No official stand.

This equation may be somewhat simplistic, but in general on the left and right of the denominational spectrum the lines are sharply drawn, with little room for mavericks or closet dissenters.

Repeated inquiries by The Journal failed to yield any Orthodox rabbi willing to declare his opposition to Prop. 8 or any Reform rabbi supporting the ballot measure.

However, there was some “crossover,” according to Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who polled the 290 members of his organization on their views.

Of the 120 responding, 112 (or 93 percent) voted against the proposition, six voted for, and two abstained. However, these results are not entirely conclusive, partly because only 41 percent of the membership responded, and because only six congregational Orthodox rabbis have chosen to affiliate with the organization.

However, leading spokesmen for all denominations, and supportive lay groups, discussed their views with The Journal.

Orthodox

Rabbi JJ Rabinowich, California director of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel, noted that “marriage between a man and a woman has been fundamental to the Jewish people for thousands of years. We also agree with the many studies showing that children flourish best when raised by a mother and father.”

A more detailed argument for supporting Prop. 8 was put forward by Daniel Korobkin, one of the city’s most visible Orthodox rabbis and one of three signatories of the official statement by the centrist Orthodox Union as its West Coast director for community and synagogue services.

The statement endorses Prop. 8 and notes that “One of G-d’s first acts is to join Adam and Eve in marriage and to command them to build a family.”

It adds, “We know the threat to people of faith and houses of worship is real and under way…. Religious institutions and people face charges of bigotry and could be denied government funding and more if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.”

Speaking in his capacity as “a community rabbi in Hancock Park,” Korobkin cited both biblical and contemporary reasons for his views.

While the Torah’s strictures against homosexual relations are well known, he said, talmudic literature goes beyond this injunction by warning that a society that endorses such a relationship endangers itself, which is a greater sin than the act itself.

“If we permit same-sex marriage today, why not incestual marriage tomorrow, or bestial marriage after that?” he asked.

Korobkin also expressed fears that defeat of Prop. 8 would endanger the right of religious adoption agencies to refuse adoptions to gay couples or compel schools to teach that all forms of marriage are equally viable.

He estimated that about 90 percent of Orthodox congregants agreed with his views, but that some might vote against Prop. 8 anyhow because they feared a breach in state-church separation or were uneasy about the overwhelming role of evangelical Christians in the pro-Prop. 8 campaign.

However, Korobkin emphasized, “We have tremendous empathy for gay people and what we stand for is not hate speech, nor are we prompted by malice. Some of our people are gay, though not overtly. When they come to us for guidance, we are extremely sympathetic.”

Conservative

Neither the rabbinical nor the congregational arms of the Conservative movement are taking a stand on Prop. 8, according to Rabbi Richard Flom, president of the regional Rabbinical Assembly, and Joel Baker, regional executive director of the United Synagogue.

One reason may be the general reluctance of Conservative congregations to take political stands, given the wide ideological spread among its members, Baker suggested.

Many of his congregants, said Flom of Burbank Temple Emanu El, are trying to strike a balance between support for the civil rights of gays and “personal halachic [Jewish law] concerns.”

Flom himself recently gave a sermon opposing Prop. 8, partly based on his reservations about whether the state has any right to become involved in this issue.

“If I were a betting man, I would wager that the bulk of our members would oppose Prop. 8,” Flom said.

Indeed some of the most respected names in the Conservative rabbinate have publicly come out for the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

Rabbis Harold Schulweis and Edward Feinstein, both of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, can be seen and heard on YouTube strongly advocating the defeat of Prop. 8 (www.cafaithforequality.org/Support1.html).

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, is one of the most eloquent voices opposing Prop. 8.

Positioning same-sex marriage as a civil rights and equality issue, Dorff said, “We Jews have benefited greatly from the Enlightenment; it would be ironic, it would be mean, if we now came out against a minority within a minority.

“Marriage means that two people take responsibility for each other and their biological or adopted children, and society has a vested interest in that,” Dorff added.

Despite the official neutrality of the main Conservative organizations, Dorff believes that “an overwhelming majority” of Conservative rabbis and congregants will oppose Prop. 8.

Reform

Reform rabbis and congregants constitute the most vigorous segment of the Jewish community in fighting Prop. 8, supported by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women.

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal, a regional director for the Union for Reform Judaism, cited her organization’s resolution, which describes marriage as “a basic human right and an individual personal choice.”

The statement adds, “the state should not interfere with same-gender couples who choose to marry and share freely and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of civil marriage.”

Taking an active part in the campaign is Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, whose members are reaching out to voters through phone banks and collaboration with interfaith groups.

Eger was the first member of the clergy to officiate at a same-gender marriage in California on June 16 of this year, immediately after the State Supreme Court legalized such marriages by overturning a voter-approved 2000 initiative and statute to ban them.

Also heavily involved are such groups as the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College and Jews for Marriage Equality.

Psychologist Joel Kushner, director of the institute, observed that opposition to Prop. 8 is in line with the “Jewish heritage of justice,” while clearly not forcing any objecting rabbi to officiate at same-sex marriages.

Jews for Marriage Equality was founded by Steve Krantz, who retired after a notable career as a computer engineer to become a defender of the rights of one of his two sons, who is gay.

Krantz said he has compiled a list of 220 names, which include the majority of California rabbis, who went on record in opposing Prop. 8.

His goal now is to reach unaffiliated “gustatory” Jews through large ads in the primary Jewish weeklies in Los Angeles and San Francisco, working in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

If Prop. 8 wins, he said, his organization will continue its work, but if the ballot measure loses, “we’ll have a big party.”



Striking an individual stance, separate from his collegial pro and con advocates, is Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. He was one of the two abstainers when the Board of Rabbis voted overwhelmingly to oppose Prop. 8.

“I felt that it violated the board’s ethical code to take a stance on a political matter,” he said.

Personally, he asserted, he would never officiate at a same-sex or interfaith marriage.

“I think my congregation would have a feeling of discomfort if its rabbi participated in such a ceremony,” Bouskila said. “In Sephardic tradition, we believe that religion is religion and politics is politics.”

As the saying has it, as goes California, so goes the nation, and the outcome of the Prop. 8 battle is being monitored across the country.

It is expected that the two sides of the issue will together spend a total of $40 million on their campaigns, the most for a social issue proposition, with contributions flowing in from some 10,000 people in 50 states.

The “No on Prop. 8” campaign has announced $100,000 contributions each from filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Richard Haas of the Levi Strauss dynasty and actor Brad Pitt.

Same-sex marriage is likely to remain a hot-button issue in the presidential race, with Prop. 8 backers looking to Sen. John McCain for ideological support, and opponents to Sen. Barack Obama.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee will present a nonpartisan forum on critical ballot issues. It’s at 7 p.m. in The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center, Sanders Board Room, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For security reasons, R.S.V.P. by Oct. 13 to (323) 761-8145 or e-mail LAJCRC@JewishLA.org

The End of Bush’s ‘Jewish Moment’


Republicans once had high hopes that George W. Bush would draw American Jews away from their historic affinity with Democrats into embracing the conservative party. They believed that Jews would be drawn to Bush’s intense support for the State of Israel. Orthodox Jews, already more conservative than most American Jews, would be attracted by Bush’s faith-based initiatives. Neo-conservative intellectuals, a number of whom are Jewish and strongly pro-Israel, would be integrated into the foreign policy apparatus of the administration. And finally, the war in Iraq would remake the map of the Middle East in a way that would enhance Israel’s security. Taken together, the Bush administration would provide the Republicans with their “Jewish moment.”

The first test of this multifaceted plan was the 2004 presidential election. That seemed to be a bust. Democrat John Kerry won an estimated three-quarters of Jewish voters. But then the Republican plan was never based exclusively on winning Jewish votes. It was as much about splitting the Jewish campaign-funding base, and introducing a germ of doubt into Jewish loyalty to the Democrats, especially where Israel’s security was concerned. It was also about enhancing the gap between Republicans and Democrats in foreign policy leadership. The White House successfully cultivated pro-Israel Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) to be their favorite Democrat, while rumors swirled that he would replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

Many American Jews were uncomfortable with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but, after all, Israel’s leadership spoke publicly in favor of the war, remembering how Saddam Hussein had rained missiles into Israel during the first Gulf War. Jewish voters give credence to the positions of Israeli leadership on security matters, and Israel is perhaps the most pro-American nation on earth. By the same token, intense European opposition to the war counted for less, given Europe’s pro-Arab track record.

While American unilateralism might discomfort progressive Jews, many also have demonstrated a certain willingness to endure the international isolation that comes with America’s support for Israel. And older Jews remember Jewish Cold War intellectuals joining with the Nixon administration when the Democrats seemed weaker on foreign policy in the McGovern era. And it was Nixon who bailed out Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

But since Bush’s re-election, these pillars of a paradigm shift have eroded, and now totter on the verge of collapse. The poor progress of the war in Iraq stands at the heart of the matter. The neo-conservatives turned out to be second-rate armchair warriors, working with a less-than-talented administration that shared their fantasies of global domination. Despite his corruption and dishonesty, Nixon was a brilliant strategic thinker on the global scene. He prided himself on a cold-hearted realism that allowed him to abandon his own Cold War ideology, play the People’s Republic of China against the Soviet Union and conclude historic agreements with each of them. Even as his popularity at home evaporated, he still enjoyed great respect in major world capitals. He didn’t like Jews very much (as shown in the famous White House tapes), and offered little rhetoric in support of Israel, but with the Jewish state in mortal peril during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he moved quickly and effectively to mobilize critically needed U.S. aid.

The Bush group of politicians and neo-conservative intellectuals, by contrast, has relied on the fantastical notion that an American invasion of an Arab country would spark a democratic upsurge in the Middle East. New elections would install pro-American and pro-Israeli governments in the region, thereby assuring U.S. hegemony and Israeli security. They pulled out maps of the region and plotted what they proudly referred to as the new American era of ideological and economic dominance. They saw endless possibilities for positive change in the region. One administration insider gloated about Egypt, “We can do better than Mubarak.” It apparently never occurred to them that elections might bring fundamentalist, anti-American and anti-Israel forces to power. For that matter, they seemed utterly surprised by the impact of televised images of tortured and humiliated prisoners.

Wedded to this doctrine, the administration resisted Israeli entreaties to delay Palestinian elections or to insist on preconditions for Hamas involvement, with the result that a democratically elected Hamas government, unwilling to recognize Israel, now stands on Israel’s border.

Instead of a moderate democratic renaissance, the Iraq War threatens to spark a civil war. And the prestige and power of Israel’s major regional foe, Iran, has been enhanced in the bargain. In February, Israeli television broadcast comments by Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service, who was overhead suggesting that Israel might have been better off if Saddam were still in power controlling a stable, albeit hostile, Iraq.

The Bush administration and its neo-conservative intellectuals may have inadvertently shifted the cream of foreign policy thinkers back to the Democrats. Bush’s politicians and ideologues have driven out enough foreign policy professionals from the federal government to staff a new administration, from anti-terror specialist Richard Clarke to that famously unmasked CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The controversial port deal with the United Arab Emirates and the revelation that the UAE participates in the Arab boycott of Israel further changes the political dynamic. The ports controversy has for the first time allowed Democrats to move to the more pro-Israel side of the Bush administration. Ironically, then, the transition of the Nixon era may indeed be replayed. But in a twist of history, it may be the Democrats that benefit if they can rediscover their own long-lost tradition of foreign policy leadership.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

 

Spirit Up, Tally Down on Super Sunday


Leon Weinstin has spent much of his life fighting on behalf of the Jewish people.

In his late 20s, he participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis and somehow managed to escape a near-certain death. Later, he immigrated to the United States, opened a successful clothing manufacturing business and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to mostly Jewish charities, especially yeshivas.

The 95-year-old Weinstin volunteered his time Feb. 26 to call prospective donors on Super Sunday, the annual mega-fundraiser of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. In just two hours at Federation’s headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Weinstin, resplendent in a blue blazer, red tie and wool slacks, raised $15,000.

“I believe in tzedekeh. I believe in helping people,” said Weinstin, who has participated in 26 Super Sundays. “As long as I’m alive, I’m going to come to Super Sunday.”

Seated next to Weinstin, Beverly Hills resident Esther Brenner could hardly contain her excitement whenever she landed a contribution, big or small. The retired Hebrew school teacher seemed to become especially animated when lapsed donors ponied up.

“Hey,” she announced to nearby volunteers, a smile crossing her face. “I just got somebody to give $10 who hadn’t given since 1990.”

An estimated 1,700 volunteers working at three locations obtained pledges for about $4.4 million this Super Sunday, about $200,000 less than last year. Participants included young and old, the religious and non-religious, Israelis, Persians and Russians — a veritable rainbow of Southland Jews. Given the diversity of and interaction among the volunteers, Super Sunday seemed as much about building community as raising money.

“This gives everybody a chance to come out and make this community a better place,” Federation President John Fishel said. “Super Sunday’s a unifying event.”

It’s also an opportunity for politicians to show solidarity with Jewish voters. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss each dropped by the midtown Federation headquarters and the phone banks in West Hills. L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl both volunteered at headquarters. The third fundraising hub was the Torrance Marriott.

“I want to make some calls. Let’s do it!” said Weiss as he made his way to the phones at 6505 early Sunday morning.

The stakes were especially high this Super Sunday, because many of the Federation’s 22 beneficiary agencies have seen their government funding shrink. At a time when demand for its services have surged, Jewish Family Service, for example, has been unable to keep pace because of government cutbacks, said Jewish Family Service (JFS) Executive Director Paul Castro in an interview. The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit for the 57-bed homeless shelter.

Nationally, Super Sundays have proven so successful that, in recent years, many federations have added Super Mondays and Super Tuesdays to attract more volunteers and to increase the likelihood of reaching donors at home. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington even has a Super Week.

Participants caught up with one another at 6505 between calls, noshing on bagels and cream cheese, pastries and ice blended coffee drinks. Clusters of purple, red and white balloons decorated the main call center. Gummy bears and bottled water seemed within arm’s reach of most callers.

Anne Blank worked the morning shift. The Beverly Hills psychotherapist said she attended her first Super Sunday to pay homage to her late father, an active philanthropist in Jewish causes who passed away nearly two years ago at age 82. “He’d be thrilled I was here,” she said.

At the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, mothers and fathers came with young children to enjoy the family-friendly amenities, including a daycare center, a bounce house and inflatable slide. Teenagers dropped by with buddies to make calls and gossip.

Twelve-year-old Shani Mesica staffed the phones from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. By early afternoon, she had landed a $75 donation. Although she said the majority of callers reacted positively to her pitch, a couple told her they weren’t Jewish and demanded that she place them on a do-not-call list. Still, the seventh-grader at Kadima Hebrew Academy in West Hills said she planned to participate in Super Sunday again next year, even if her school waves its community-service requirement.

“It’s nice to help people who can’t afford to get flu shots or buy food for themselves,” said Mesica, amid the cacophony of voices that filled the gymnasium where volunteers seated at long tables made calls.

A contingent of 20 well-heeled members from El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana were among those staffing the phones at Milken. Many of them pitched fellow club members, who are expected by El Caballero to give 3 percent to 5 percent of their income to charity, said Donald Marks, a club member who personally raised $150,000 from fellow club goers. His pitch?

“I tell them that if Jews don’t give to Jews, who’s going to give?” said Marks, a 61-year-old industrial real estate developer. “We’re not talking about cancer or other catastrophic diseases. We’re talking about helping our Jewish brothers.”

 

Opportunities Exist in Hamas Victory


The Palestinian people spoke their mind and many around the world were shocked. Now, after we have all had a chance to take a deep breath, it is time to evaluate the new reality.

While the reasons for the rise to power of Hamas are complicated, one thing is clear: The Palestinians wanted an alternative to the Fatah government.

Palestinians have elected Hamas for three main reasons: first, the inability of Fatah to maintain law and order; second, the frustration with the entrenched corruption in the party; third, the nonexistent “peace process,” which led nowhere, and, in fact, had a devastating impact on daily life of Palestinians.

There are as many opportunities as there are challenges with a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority.

First, a strange convergence of interests between Hamas and Kadima can lead to a long-term tahdya (calm) on the one hand and continuing disengagement on the other.

The next Israeli government led by the new Kadima Party will be interested in a unilateral disengagement to establish Israel’s eastern border. Hamas, in order to address the reforms it promised, will be interested in a long-term truce. Both sides will present the actions taken by the other as a victory and evidence for the success of their way. All this, without ever sitting at a negotiation table.

Second, the elections could be seen as a chance to build the Palestinian political, social and economic infrastructure. Hamas’ top priority is to eliminate Fatah’s corruption and build a legitimate government that is accountable and transparent.

These reforms are crucial and beneficial not only to Palestinians but also to Israel and the international community, regardless of who conducts them. A long-term truce and a Palestinian clean house are fundamental for an economic recovery, restoration of services and an enhancement of Palestinians’ daily welfare. A more satisfied and hopeful public has much to lose from violent conflict and is therefore a stakeholder in peace.

Third, the Palestinians have passed a democratic point of no return. Now that they have changed a government through free and fair elections, Palestinians know that they control their own destiny by casting votes. There are many promises to keep, and the challenge for Hamas is to live up to its promises. Should Hamas fail to deliver, the Palestinian people have the ability to remove them from power in the next elections.

Free and fair elections followed by apparent peaceful transition of power, all within the framework of existing democratic institutions and procedures, serve as an important precedent and a huge building block for other Middle East countries struggling with democratic reforms.

Making the most of these opportunities is not going to be easy. Let’s not kid ourselves, Hamas is not likely to recognize Israel’s right to exist anytime soon. The two sides may not talk to each other directly or officially. Moreover, the upcoming election campaign in Israel is most likely to produce a militant rhetoric toward Hamas that will not be beneficial in stabilizing the situation.

So how do we get there from here? There are several things the United States and the international community can do.

First, a high bar must be set for Hamas — high but not unreasonable. Merely participating in free and fair elections does not make Hamas a legitimate political party in a democratic regime. While the end goal ought to be the full integration of Hamas into the political system, which includes Hamas renouncing violence, we must be cognizant that constantly pounding the message might result in a backlash. The United States does not want to be viewed as making it impossible for Hamas to govern, which would only expose the United States to blame when things go wrong.

To this end, it is imperative that any legislation in Congress leaves enough room for diplomatic maneuvering as events unfold. The United States and the world made their requirements for Hamas clear: Renounce terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Now let’s give Hamas the space to make its own difficult decisions.

And we should not prejudge the future Palestinian government before it is formed. Governments do not talk to parties; they talk to governments. We must look beyond the Hamas Party and toward the new government’s guidelines.

Even a Hamas-led government can have acceptable parameters that allow productive contacts and engagement. The PLO never changed its charter calling for the destruction of Israel, yet the Palestinian Authority had no such call in its guidelines and was able to be a valid player in the international community.

At the same time, the United States and Israel need to allow for the unification of all Palestinian militias under one authority and one law. It is ironic that the international community is hoping for presidential control over the security forces, merely a year after pressuring Arafat to delegate these powers to Mahmoud Abbas, then the prime minister.

If power is handed to Abbas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the Hamas military wing, will it maintain its independence as a resistance army, rather than evolving into an army of the government. Pressuring Abbas to have ultimate power over the security forces will only create more divisions — and hamper efforts to halt corruption. Intervention by the international community will complicate matters and might lead to domestic violence.

Integration of Fatah and Hamas forces into one organization under Palestinian government control would be difficult but also crucial for the long-term realization of the “one authority, one law, one gun” principle.

The path ahead will not be easy. The period ahead of us may be marred by violence. Governments in transition are often faced with threats of conflict and turmoil.

The Hamas transition into power is no different. The international community would be wise to resist the temptation of speedy measures aimed at isolating the Palestinians. The starvation of a people — whether it be actual, diplomatic or political — never leads to moderation.

Although an end to conflict is not in sight, the alternative must not be violence. A major event took place in the Middle East this year, and the international community must seize the opportunities it presents.

Bushra M. Jawabri is a Palestinian refugee currently working at the World Bank; Michael (Mickey) Bergman is a former officer in the Israeli Defense Forces and works at the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation. Bergman and Jawabri are graduates of the master of foreign service program at Georgetown University.

 

U.S. Must Refocus Democracy Building


The past few weeks have seen massive voter turnouts at two free, fair and largely peaceful elections. Yet neither election led to an inspiring outcome. Only muted hopefulness greeted Haiti’s election, while the results of the Palestinian elections were outright alarming.

These two votes highlight the changes that the Bush administration must make to its democracy-building efforts.

In both cases, the problem is an anti-democratic aspect of this policy. In Haiti, the United States’ long focus on what type of leader wins has undermined the creation of a stable democracy. The same emphasis in the Palestinian territories threatens to result in similar instability.

If the United States wishes to help build lasting democracies, it must trade its current focus on influencing outcomes for the long-term work of building democratic institutions, no matter who controls these governments in the short term.

In the 16 years since Haiti’s first free and democratic elections, after the end of the Duvalier regime, violence, corruption and poverty have abounded, while democracy has languished. Only one president has stayed in office for his entire term. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was twice elected and twice deposed by force.

The United States has given aid and attention but focused too little of it on building critical democratic institutions and too much on favoring certain parties and people. Indeed, despite official policy to the contrary, the Bush administration reportedly funded an organization that undermined the democratically elected Aristide in the months before he was forced into exile and the country fell into chaos.

Sixteen years after Haiti’s first hopeful elections, last week’s vote was not a normal event but instead only another flickering of hope against the odds that this time, things will be different.

In the Middle East, the United States has trumpeted its support for elections, while keeping quiet its work favoring a particular outcome. As reported in the Washington Post, the U.S. spent close to $2 million in anonymous funding of Palestinian Authority activities in the days before the election in order to bolster support for the sitting government.

The short-sighted U.S. strategy of supporting the least bad option at the moment, even if woefully corrupt and out of touch, invites contempt from those whose freedom it so stridently champions and from much of the international community. The United States emerges tainted, diminishing the morality of purpose, which has, for decades, been an indispensable element of the nation’s foreign policy toolbox.

The U.S. has tarnished this tool in the past by undermining democratically elected governments — in places such as Chile and Iran — that were not aligned with policy interests. But it is particularly important now, when much of the administration’s agenda revolves around building democracies, to prioritize long-term change in the direction of the United States’ democratic principles over short-term alignment to its current needs.

The administration’s shortsighted approach was readily apparent in its approach to the Palestinian Authority. Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, was widely recognized as corrupt and unable to provide basic services, despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid.

Had the administration focused more on how U.S. aid was (or was not) being used, Palestinians might have had greater faith that the United States was committed to improving their lives and not simply trying to prop up a politically friendly, corrupt government. That is, they might have believed the money was intended for more than influencing a political outcome.

Hamas also benefited from external funding, yet it managed to provide basic social services with some of that money. The administration’s surprise at support for those who improve voters’ lives — even if their other goals are repellent — indicates a lack of understanding of the needs of transitional communities.

The United States can and should pursue a different course. And it is not too late. The results of activities such as training journalists, supporting human rights monitors and helping to draft clear and workable laws may not be immediately apparent. But in the long run, institutions based on democratic principles and designed around local circumstances will be more likely than elections alone to result in strong democracies.

When the building blocks of public and private institutions and systems are allowed to flourish with the appropriate support, these emerging societies are more likely to support the same principles that Americans hold dear.

Attorney Julia Fromholz has advised human rights organizations in Cambodia and serves as a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

 

Schwarzenegger Is Losing Jewish Vote


In November 2003, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. White voters backed the recall by a large margin, but Jewish voters swam against the tide, with 69 percent voting against the recall. On the second part of the ballot, where voters chose a replacement candidate, Schwarzenegger collected a surprising 31 percent of Jewish voters.

I suggested then in these pages that Schwarzenegger might eventually do well with Jews: “Jewish voters aren’t likely to abandon the Democratic Party anytime soon, but will likely give Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to prove that he can govern in a bipartisan, moderate manner…. If Schwarzenegger truly seeks to solve the state’s problems without being a tool of right-wing forces, and with an open-minded, progressive approach, he may find a surprising number of friends among California’s Democratic-leaning Jewish voters.”

Chance given, chance blown.

Political historians will surely marvel at the precipitous political decline of California’s celebrity governor, especially because Schwarzenegger should have been a lock with Jewish voters. He came into office as a moderate Republican with lots of Democratic friends (he’s even married to a Democrat), with pro-choice views on abortion and as an advocate of “reform,” a concept dear to many Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger invited comparisons to Gov. George Pataki of New York, a Republican moderate who is finishing his third term in a very blue state. Over time, Schwarzenegger even seemed likely to attract support from elements of organized labor.

In the beginning, Schwarzenegger was a whirlwind, reaching out across party lines to Democratic leaders and listening to a broad range of advisers who included Democrats. He split his opposition by making budget deals with the teachers and with other key interest groups. He looked like a problem-solver, not an ideologue. For Democrats enraged and alienated by the narrow-cast politics of the Bush administration, he seemed to offer a different way.

Then, under no external pressure to do so, Schwarzenegger morphed into an AM talk radio Republican. As the governor’s deal with the teachers unraveled, he had to choose between outraging Republicans by raising taxes or reneging on the original deal. His choice revealed him to be less like Earl Warren, and more like Pete Wilson. No longer surrounded by Democrats (something that had annoyed the Bush White House), he now listened to Wilson’s advisers. He blasted teachers and nurses as obstacles to change. After a transparently showy attempt to consult with Democrats, he hewed to the Bush-Rove line that all problems could be solved if Democrats and unions were excluded from the table.

Then, to add a little spice for the AM radio crowd, the governor began to talk about “closing the borders” and praised the Minutemen group carrying guns to block illegal immigrants. (Jewish voters, remember, were the one group of voters other than Latinos to oppose Wilson’s Proposition 187 campaign in 1994.) And Schwarzenegger kept up the juvenile rhetoric and media stunts that had long since worn out their welcomes.

Finally, and catastrophically, the governor called a special election for November, watched his poorly designed initiatives drop one at a time, and now finds himself fighting a battle he never should have picked.

He dropped dozens of points in the polls, completely losing Democrats and most independents. Like Bush, he now has to depend on a highly ideological Republican base. Unlike Bush, these really aren’t his people, but they are all he’s got. They certainly don’t look like Jewish voters.

Since there are a lot of Jewish teachers, it’s hard to imagine how demonizing the teachers’ unions will help with Jewish voters. Taking money without disclosure from muscle magazines that depend on unexamined, and possibly hazardous, dietary supplements while raising colossal amounts of special-interest money hardly comport with a “reform” image.

How to reverse the decline?

Jews will definitely vote for the right moderate Republican candidate in statewide elections. But for a Republican to win over Jews requires accommodating their Democratic loyalty and leanings at least halfway. The Wilson Republican camp says Schwarzenegger just needs to push harder in the same direction; the opposition, in their view, will fold like a house of cards. Others suggest that the governor ought to return to what he once seemed, a bipartisan, imposing, socially moderate problem-solver free of special-interest control. While the second option is obviously more sensible, it may not be easy to backtrack.

Schwarzenegger is playing a much weaker hand than when he swept into office. At the time, conservatives suspected that he was a potentially troublesome moderate, and on whose popularity their own party’s prospects depended. Democrats were impressed by his popularity and charm, and could perceive a real threat to their conventional thinking and political dominance. Riding high, Schwarzenegger might have challenged the orthodoxies of both parties and in Clintonian fashion, could have “triangulated” them. Now that he has put himself in the partisan box, he has raised expectations on the right and a fighting spirit on the left.

To break out now, Schwarzenegger might have to rise more strongly to challenge the Bush Republicans. He has already done so on global warming and stem cell research. Schwarzenegger will have to reach out to Democrats and make them part of the solution to the state’s problems, an attitude which, if sincere rather than a setup, would send a positive signal to Jewish voters. And then he has to get to work on the state’s problems, every day, without distractions and gimmicks. In the parlance of today’s partisan politics, this blue state will probably be amenable to a purple governor, but not to a red one.

Jewish voters are serious and attentive students of politics and government. They are a tough audience. If Schwarzenegger can win their favor, he will be on the way toward rehabilitating a crippled governorship.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

 

Battling Board Backs Bond


What a difference a day makes.

In 24 little hours, the L.A. school board journeyed last week from chaos to harmony; from nothing to a November ballot measure; from no new taxes to a bond measure that will ask voters to raise their property taxes for schools “one last time.”

If voters go for it, these local school bonds would be the fourth in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 1997, and would raise $3.985 billion to pay for new and repaired schools. Part of the money is needed to make up for the feverishly rising cost of school construction; the rest would fund a program that has expanded to some $15.2 billion, perhaps the nation’s largest ongoing public works project outside of Iraq.

About half of Southern California’s Jewish families send their children to public schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Those largely middle-class families should be seeing positive changes in their L.A. neighborhood schools. The bulk of current and future bond dollars, however, will address areas of greatest need, namely the overcrowded and dilapidated schools in heavily minority neighborhoods, such as East Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.

The person who made the difference last week between bonds and no bonds was Superintendent Roy Romer. The former three-term governor of Colorado knows a thing or two about behind-the-scenes politicking, and he needed all his wiles, before and after the school board’s July 27 meeting. That was to be the day for board members to put the bond measure on the ballot. The trustees needed to act before the end of July, officials said, to make the November ballot.

Instead, the board consensus crashed and burned.

The pivotal dispute arose over funding for charter schools. These are independently run campuses monitored but not controlled by L.A. Unified. Many parents and officials extol charter schools as the reform path of the future, but San Fernando Valley board members Julie Korenstein and Jon Lauritzen have their doubts. They didn’t like that Romer had increased funds for charter schools from $25 million to $70 million. In other words, money for charter schools rose from just over one-half of 1 percent to 1.8 percent of the bond.

Romer had reasons for making the change; mainly, he wanted the good will and campaign support of charter-school parents and advocates in the run-up to November. These advocates had lobbied him hard for more bond money, arguing that LAUSD was legally required to help charter schools find classroom space.

But Korenstein and Lauritzen were determined to knock charter funding down to $50 million. District sources say $50 million was the figure that some insiders judged as the minimum that would avoid a defection of charter supporters from the November bond. The trim was made at first, but then undone by a later transfer.

Through all the maneuvering, the 76-year-old Romer, on crutches from recent surgery on his right ankle, wore a weary, expressionless mask, but he had to be feeling slightly apoplectic. His carefully allocated pots of money — divided up just so — were being futzed with through a series of four-vote majorities. But he needed five votes to get the thing on the ballot, and his fifth vote was slipping away.

Korenstein already had alerted everyone that she needed to leave at 6 p.m., but when charter schools got their money back, she shaved off a few extra minutes and stormed out of the room, refusing to vote.

Board member Jose Huizar dashed out in her wake. Huizar is running for the East L.A. City Council seat vacated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and in an interview, Huizar indicated that he didn’t want to be the deciding vote. Lauritzen stayed in the room, but told The Journal afterwards that he was leaning toward a “no” vote. And Romer had never been counting on a “yes” from board member Marguerite LaMotte. In an interview, she talked of being “on the fence” at best.

In a matter of minutes, a possible 7-0 vote had collapsed to a likely 3-4.

Romer asked for the board meeting to be suspended till the next afternoon. He then went to work behind the scenes, while also making time to steel himself by having dinner and a glass of Pinot Grigiot with friends. He knew what he had to do: knock down the charter-school funding to bring Korenstein and Lauritzen back on board.

That’s exactly what happened. And even Huizar, the cautious council candidate, jumped on the bandwagon to make it 6-0. (The seventh board member, Marguerite LaMotte, didn’t attend the Wednesday meeting.)

If approved by voters, the bond would mostly pay for renovating existing schools and building new ones — costs for that have shot up to about $85,000 per seat. The price in property taxes will average about $27 for every $100,000 of assessed property value, on top of about $85 per $100,000 for the previous school bonds.

This bond demonstrates how ambitious the LAUSD construction program has become. Before this effort, the school district last opened a high school in 1971. This program envisions about 12 new high schools among 160 new campuses. And, at the end of this spending, said Romer and his staff, no more students would attend school on a year-round schedule, which shortens the school year by 17 days. And middle schools would have no more than 2,000 students.

Such goals were barely contemplated when voters passed the 1997 bond, which mostly fixed as many district schools as the money could get to. But that was before Romer arrived, and got going with his high cost, high benefit vision.

In getting this bond on the ballot, all three Jewish board members played central roles. For better or worse, Korenstein, who represents much of the San Fernando Valley, nearly torpedoed the entire bond over a relatively modest increase in charter-school funds.

David Tokofsky, whose district runs from Silver Lake to southeast L.A. County, successfully moved bond money around, but failed to get as much funding as he wanted to help construct future charter schools. Tokofsky works part time for a charter-school operator and speaks like a true believer. Charters aside, Tokofsky never wavered in supporting the new bond. He wanted to raise taxes even more, but failed to persuade a board majority to put an additional annual levy — $150 per parcel — on the ballot.

And then there was Westside board member Marlene Canter, recently installed as board of education president. She is generally Romer’s tightest ally. In her role as meeting chair, Canter presided, helplessly, as Romer’s five-vote bloc disintegrated. Then, the next day, she efficiently executed Romer’s plan to recapture the lost votes. Part of this strategy was siding with Korenstein to trim charter-school funding.

If Jewish voters are like other middle-class parents, there’s a solid chance they would want more help, not less, for charter schools. Romer is betting they’ll support the bond anyway, and the completion of his massive building program depends on it.

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Blocs Play Key Role in Villaraigosa’s Win


 

With his election as mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa now has the chance to deliver on the coalition approach he offered to the voters in the recent campaign. If he succeeds, Los Angeles government may start to find solutions to problems that have previously seemed intractable. If he fails, he will leave a city more balkanized than before, and one that will have a harder time than ever solving its problems.

Villaraigosa won, in part, because Mayor James K. Hahn’s coalition of African Americans and white Republicans and moderates evaporated. It partially re-formed for the mayor on Election Day, but not enough to carry him to victory.

Political fortunes aside, Hahn’s coalition also complicated his governance as mayor. It was difficult for Hahn to turn an alliance of African Americans, strong supporters of the public sector, and white Republicans, skeptical of government, into a problem-solving coalition. Firing Police Chief Bernard Parks pleased the Valley, but enraged South Los Angeles. Fighting secession pleased South L.A., but enraged Valley activists.

In each case, those who favored Hahn’s approach were much less grateful than those who were outraged by it. Hahn’s experience shows that just getting votes from two different groups is not the same as enjoying a trusting, enduring coalition. The less trusting the coalition blocs, the more they demand from the leader, and the easier it is to disillusion them.

This is all background to asking: What is Villaraigosa’s coalition? It is actually at least two coalitions, one tucked inside another like Russian nesting dolls. The first coalition represents those who voted for Villaraigosa in 2001; the second ring consists of those who shifted from Hahn to Villaraigosa, principally because of policy decisions made by the mayor. The first coalition is between Latinos and liberal whites, particularly Westside Jews. Even in his 2001 defeat, Villaraigosa drew a majority of Westside Jews, while Hahn took Valley Jews and the overall Jewish vote. But this time, Villaraigosa got out front with Jews on both sides of the hill, won the endorsement of former mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg and coasted.

In fact, this Latino-liberal-Jewish base has appeared before in opposition to Proposition 187 in 1994. Latino and Jewish leaders have been quietly cultivating each other for the past 10 years, as the black-Jewish Tom Bradley coalition eroded. So this coalition has some legs and some history.

The second coalition is a lot newer, and more tentative, but also critically important to the city: the one between Latinos and African Americans. African Americans have seen the rise of Latinos and have worried about it.

In 2001, African Americans voted overwhelmingly for Hahn over Villaraigosa; only younger black voters went with the Latino candidate. Villaraigosa won in 2005 in large part because many black voters abandoned Hahn after he fired Chief Parks, and also because many African American leaders endorsed Villaraigosa.

We know that African Americans were unhappy with Hahn; it remains to be seen whether that alienation can turn into a long-term alliance with Latinos. Meanwhile, some black and Latino high school students have had fights in the schools, an expression of ongoing black-Latino mutual discomfort. It will be a critical task to ease tensions between the city’s two largest and most mobilized minority groups.

Villaraigosa has at least a three-sided coalition to deal with, not to mention the other groups that will expect some attention and civic improvement (such as Valley residents angry about Hahn’s assertive anti-secession stance or airport neighbors furious about Hahn’s LAX expansion plan). Ironically, those who switched from Hahn may have more specific demands (namely, different policies than those pursued by Hahn) than those who supported Villaraigosa in 2001.

Nonetheless, Jewish voters will hope for a great deal from Villaraigosa. A coalition approach should appeal to those in the Jewish community who fondly remember Bradley. Jewish voters, especially on the Westside, are the city’s main reform constituency.

They will be watching closely to see if the new mayor takes action to clean up contracting at City Hall. Traffic, growth and planning issues (including the selection of a new city planning director) will be carefully watched among Jewish voters both on the Westside and in the Valley.

Fortunately for Villaraigosa, his disparate coalition is not as ideologically divided as Hahn’s black-white conservative alliance. While Jews and African Americans, for example, do not have much mutual involvement these days, they are also not ideological opponents. At the end of the day, keeping Jews and African Americans happy will take exactly the same qualities that it will take to keep everybody else happy.

Underlying the excitement of the first modern Latino mayor of Los Angeles is a city of Jews, blacks, Latinos and others who look with hope for a mayor who governs decisively and fairly for all.

Professor Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, was the Election Day political consultant to the Los Angeles Times Poll in 2005.

 

When Jews Lose


 

The narrow defeat of mayoral candidate Robert Hertzberg marked a signal defeat not only for Los Angeles but for the future of Jewish influence in Los Angeles. For the second time in four years, Los Angeles voters turned down a smart, moderate Jewish candidate — last time it was Steve Soboroff — for people whose primary affiliations lie with other interests and ethnic groups.

As occurred in Soboroff’s loss, the deathblow to Hertzberg’s spirited campaign came from his fellow landsmen, less than half of whom bothered to support him. In contrast, African Americans rallied in larger percentages for City Councilman Bernard Parks, as did Latinos, clearly the city’s ascendant group, in their backing for City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Jewish rejection of Hertzberg is all the more puzzling since, unlike the Republican Soboroff, he is a well-known Democrat with moderately liberal credentials. Hertzberg’s pro-business stance and positions on critical issues, such as traffic and the schools, should also have won him broader support.

To a large extent, the explanation for this defection lies in a continued, and growing, divide between two distinct groups of Jewish voters. On the one side are the more middle-class Jews, concentrated in the San Fernando Valley, who are more likely to run local businesses and would like to be able to send their kids to public schools. These largely secularly oriented Jews, although mostly registered Democrats, joined the more Orthodox, particularly in places like Pico-Robertson, in backing Hertzberg.

Where Hertzberg failed was with another large bloc of Jewish voters, the very liberal, generally more affluent constituencies that cluster largely on the Westside. These people split their vote evenly between Hertzberg and liberal heartthrob Villaraigosa.

Hertzberg adviser David Abel traces this to the Westside elite’s lack of interest in local affairs.

“The [Westside] Jews are losing any connection to local government and think only on the national level,” Abel said.

Whatever the reasons, Hertzberg’s campaign failed to mobilize the Westside. Perhaps Hertzberg’s pledge to address the underperforming Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) — with its horrific near 50 percent dropout rate — was less critical since so few Westsiders now send their kids to public schools, particularly past the primary grades. The fact that it is someone else’s kids, such as children of their nannies, who have to be subjected to LAUSD, no doubt makes a difference.

Political consultant Arnold Steinberg points out that many of these same voters, and politicians, also backed busing, which has probably expelled more Jewish families from Los Angeles — and particularly the Valley — than anything outside the 1992 riots. Wealthy liberals often enjoy a special immunity from the consequences of their politics.

So given these trends, what is the future of Jewish political power and place in Los Angeles? In the short term, the chances of electing a Jewish mayor are fairly remote, given the divisions in the community, and the growing dominance of Los Angeles by Latino politicians and public employee unions. At the same time, the Jewish vote as a percent of the city electorate is decreasing — down to 14 percent from highs of more than 20 a decade ago — and likely to keep doing so, as more families opt out of the city to settle in places with better schools and often more welcoming business climates.

“The demographic trends are limiting the options for Jewish politicians,” Steinberg said. A Jewish mayor could still be elected someday in the future, he suggested, but probably only if the city founders further under Hahn or a future Villaraigosa administration. Perhaps it will take a woman to do this, like clean-government maven Laura Chick.

In the immediate future, however, Jewish power in Los Angeles will likely be largely as a “swing” group, whose major power is as much measured by campaign contributions as votes. Whatever the fantasies of some left-leaning Jews, there is little reason to expect a Villaraigosa administration would revive something like the old Bradley multiracial coalition by substituting Latinos for African Americans.

This is improbable because things have changed so much over the past 30 years. In the early 1970s, Los Angeles still had a strong right wing that Jews could oppose without embracing far-left politics. Today, the right is all but dead in Los Angeles. At the same time, a Villaraigosa administration would rest on a bedrock of Latino power, including many talented professionals and savvy labor activists, whose numbers suggest little need for “coalition building” on an equal footing with a fractured, increasingly indifferent and shrinking, minority.

Instead, I expect that most Jews, particularly those in the Valley and places like Pico-Robertson, will do as Jews have done for centuries. They will retreat into their families and private businesses, scrap together the shekels to send their kids to private school or leave Dodge entirely. They will survive, and even thrive as individuals, but will likely never again be a central source of political power within the confines of a city that we have done so much to shape.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” to be published by next month by Modern Library.

 

A Four-Part Fight


 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is picking a fight with longtime powers in Sacramento instead of trying to be everybody’s pal, raising a question of whether he can bring voters along with him who are torn by their desire for good government but angry over mounting partisanship.

Voters, according to a recent Mervin Field California Poll, are open to the governor’s four reform ideas heading into a probable November special election, even though voters don’t personally approve of Schwarzenegger as much as they once did.

The California Poll shows about half of Californians support his four reforms — basing teacher raises on merit, changing state worker pensions to a 401(k)-like system, creating an independent panel of retired judges to draw voting districts and instituting automatic budget cuts when California’s treasury runs low. Smaller numbers of voters oppose the reforms or don’t have an opinion yet.

Perhaps Schwarzenegger’s toughest sell is the least sweeping: reforming government pensions that, according to the state Department of Finance, guarantee a state secretary hired today who works 20 years and retires at age 60 will receive a $1 million payout if living to full life expectancy. These exploding costs are increasingly borne by taxpayers. Schwarzenegger’s plan, authored by state Assemblyman Keith Richman, a Jewish Republican from the San Fernando Valley, faces vociferous opposition from the powerful 140,000-member California State Employees Association.

Schwarzenegger fares better in the California Poll on his idea to give raises to teachers based on merit rather than solely on seniority. He has yet to flesh out the details, but a hefty 60 percent like the idea, likely to involve giving raises to teachers who outperform a statewide sample of teachers whose students match their own kids both economically and racially.

Although rising partisanship has hurt Schwarzenegger, some observers say he can still attract liberal Jews and others who are not natural allies but who want government to be more effective for those in need.

Ben Austin, political strategist for liberal Democrats, notes that, “because the governor has two very different constituencies he needs to speak to, the governor is in a difficult but not untenable situation. Conservatives want to see these reforms as vehicles for making government smaller and more efficient. For liberal Jews and other progressives, he needs a language to discuss his ideas in the context of making government better but not smaller: more able to serve those who progressives believe need help — children, the elderly and others.”

Not surprisingly, Schwarzenegger is working to appeal to liberally oriented groups associated with good government. He’s found some unexpected non-Republican allies.

A case in point is Common Cause, which supports an end to the “safe seats” gerrymandering scheme in California that currently allows incumbents to use computers to divide voters into bizarrely shaped voting districts specifically designed to return incumbents to office. Last fall, “safe seats” guaranteed that not a single one of California’s 173 legislative and congressional seats changed party hands.

Another group that does not typically align itself with causes led by Republicans is Education Trust-West, which concerns itself with achievement among urban and especially black children.

While not endorsing merit pay for teachers, Education Trust-West recently spoke warmly about Schwarzenegger’s idea for bonus pay for talented teachers who agree to work in inner-city schools — an idea intensely ridiculed by teacher unions.

Jews offer a bellwether into whether the governor can sell his ideas to voters who, while skeptical of Schwarzenegger, aren’t happy with the public schools, state deficits and gerrymandering.

Political analyst Pat Caddell, a former pollster for President Jimmy Carter, says it is possible Schwarzenegger has already poisoned the well with liberals, including Jews, by raising enormous sums of money — roughly $73,000 per day — to fight the well-monied status-quo groups who oppose these changes.

“If Arnold just acts like the pro-business candidate and Democrats are summed up as the anti-reform unions and special interests, I think that really fails to involve the citizenry who are affected by all this,” Caddell said. “Arnold can’t fly alone on this or he will be in big trouble. He has to reach out to the middle-class voters, such as parents who always get left out of education reform.”

Republican Jewish voters, largely thrilled with the governor’s bold strokes, believe he still has the ability to appeal to liberals.

Eva Nagler, a Republican Jewish Coalition board member and a professor of political science, notes that “because Arnold still transcends politics as usual — with Republicans saying he is too liberal — he’s still more palatable to liberal Jews than other Republicans. Arnold’s not a threat to their traditional issues of separation of church and state, environmental protection. He still has an opening.”

If approved, the four key reforms would directly affect millions of people –voters, families with children and taxpayers. Austin said that while the fight will be furious, “The governor’s ability to communicate means it’s not impossible. There is a path out of the forest.”

So get ready for the greatest test of Arnold’s communication powers so far. His real challenge is to convince Californians that while he can’t be everybody’s best friend, he’s striving to do what’s right.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist and can be reached at

Mayoral Magic


 

At your next dinner party, here’s a surefire way to bring the sparkling conversation to a dead stop. In the midst of all the banter about the Oscars and Westside real estate prices and Michael Jackson, chime in with, “So, what do you think of the mayoral race?”

Go ahead. Ask it. Within five minutes, you’ll see tumbleweeds blowing through your living room.

There is a political junkie class in the city for whom the mayoral race has been the issue over the past few months. But beyond that group and their co-dependents in the media, the level of interest in who will be the next leader of the largest city in the most populous state in the world’s most powerful nation is close to nil.

“I don’t really care,” said a friend of mine tied in with the entertainment industry, “and I don’t know anyone who does.” He paused for a moment. “Why is that?”

The Los Angeles Times editorialized on this question a few weeks back, but the Times and the other media is part of the problem, with our largely predictable, dutiful and resolutely plain coverage. This is a race that has to be sold to voters — why it’s important, what’s at stake, who stands to win and lose –and most coverage doesn’t appeal beyond the public access news chat set.

Here at The Journal, we’ve run several insightful columns and had some solid initial coverage. But have we done enough to goose potential voters?

Many in the media blame the candidates themselves. All the candidates are Democrats, all are decent, safe men, nary a grandstander, bully or bigmouth among them. They have their 20-point traffic plans and 30-page crime plans, but they seem strangely detached from the here and now. They haven’t jumped on the volatile issues of the day — the shooting of 13-year-old Devon Brown by an LAPD officer after Williams stole a car, the closure of King/Drew Medical Center — and staked out a controversial or challenging position. Can you imagine a New York City’s mayoral race that doesn’t involve the words controversial, volatile or challenging?

The last multicandidate election to spark widespread interest in Los Angeles was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Even the local television news covered it. The Deaniacs, the Kerryites, the Clarkettes — people in this town were passionate, Brentwood was thick with fundraisers and policy papers on early childhood education and universal health care actually circulated alongside weekend grosses.

With only three weeks to go to Election Day, how can we recapture the kind of democratic magic that only Iraqi Shiites and Kurds have known since?

I have two strategies. To all in the entertainment industry who plunged headlong into the presidential primary but think civic politics is beneath you, I suggest thinking of the current field of five men as midseason replacements for last summer’s cast.

In the role of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, we have Mayor James Hahn. Quiet, no great shakes on the stump, but a solid vote getter with down-the-middle policies. Bernard Parks, city councilman and former police chief, is Connecticut’s Sen. Joe Lieberman. A bit dull on camera, but very engaging and direct in person, and no pushover to traditional Democratic interest groups. City Councilman Richard Alarcman is Howard Dean, the new Democratic Party Chair. He gets in some good zingers in the debates, maybe appears a bit too left for some, but in governing has been much more pragmatic. As Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, there’s his former Los Angeles campaign chair, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa. The putative front-runner, the party pick, Villaraigosa has 1,000 times more charisma than Kerry but, well, they’ve both lost the big one once. That leaves Gen. Wesley Clark for former assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg — not a terrible fit. Both pragmatic Democrats with solid Republican affiliations, both a bit tentative about joining the race, though they each warmed up to the challenge after a while, though Hertzberg hugs more people in a day than Clark probably has all last year.

Does that help? The comparisons are crude, as many analogies — especially tongue-in-cheek ones — must be. But at least they help provide a hook for those who otherwise couldn’t tell Alarcman from the Alamo. Anyway, take heart, this time a Democrat will definitely win — how often can you say that these days?

As our columnist Raphael Sonenshein has pointed out, although Jews represent just 6 percent of the population, we make up 18 percent of the voters in municipal elections. The statistics are even more skewed for donations and activism among individual Jews. So although we might need less encouragement than other voters, the apathy is still there, and that’s a shame. Crime, traffic, failing schools, economic development, poor air and dirty water — these are issues that affect all of us every hour of every day. They are the stuff of City Hall, and who sits there does matter.

We’ve just completed the last of our in-house sit-downs with each of the major candidates, and we’ll publish the fruits of those interviews in our March 4 issue. (The election is March 8.)

In the meantime, take time to do your own research, seek out and get to know something about these men. Because whether Los Angeles thrives or declines depends in no small part on the person who leads it.

In his soon-to-be-published book, “The City: A Global History” (Random House), Journal columnist Joel Kotkin writes that the world’s great cities have survived marauders, sieges and all manners of disasters. For these cities, even utter destruction was not final. But what the citizens of every great city must have is a “peculiar and strong attachment, sentiments that separate one specific place from others.” In the end, Kotkin writes, cities are held together, “by a consciousness that unites their people in a shared identity.”

I myself am looking at these candidates to see who best engenders and conveys that sense of common purpose, of shared greatness. I want a mayor who stands for what Kotkin calls, “the powerful moral vision that holds cities together.”

If he also supports a subway to the Westside, that would be nice, too.

 

The Westside Vote


 

There were two “Jewish” debates earlier this month, one in the Valley and one on the Westside. While Mayor james Hahn did not attend the

Valley session at Temple Judea, all five major candidates came to the Westside debate at Temple Beth Am. My visit to the latter debate allowed me to look at one constituency: Westside Jews.

With 6 percent of the city’s population, Jews cast between 16 percent to 18 percent of all votes in mayoral elections. That makes them one of the four key blocs in the electorate, along with Latinos (22 percent or more), white Republicans (around 20 percent) and African Americans (around 10-14 percent).

Jews are an increasingly important share of the declining white vote. Today, one-third of the city’s white voters are Jewish, compared to one-fourth a decade ago.

But “bloc” may be too strong a word. Los Angeles Jews were a loyal, devoted, and united bloc for Tom Bradley, and vote as a bloc for Democrats at the state and national levels. But in 1993, about half of the Jewish voters backed Republican Richard Riordan against Bradley’s presumed heir, Michael Woo; more than 60 percent supported Riordan in his 1997 re-election against Tom Hayden.

Jewish voters are somewhat split by geography. While Westside Jews are still quite liberal and supported Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001, more moderate Valley Jews went with Hahn.

Jewish voters gave considerable support to Jewish primary candidates Joel Wachs and Richard Katz in 1993, and Wachs and Republican Steven Soboroff in 2001. None of these Jewish candidates made the runoff, so we don’t know yet how uniformly Jews might support a Jewish candidate in the general election.

While Westside Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic, it is hard to predict where they will end up in a race contested by five Democrats. This makes it hard for candidates to know how to appeal to Westside Jewish voters this year: Are they liberals, cautious Democrats, ethnic loyalists, civic reformers or what? This bloc-within-a-bloc is a significant force, because of its extremely high level of political involvement, campaign contributions and voter turnout.

My first impression during the debate was that the candidates were articulate, friendly and effective. What also struck me, however, was that none of the candidates was truly “at home” on the Westside — although Bob Hertzberg did joke about working “24/6” and referred to “this bimah,” and Villaraigosa managed to mix Hebrew and liberalism by using the phrase tikkun olam.

In this race, there is no candidate whose base is on the Westside of Los Angeles. That hasn’t happened often in Los Angeles political history.

Bernard Parks’ candidacy starts in South Los Angeles, and Richard Alarcon’s foundation is the East Valley. Hahn is running as the incumbent who has general appeal without generating great enthusiasm in any single community. While he has historically done well on the Westside in his numerous citywide races, he does not have the deep base there that would assure him that area’s support against strong opposition.

Hertzberg and Villaraigosa are the closest to having a second home on the Westside, followed by Hahn. Villaraigosa did very well among Westside Jews in 2001, winning a majority of their votes.

He might do well there again, but he does not have Bradley’s lock on these neighborhoods. His core base is among Latinos, principally on the Eastside, with hopes of holding his core of white liberals and Jews.

With his overall appeal to Jewish voters, Hertzberg can contest heavily for the Westside as well, but his base is the Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley. Between them, Hertzberg and Villaraigosa may cut deeply into Hahn’s support on the Westside.

I could feel the absence of Bradley, for whom the Westside was a second political home. When he campaigned in Westside synagogues, he was greeted as a well-loved member of the family. Even Republican Riordan, whose votes came more from the Valley, was personally and socially a Westsider (like his friend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Fighting crime, balancing the budget and filling potholes will win votes anywhere in Los Angeles and will certainly help on the Westside. And coalition politics with Jewish votes is not nearly the seamless, simple relationship that it was in the Bradley days. But one clue for any candidates who want to win the votes of Westside Jews is the importance of the reform and improvement of local government.

This highly attentive constituency, the least alienated of the city’s neighborhoods, fills the ranks of city commissions, closely observes the doings at City Hall and routinely votes in favor of measures to reform government. It was here that the 1999 City Charter won its largest margin of support, and where efforts to reform the Los Angeles Police Department generated the strongest backing among white voters.

A coherent, comprehensive agenda to prevent the sort of conflict-of-interest problems that have bedeviled the city government recently has yet to emerge in the campaign. The candidate who can offer more than a package of proposals and explain how the voters can be assured that both the commission system and the contracting process can be sensibly reformed may have the opportunity to stand out from the crowd seeking Westside votes.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform and the Battle for Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 2004).

 

The Arnold Factor


 

With the candidates for Los Angeles mayor increasingly invoking the name of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the campaign trail, a buzz is

breaking out over whether Schwarzenegger will endorse any of the challengers to Mayor James Hahn. Such a move could hurt more than help him, but political considerations alone may not dictate this unusual governor’s decision.

There are big reasons for Schwarzenegger to stay out. First, even embattled incumbents like Hahn hold an advantage, and Schwarzenegger needs to work with Hahn if the mayor is re-elected. Beyond that, endorsements rarely sway voters.

If Schwarzenegger’s endorsement backfired and his guy lost, the governor would look weak. If his candidate won, how, realistically, could the new mayor help Sacramento?

Schwarzenegger’s mum on the topic. Nevertheless, he is already a key figure in the race, earning frequent mentions — generally quite negative — from the mostly pro-labor union candidates for mayor.

At a recent debate sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, for example, state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys) accused Hahn of cutting a deal with Schwarzenegger that failed to quickly recover for Los Angeles a pot of local taxpayer funds that were diverted to the state budget.

Although he defended himself, Hahn failed to note a crucial fact: It was Alarcon and his colleagues in Sacramento, not Hahn or Schwarzenegger, who for years voted to divert that tax money out of Los Angeles and into the ever-growing state spending budget.

Bill Carrick, campaign consultant to Hahn, noted of Alarcon’s claim: “These legislators have been stealing the city’s damn money, and then they get up on the stage and blame Jim?”

Further, such controversies are likely to erupt as Schwarzenegger’s quasi-presence in the race looms larger and charges fly. Consider that although the five leading candidates for mayor are all Democrats, one of them — former California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg — is a trusted adviser to the governor, while another — Hahn — works closely with Schwarzenegger on fiscal issues.

Even more intriguing is the fact that three mayoral candidates — Alarcon, Hertzberg and City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa (another former Assembly speaker) — played roles in the massive deficit Schwarzenegger inherited, although Villaraigosa left Sacramento in 2000, before the crisis. Add these elements together, and you’ve got a recipe for bizarre alliances, not to mention efforts to blast the governor and shift some blame for Los Angeles’ troubles his way.

The only candidate with little to gain from Arnold-obsessing seems to be City Councilman Bernard Parks. One of only two candidates not directly involved in running up the $35 billion California budget deficit under Gov. Gray Davis (the other is Hahn), Parks sticks to skewering those who spend local funds in ways he finds troubling — Hahn and the L.A. City Council.

Hertzberg may be the only candidate who can clearly gain by linking himself in a positive way to Schwarzenegger. Largely unknown outside the San Fernando Valley, he’s a moderate, pro-business type who might appeal to Schwarzenegger Democrats — if they knew who Hertzberg was. But Hertzberg suffers from “low name I.D.,” as does Alarcon.

And that’s why Schwarzenegger might be tempted to endorse his friend and adviser Hertzberg, despite the potential pitfalls. In politics, the antidote to low name I.D. is spending large sums to introduce the candidate to voters via TV and other advertising. Hertzberg, who has already raised more than $2 million, could become a household name in Los Angeles if Schwarzenegger kicked in some major cash.

Hertzberg’s campaign consultant, John Shallman, noted, “We have not asked Gov. Schwarzenegger to endorse Bob, and Bob probably would never ask and would leave that to the governor.”

Kevin Spillane, a Republican consultant, said, “Endorsements are always overrated, and very few endorsements swing any voters one way or another — it’s the financial support they generate.”

In other words, if Arnold gives a lot to Hertzberg, others will give money, too.

In fact, money is so key to this race that Walter Moore, a successful Republican attorney also running for mayor, lent himself $100,000 — in hopes of proving to the media and civic groups, which have barred him from key mayoral debates — that he is a genuine candidate for mayor.

Rich Lichtenstein, a Democratic consultant not representing any candidate, said he’d bet that “if Arnold sees movement in Bob’s [poll] numbers, Arnold would put a chunk of change in to put him over the top. Bob Hertzberg is the most viable candidate for mayor, in terms of who the Schwarzenegger administration thinks is the right person. While it’s true you do not want to alienate whoever might be the future mayor of L.A., Arnold is an extremely loyal guy, and Bob Hertzberg has cultivated a relationship with him.”

Clearly, most political consultants would advise the governor against getting into the L.A. mayoral race. Lichtenstein called it “sticking his nose in,” and, perhaps understandably, Hahn’s consultant, Carrick, said, “I don’t think it would be a very good idea.”

But as we’ve seen, the governor has a strange way of conducting politics. He has a lot to lose if he backs his friend Hertzberg, and he doesn’t have all that much to win. In other words, don’t be surprised if he follows conventional wisdom. Just don’t be surprised if he defies it.

Syndicated columnist Jill Stewart writes a monthly column for The Journal. She can be reached at

Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality


 

As the furor over the election dies down, with unseemly whining from sore losers and unseemly gloating from sore winners, certain stereotypes of Bush voters continue to command currency among disgruntled liberals. One of them is that Bush supporters, and conservatives in general, are dumb, ignorant and out of touch with reality.

This notion has been bandied about with quite a bit of smugness. Some on the left, taking an ironic cue from the widely reported comments of a “senior Bush adviser” to reporter Ron Suskind, have begun calling themselves “the reality-based community.”

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda. Other Republicans who support tougher environmental and labor standards incorrectly assume that Bush favors these positions as well.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives?

George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, a libertarian who was highly critical of both candidates in the past election, points out on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that in other surveys, Republicans have on average scored higher than Democrats on knowledge of political issues than Democrats — although voters across the board tend to be woefully ill-informed. Bernstein speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

Is it possible that Republican voters are likely to fall for the administration’s spin on the issues? Of course.

But is there any evidence that Democratic voters are less likely to fall for their own side’s spin or to buy into their own side’s myths? Not really.

I’m willing to bet that if you asked people whether it’s true or false that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a MoveOn.org ad), many more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook, who is no conservative and no Bush supporter.

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually under way would have given a victory to Bush (although Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).

And, no doubt, far more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters believed Kerry’s groundless claim in a campaign stump speech that 1 million African American votes weren’t counted in Florida.

A particularly amusing instance of the “Americans voted for Bush because they’re so dumb” trope occurred in a post-election discussion in Slate. Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that “the United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending.”

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries — Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Norway — spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States. We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.

But Kipnis’ statistic — for which she was unable to provide a source, saying that she used it in her last book but currently had no access to her notes — fits neatly into the stereotypes of American stupidity and greed.

In other news, a poll conducted on Nov. 3 showed that 13 percent of all voters believed Bush had stolen the election. That adds up to about a quarter of Kerry voters.

Another 10 percent believed that he had won it “on a technicality.” After Salon, a strongly anti-Bush online magazine, published an article debunking various election fraud theories, the author, Farhad Manjoo, was deluged with e-mails asking if he was on the Republican payroll.

“Reality-based,” indeed.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.

 

A Question of Morality


We have been bombarded with the phrase “moral values” ever since it was announced that 22 percent of voters cited it as the single

most important consideration in the 2004 election. Not Iraq, not terrorism, not the economy.

Moral values. It is also reported that 23 percent of voters described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, and that a whopping 80 percent of these “values” voters cast their ballots for President Bush. This “moral values” theme has become so dominant that the 2004 election has been called the “God, guns and gays” election.

Bush administration officials have stated explicitly that far-right evangelicals turned out in record numbers to support the president and played a decisive role in his re-election.

It is interesting to note that while the religious far-right uniformly supported Bush, the Jewish community overwhelmingly voted for Kerry. Nationwide, Jews voted for Kerry over Bush by a 74-25 margin.

But just what are these “moral values” that so motivated the evangelicals, but apparently proved less than persuasive to the Jewish community? Put simply — and we like our moral values simple in America these days — they would include the following proscriptions:

1. No right of choice for women.

2. No civil unions for gays.

3. No gun control.

4. No embryonic stem cell research.

5. No separation of church and state.

And already the bellicose demands of the far right are dominating the national discourse. “We delivered the election to Bush” they seem to be crying “now Bush must deliver the country to us.” The brouhaha over the remarks of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about anti-choice judges is just the beginning. We can expect a great deal more muscle-flexing from the far right and, I fear, significant implementation of its social agenda. Jerry Falwell is already announcing an “evangelical revolution” and I believe we will see an all-out assault on the judiciary, the one branch of government the far right believes it does not control.

While the Jewish community’s rejection of Bush cannot be attributed to a single issue, implicit in our vote is the understanding that the dogmatic dictates of the far right are not moral values at all, but rather a set of regressive social directives, hung on the hook of theology.

We must ask: Where is the morality in dooming innocent women to back-alley abortions, or in denying gays the basic dignity of civil unions? Where is the morality in flooding our streets with assault weapons, or depriving the sick of the bright hope afforded by stem cell research? Where is the morality in imposing a “Christian nation” on the rest of us, or in eviscerating the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state, which guarantees our freedom of worship?

Moderate and progressive Christians are raising their voices to agree that to dignify such policies of intolerance and ignorance as “moral values” is abhorrent.

Additionally, for the Bush administration to don the mantle of morality is repugnant. Poverty, health care, fair taxation, environmental protection, public education and fiscal prudence are all issues of morality. Yet Bush’s record in these areas is one of abject failure. Throughout the presidential campaign, it was Kerry, not Bush, who stood for decency, equality, tolerance and compassion. Someone should remind the evangelicals that these are the true moral values taught by Jesus — not lifting the ban on assault weapons.

But if there is one universal moral value, it is respect for the truth. And here, the Bush administration’s penchant for spin and distortion comes into sharp focus. Here are some examples: In the face of the debacle in Iraq, the administration boasts “a remarkable success story”; in the face of this country’s first net job loss in 70 years, the administration proclaims “the strongest economy in 20 years”; in the face of an abysmal environmental record, Bush claims to be “a good steward of the land.” This is not so much an administration, as it is a spin factory — a perpetual myth-making machine.

Of particular interest are the claims made by Bush surrogates on Israel. Bush’s true record on Israel has been one of omission and abdication, rather than leadership and engagement (we’ll see if Arafat’s departure will change things). Yet during the campaign, Bush’s emissaries hailed Bush as the best president for Israel since Harry S. Truman, and shamelessly denigrated Kerry’s solid 20-year pro-Israel record. Fortunately, the Jewish community did not buy these fabrications.

Clearly, the Bush administration failed, despite enormous efforts, to make meaningful gains in the Jewish community. But I am sure that they will try to spin even this demoralizing defeat into a glorious triumph.

In a recent article in this paper, Paul Kujawsky stated that the Jewish community could take cold comfort in having voted “correctly” given Kerry’s ultimate loss. Perhaps. But it means something to me that we voted correctly, that we voted for real moral values. And I, for one, am proud that we did so.

H. David Nahai is a real estate attorney and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Prediction Misses


Once again, despite predictions to the contrary, Jewish voters stuck with the Democrats. By a 3-1 margin, Jews backed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) against President Bush.

Some Republicans took comfort in a slight uptick of Jewish support for Bush from about one-fifth in 2000 to about one-quarter in 2004. Republican pollster Frank Luntz noted that in his small survey of 484 voters in Florida and Ohio, Orthodox Jews voted for Bush and younger Jews were more likely to support Bush than older Jewish voters, but this remains to be confirmed with larger samples.

With only 484 voters in his sample in the first place, it’s extremely dicey to draw conclusions about even smaller subgroups such as younger and older voters.

Peter Beinart argued in The New Republic that the pro-Bush voting of Orthodox Jews is a sign that Jews are becoming like everybody else, divided between religious and secular. But given the small share of Jewish voters who are Orthodox, his declaration that 2004 marks the end of the Jewish vote is hard to support.

In fact, Republicans were profoundly disappointed by their showing among Jews on Nov. 2. According to the Los Angeles Times national exit poll, Jews went 74-26 for Kerry. By contrast, non-Jewish whites went 57-42 for Bush. Catholics, normally a somewhat Democratic group, voted 55-44 for Bush. CNN had it 76-24 for Kerry. The National Election Poll pegged the Jewish ratio at 78-22. In California, according to the Times statewide exit poll, Jews were even more Democratic, voting 80-20 for Kerry and 87-12 for Sen. Barbara Boxer over Republican Bill Jones.

The true distinctiveness of Jewish voting in California can be seen not only in partisan elections but on two key ballot propositions.

Proposition 71 authorized the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to support embryonic stem cell research. Jews were the No. 1 group in support, with 77 percent backing it. Proposition 71 passed easily, with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger defying Bush to support it.

Proposition 72 mandated employers with more than 200 workers to provide health insurance for workers and their dependents. Opposed by the governor and business interests, it went down to a narrow defeat. But Jews gave it a 2-1 majority.

There has been much talk that Democrats are now “out of the mainstream,” and, therefore, are Jewish voters, too? California Jewish voters not only backed Democrats but also supported social liberalism (stem cell research) and economic liberalism (employer mandates for health insurance).

Nothing more clearly illustrates the gap between Jews and the Bush administration than stem cell research. Jews are children of the European Enlightenment, which removed the shackles of centuries of ignorance and superstition. The pursuit of scientific and medical knowledge is a central value for American Jews, and many have chosen professional paths to pursue and apply that knowledge. The use of reason to solve physical and social problems is quite natural to Jews and represents no contradiction to religious faith.

Therefore, the president’s decisions to limit stem cell research, to politicize federal science policy by stacking scientific review panels with ideologues and to treat evidence in public policy as an obstacle not as a necessity may reassure his loyal base but strikes many Jewish voters as nearly medieval. By contrast, the potential affinity of Jewish voters for the moderate wing of the Republican Party can be seen in their common position with Schwarzenegger on Proposition 71.

In any case, the definition of “mainstream” has been hopelessly muddled by the unusual, perhaps unique, re-election strategy adopted by Bush. While Bush won a clear electoral victory, it was not the sort of re-election win that incumbents normally win.

Incumbents normally run from the center, and they are usually judged by their performance; they tend to win by a lot or lose by a lot. But Bush went a different way. He built a fanatical base on the right, while alienating the left and center. Kerry won a majority of independent voters.

Bush’s approach gave him both a floor and a ceiling. He would not lose by a lot no matter how miserable his performance, because his base worshipped him. But he could not win by a lot, because his approach so alienated so many other Americans.

With this strategy, 51 percent was probably about the outer edge of the ceiling, and a remarkable achievement, but it may not grow much from there in Bush’s second term. It’s not so much a “mainstream” as a heavily mobilized, deeply ideological and theological Republican Party that commands a narrow majority of the nation.

Jews were not essential to this strategy but were to be a valuable add-on both to hurt the Democrats and broaden the Republicans a little bit. But this broadening would not be so important that it would force the Bush group to change any of their policies or approaches.

The Republican movement is a very powerful surge, that in its aggressiveness and narrowness has generated a nearly, though not quite equal, countersurge. Jews largely joined the countersurge.

The American electoral system allows huge changes in formal power despite narrow differences in popular support. Kerry simply could not survive the wave of voting by the religious right. But to be on the losing side in 2004 is not to be some cosmic outsider alien to the populace.

The Bush people now will feel no need, if they ever did, to respond to the broad social and political values of Jewish voters other than Israel. With most Jewish votes going to Kerry, they may even feel less need to be as strong for Israel, except as that stance pleases their real core: the religious right, according to an American Jewish Committee post-election report.

Moderate Jewish Republicans are in a vulnerable spot in post-election Washington. Days after the election, a Jewish Republican, the pro-choice senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, suggested that the president would have difficulty winning Senate confirmation for Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade.

A firestorm arose from the religious right, noting that they had put Bush back in the White House and demanding Specter’s removal from the seniority-based succession to the chairmanship of the all-important Judiciary Committee.

Let us see how Specter and other Republican moderates fare in the right wing and even more militant Republican regime.

If Republicans ever want to permanently realign Jewish votes, they will have to change themselves. They will have to rediscover their moderation, their common sense and their respect for the wise application of knowledge and science in addressing our national problems.

Don’t expect that to occur anytime soon. Political failure is a better teacher than stunning success. Losing the Jews did not keep Republicans from executing their program of national political monopoly.

Right now, national Republicans do not feel they need anybody else but themselves at the table, but the day will surely come when they will need the rest of us.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at California State University, Fullerton, is the author of “The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press 2004).

L.A. Jewish GOP Parties, Dems Despair


Stress and disappointment gave way to jubilation at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) of Los Angeles’ election night party as President George W. Bush piled up the electoral votes and turned the map of the United States Republican red.

The mood was far more somber at the Manhattan Beach Marriot, where Democrats gathered for a victory party that never took place. By early morning, the crowd had dwindled to a handful of true believers who looked stunned by Sen. John F. Kerry’s disappointing performance.

Things got off to a slow start at RJC’s event at Level One supper club on Wilshire Boulevard. A sense of foreboding filled the crowd of 250 Republicans as early exit polls showed Kerry in the lead.

A dispirited Allen Jacobs, 27, said he felt nervous, anxious and worried. Frustrated by the early results, he attacked newly registered young Democrats as “uneducated voters who do whatever Puffy says,” an allusion to rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ efforts to get out the vote.

But like a cyclone that suddenly shifts directions, momentum quickly swung the Jewish Republicans’ way. Fox announced that Bush held a 5 percentage point lead over Kerry in Florida with 95 percent of the vote in. Men and women let out shrieks of joy, quickly forgetting about Pennsylvania. All eyes focused on Ohio, the do-or-die state for both Bush and Kerry.

Well-groomed 20-somethings clad in black, reeking of tobacco and wine, sat side by side with rich bankers and middle-aged fallen liberals who said they had never voted Republican until now.

RJC Southern California Director Larry Greenfield smiled as he surveyed the diverse crowd of Bush supporters. He said the high turnout for the festivities reflected the political realignment now taking place among traditionally Democratic Jews. Simply put: he said the Democrats had lurched too far to the left and the Republicans had become the party of liberty and stalwart support for Israel.

“Our movement is growing, and the Jewish conversation is broadening,” said Greenfield, who participated in 40 debates around the Southland before the election.

Early Los Angeles Times exit polls confirmed this trend: In California, 80 percent of Jews voted for Kerry and 20 percent voted for Bush, compared to 2000, when 81 percent voted for Gore and 15 percent voted for Bush.

In Manhattan Beach, a dark mood permeated the ballroom. Beth Matenko, a Jewish Canadian immigrant who hopes to become a U.S. citizen and vote, said she thought Jews had helped the conservative president win re-election.

“A lot of Jewish voters are voting for Bush. It’s obvious,” she said.

Back at Level One, pandemonium broke out at 9:45 p.m. when Fox projected Bush the winner in Ohio.

Jay Hoffman, a 52-year-old retiree from Los Angeles, broke into a wide smile. Around him, friends and family hugged one another.

“I think it helps Jews everywhere to have access to the Republican Party,” he said. “Democrats can no longer take the Jewish vote for granted.”

A number of RJC revelers said they had often voted Democratic in the past, but no more. They said they changed their allegiance because Bush exhibited the strong leadership needed to successfully prosecute the war on terror. Equally important, they said he understood the folly of dealing with Yasser Arafat, a terrorist not welcome in the Bush White House.

Shirley Darvish, a 24-year-old independent, said she disagreed with the president on most social issues. For the Beverly Hills mortgage banker, foreign policy trumps domestic policy in the post-Sept. 11 world. In her view, Kerry worried too much about keeping on good terms with America’s allies and not enough about identifying U.S. interests and pursuing them.

“I don’t want somebody whose going to bow down to the U.N.,” said Darvish, alluding to Kerry’s promise to work closely with the international body. “I want somebody who will make the big decisions, regardless of what other countries think.”

Lifelong Democrat Susan Rabin said she’s a new GOP convert. An entertainment lawyer who marched against the war in Vietnam in the ’60s, Rabin said her transformation from a Mill Valley liberal to ardent Bush supporter began after Sept. 11.

Stunned by the viciousness of radical Islam, she said her friends’ reaction to the terror attacks shocked her nearly as much. Rabin’s progressive pals said U.S. policies and an unflagging support for anti-Palestinian Israel had provoked the tragedy. From then on, Rabin said she considered herself a liberal no more.

“They were blaming the victim,” she said. “I couldn’t stand that they weren’t being supportive of our country and Israel. I was completely turned off.”

David Finnigan and Tom Tugend contributed to this report.

Mixed News for GOP Jews


Republican hopes for a big Jewish surge in this year’s presidential contest were dashed on Tuesday when President George W. Bush, in his successful bid for a second term, claimed only about 24 percent of the Jewish vote nationally, according to exit polls published by major news outlets.

That was only 5 points above his weak 2000 showing, and came after an extensive and expensive campaign by Jewish Republican groups and a big pro-Bush turnout by the Orthodox community, which strongly approved of the President’s Mideast policies.

Bush’s numbers were even worse in the battleground state of Florida, which was the top target of the GOP Jewish outreach effort. According to exit polls, Bush garnered only 20 percent of the Jewish vote there.

Publicly, Jewish Republicans were claiming a modest victory.

“Twenty-four percent is a respectable showing in an environment in which values became so central to the success of the campaign,” said Marshall Breger, a longtime Jewish Republican leader and liaison to the Jewish community during the Reagan administration.

But in private, some expressed bitter disappointment.

“Anything less than 25 percent is a disaster, given how hard the [Bush-Cheney] campaign tried,” said one Jewish Republican as the votes were being counted. “It may be that we all overestimated the influence of the Israel issue, and overestimated the influence of the Orthodox.”

At press time, there was no specific data about the Orthodox vote, but most observers felt it was probably in the range of 70-80 percent Republican — which means that the non-Orthodox Jewish vote was even less favorable to the GOP than the overall exit poll numbers suggest.

Why did a president who got such high marks from Jewish leaders on Israel-related issues bomb so badly with Jews?

One answer is that in an important sense, he didn’t bomb at all.

“To the extent that the Republican Party has courted Jews, it’s not Jewish voters, it’s Jewish contributors,” said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg. “When the numbers are added up, we will probably find that Jewish money was especially important to the Republicans this year.”

Still, Jewish Republicans expected significantly more than 24 percent — a number that confirmed the accuracy of recent polls by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) and the American Jewish Committee.

Many Republicans believed the president would significantly broaden his Jewish base because of his extraordinary support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — seen by Bush as a comrade in arms in the fight against terrorism.

Some top Jewish leaders sent clear signals that they hoped the Jewish rank-and-file would reward Bush’s strong pro-Israel policies with support on election day — even if they had qualms about his administration’s domestic agenda.

But recent polls pointed to a major flaw in that strategy: while American Jews care deeply about Israel, the issue does not rank at the top of the political agenda for a majority.

That is particularly true among the non-Orthodox.

“What these numbers mean is that Kerry was successful in getting the message out to Jewish voters that he is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who campaigned actively for the Massachusetts senator. “It’s been his position for a long time; it’s in his heart, and he believes it.”

Once mainstream Jews accepted Kerry’s pro-Israel credentials, they felt free to vote based more on the domestic issues that have traditionally driven Jewish politics — including things like abortion rights, church-state separation and civil rights, said Democratic consultant Steve Rabinowitz.

The GOP may have wanted to win Jewish hearts and minds, but they wanted to secure their political base even more. There were concerns in the campaign that evangelical voters might not turn out on Election Day, a potentially fatal blow to the Bush reelection effort.

The result was a strategy engineered by White House political guru Karl Rove that played heavily to the Christian right — a group most Jews continue to regard with deep concern.

“The Bush-Cheney campaign obviously got huge support from the religious right, and used ballot referenda in a number of states to bolster that support,” political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg said.

Anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in 11 states — all of which passed on Tuesday — may have boosted Bush in the American heartland and among Orthodox Jews, but the GOP effort scared many mainstream Jews who saw it as an attempt to suppress the civil rights of a minority, Ginsberg suggested.

In the end, many Jews were more worried about Bush’s Christian right connections than they were appreciative of his pro-Israel positions.

“I’ve found more and more people in the Jewish community who are nervous about George Bush’s interpretation of a Christian state,” Cardin said. “It makes them feel uncomfortable, and it was a factor in the election results.”

And the Republicans may have made another miscalculation; they assumed that support for Sharon was the same as support for Israel. In fact, many passionately pro-Israel Jews are not particularly supportive of Sharon’s policies.

Those concerns have been masked in the past few years as the community rallied to support Israel during a time of crisis. Still, Bush’s personal embrace of Sharon may not have been the selling point for most Jewish voters that the Republicans expected.

And they misread the gap between Jewish and pro-Israel leaders, and the Jewish rank-and-file.

The leadership, focused much more on the single issue of Israel and eager to reinforce the administration’s friendship with Sharon through political support, gave the impression that the community was turning in droves to the Republicans. But as Tuesday’s vote demonstrated, Jewish voters weren’t necessarily following.

“What these numbers highlight is the leadership gap,” said a longtime pro-Israel lobbyist here. “The leaders may be trying to cozy up to the Republican administration, but Jewish voters are pretty much where they’ve always been: with the Democrats.”

ELECTION 2004


In some ways, it’s political business as usual in the Jewish community as a critical national election approaches.

The Democrats will win the lion’s share of Jewish votes Nov. 2, but the Republicans are poised to make important gains. When the votes are counted, both sides will work hard to spin the Jewish numbers to their advantage.

But one thing is different: the depth and intensity of the community’s divisions. Jews for Sen. John Kerry and Jews for President Bush are furious at each other, and a small pool of Jewish undecideds seems angry that they’re being forced to decide between critical domestic and foreign policy priorities.

“The fault lines in the American Jewish community are getting much deeper,” said Mideast scholar Robert O. Freedman. “We’re seeing it in this election, and in Israel’s relations to the American Jewish community.”

And just as partisan warfare is producing gridlock in the nation as a whole, the growing polarization of the Jewish community points to an erosion of its traditional ability to reach out across party lines to achieve common goals.

In Florida, a state where the Jewish vote could actually tip the presidential balance, Jewish newspapers have been filled with venomous attack ads from the two sides, and synagogues have been bitterly divided over the presidential race.

In normally polite Minnesota, Jewish activists report friendships ripped apart; neighbors who can’t talk because of their differences over the presidential contest.

In 2004, the U.S. electorate is just as divided as it was four years ago but angrier and more worried. Bush, who promised to be a uniter but won office in a contested election that left a legacy of bitterness, has been one of the most polarizing figures in recent history.

Supporters credit the president with heroic actions in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks and with a domestic resolve unlike his conservative predecessors, who talked the talk but didn’t walk the conservative walk.

Jewish supporters also praise his surprisingly strong support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom he sees as a genuine comrade in arms in the terror fight. That has won some support from longtime Democrats who dislike most of the president’s domestic positions.

To detractors, Bush has compromised the war on terror by attacking the wrong enemy, undercut constitutional freedoms at home and helped the nation’s richest citizens at the expense of its poorest.

To many Jews, his disinterest in Mideast peacemaking has left Israel with a violent, untenable status quo; at home, he has allowed himself to be steered by an extremist religious faction that, for all its support for Israel, can never be good for the Jews.

Jewish Republicans are furious that their Democratic neighbors can’t see the good Bush has done for Israel or the threat they perceive in Kerry who they claim will “internationalize” Mideast peacemaking and give control to Israel’s enemies.

Jewish Democrats are stupefied that their co-religionists could be tricked by pro-Israel Christians who support Israel mostly because of horrific apocalyptic prophecies; they can’t believe friends and neighbors could support an administration that wants to remove the constitutional safeguards that have protected religious minorities.

More and more Jews, echoing a nation that seems to get its political tone from talk radio, political preachers and attack ads, talk about the election in apocalyptic terms. Israel risks annihilation if Kerry wins, the Republicans say; the Constitution will be shredded if Bush emerges triumphant, the Democrats warn.

When both sides see the stakes so high and positions so black and white, polarization becomes the dominant political dynamic. There can be no middle ground when survival is at stake is the ethos of the day. The war on terrorism has heaped new fuel on that fire.

The nation has been moving in this direction for a long time, with troubling results.

Congress becomes more gridlocked by the year. The last vestiges of bipartisanship have disappeared; fighting partisan battles has become more important than protecting the nation against terrorism, curbing a runaway budget deficit or fixing a collapsing health-care system. Coalitions are for wimps; this is the age of the true believer.

The Jewish community seems heading down the same destructive path.

Traditionally, a major source of the community’s strength has been its ability to unite behind a few core issues, including protecting Israel, fighting anti-Semitism and opposing attempts to impose the dictates of the religious majority in the nation.

That critical unity has been eroding for years, but in 2004, it has collided head-on with the rancorous partisanship of the day to create the potential for communal gridlock.

At risk is the bipartisan approach that has built the pro-Israel movement into the powerhouse it is today. It’s hard to maintain bipartisan pro-Israel support when the parties and their supporters are engaged in a to-the-death war that allows little fraternization with the enemy.

Increasingly, the pro-Israel movement is being identified with one of the most strident, uncompromising and partisan forces in American political life — the Christian right, a lightning rod for much of the angry political passion of our age.

Domestically, it will become much harder to maintain the broad-based coalitions on which the Jewish community has traditionally depended if Jewish politics takes on the partisan excesses that have rendered the nation almost ungovernable.

Jewish voters are angry and deeply polarized in 2004, mirroring a nation that increasingly can’t find the common ground to make democracy work. That’s bad news for America, and it’s bad for the Jews.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said a longtime Jewish community activist in Florida last week. “People in our community on both sides see this as a life-and-death election, and they just can’t believe their friends and neighbors could see things differently. It’s been incredibly divisive, and it’s hard to imagine how we can work together after this is over.”

GOP Shifts, Pursues Immigrant Votes


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” class=blacklink>Examining the Jewish Vote

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” class=blacklink>Israeli Expats Solidly Back Bush

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” class=blacklink>Russian Jews Favor Bush

Sam Kermanian is one of many Jewish Republicans in Los Angeles reaching out to immigrants on behalf of President Bush, yet perhaps the biggest news of all is that such committed immigrant activists in the Republican Party are no longer red hot news.

Kermanian, an Iranian Jewish immigrant, is still rawly aware of how people’s lives in his native Iran are under the strict control of Islamist radicals.

“We understand what the president is doing, and we support him strongly,” said Kermanian, who stepped down as chairman of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles to join the Bush ’04 campaign team. “Immigrants look at how the world really is, so they no longer support just the Democrats.”

It was no surprise, then, when Bush spoke several words of Spanish during his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City. The gesture went virtually unremarked by the media and caused nary a ripple of discernible backlash in his party.

Ten years ago, veering outside the English language to appeal to a special group of mostly Democratic voters would have been front-page news across the land, but today the imagery of the Republican leadership reaching out to heavily Democratic immigrants is not only commonplace, it’s indicative of a major shift in views and strategy.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told his up-by-his-bootstraps tale at the RNC, it was not merely a personal story from the Republican Party’s most famous moderate. It was also a direct appeal to immigrants, using the GOP’s message of personal responsibility and eventual triumph.

These two RNC moments are indicative of an almost imperceptible change inside the Republican Party to not only reach out to immigrants but to target the message and explain the GOP philosophy as never before. There may be only minor dividends to show for it this November, but Republicans are energized about their chance to make inroads with traditionally Democratic immigrant voters.

Going after the potentially huge vote among Latino immigrants, a heterogeneous group with many contradictory and nuanced views on both policy and values, has become a key focus of the GOP in California. But even among Jewish immigrants, who form only a tiny percentage of voters in California, the GOP has become energized.

Hector Barajas, director of grass-roots development at the California Republican Party’s Burbank headquarters, has been building an outreach program to Latinos, who were largely ignored by Republicans for decades. Barajas noted that today, he oversees a massive computerized list of experts and speakers who spread the party’s message far beyond Latinos, to niche immigrants of every persuasion.

“We’re not saying you’ve got to become a Republican today, but it’s just: ‘Please listen to the message we are bringing forth,'” he said of the outreach strategy. “Of course we seek the major group, which is Latinos, but now we outreach to Asians, Filipinos and all the various language groups.”

“We have a group that only goes out to Middle Eastern immigrants, including Jewish immigrants,” he continued. “We have a spreadsheet of people who speak all the various languages, so if I need to find an Asian American woman teacher who speaks Cantonese, because somebody wants to hear a speech from such a person, I can find somebody right here.”

Barajas, who grew up in heavily Mexican-American Echo Park, said, “We no longer use this one-size-fits-all method, sending out the Caucasian face or the English speaker to a group who doesn’t relate to that.”

One of the strongest volunteers to reach out to Jewish immigrants is attorney Paul Weisman, who oversees 350 precinct walkers who are familiar with heavily Jewish areas in Hancock Park and on the Westside.

Noted Barajas, “Paul has put his law practice aside, basically, to do this, and his energy level is being replayed in many other urban areas where Jewish Republicans are now a force.”

Nobody believes the Republicans will score huge gains among immigrant groups this year. But there are signs that immigrant interest in the Democratic Party is not what it once was. If Republicans can shift even a modest percentage of immigrants to their side, the Democrats could face trouble in coming years — even in California.

The voter registration gap between Democrats and Republicans in California is the narrowest it has been since the 1930s, with Democrats holding only an 8 percentage point lead over Republicans. Last October’s election of Austrian immigrant Schwarzenegger as governor has not only helped pour millions of extra fund-raising dollars into Republican coffers, it has also made voter signup easier.

Now it’s the Democrats who are sweating, not the once-divided Republicans. Lately, noted Republican pollster Stephen Kinney, large numbers of Latinos — especially Latinas — have begun registering as “decline-to-state” voters and rejecting the Democratic Party.

Kinney and many others believe the Democrats have taken immigrants for granted for too long. Nobody knows if the move by Latinos toward “decline to state” is a harbinger of a sea change in immigrant voter sympathies in other immigrant groups, but Kinney noted, “It’s definitely not good news for the Democrats.”

With immigrant interest in the Democrats waning somewhat, some GOP groups and activists are using the opening to interest immigrants in voting for and contributing money to Bush. Although Latinos get much of the attention, because they represent a potentially vast voting bloc, the Iraq War has enlivened Middle Eastern immigrant groups as well, and some are clearly siding with the GOP.

Kermanian typifies the Republican Jewish immigrants who are speaking out for Bush in 2004. He noted that no polls have been conducted that break out the Iranian Jewish vote for president. However, a poll by the American Jewish Committee shows Jewish support for Bush has jumped from less than 20 percent during the 2000 election to 24 percent now, a roughly 25 percent gain, laid in part to support from Jewish immigrants.

Iranian Jews make up about 30,000 to 35,000 of the half million Iranians in California, Kermanian said, and he estimated 75 percent back Bush.

“Our group takes the threat of terror and the militant Islamist ideology a lot more seriously than average Americans and average Jewish Americans,” he said. “We had to live with it for generations.”

Despite working so high up in the GOP effort for Bush in California, however, he does not yet see a fully engaged outreach to Middle Eastern and other immigrant groups, largely because they make up too small a percentage of voters. However, he said, the Republicans now see immigrants as up for grabs, while the Democrats appear to be assuming that they have a lock on the majority of immigrant voters.

Change could come if Republicans effectively spread the Bush message of “keeping more of your own money and giving less of it to government, and achieving your aims and your children’s aims with the very values that made you immigrate to the United States,” he said.

Si Frumkin is a well-known journalist for Panorama newspaper and political activist in the Russian Jewish community, whose column also runs in three papers in Israel and two in the former Soviet Union. Frumkin is among the growing number of voices urging Jewish immigrants to get involved in politics — through the GOP.

Frumkin noted that at a recent Bush-Cheney organizing event at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley, within the group of about 50 volunteer activists who attended, several were immigrants — and six were Jews from the former Soviet Union.

“People keep getting in touch with me to register and to get the forms so they can sign up voters,” Frumkin said. He said that decades ago, when he arrived in the United States, he and other Russian Jewish immigrants were shocked by the left-leaning views of American Jews.

But today’s Russian Jewish immigrants, who he said lean heavily Republican, “have gotten over the surprise and are much more eager to speak out than before. American Jews were shocked and horrified at [Ronald] Reagan for calling the former Soviet Union an evil empire, but immigrant Jews knew it was an evil empire. When you go to a party now where the vodka flows, people stand up for America and love America and are real flag wavers.”

While there are probably fewer than 100,000 Russian Jews in Southern California, Frumkin noted that “they are often very successful in business. What they lack in voting numbers, they make up for in financial contributions to George Bush.”

Frumkin, a Holocaust survivor who has lectured at the Wiesenthal Center, said the GOP has also lightened up somewhat, loosening its tie so to speak, in reaching out to immigrants who didn’t relate as well to the old, more formal version of the party.

“We like to enjoy the campaign fight and say what’s on our mind,” he said. “I like to say, ‘My God, I cannot see Teresa Heinz as the first lady.'”

The California Republican Party is indeed no longer in the hands of a hard-right faction that dominated its voter registration effort and platform throughout the 1990s. That far-right wing became the tail that wagged the dog of a party that probably has fewer than 20 percent “very conservative” voters. The hard right drove many voters away from California’s GOP, handing the Democrats their biggest statewide voting victories in 40 years in 2000.

Schwarzenegger’s election has helped marginalize the far right in California. But even before Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy in the summer of 2003, the California Republican Party elected two moderates, Duf Sundheim and Mario Rodriguez, as its chairman and vice chairman, in the spring of 2003.

Five years ago, Rodriguez, a hip, bilingual, former military brat who owns a successful printing business, had little chance of being elected to such a post in the GOP. Now, he’s in such demand as a public speaker for the Republicans at Latino and other immigrant events, that it can take weeks to book him.

Rodriguez’s popularity has not gone unnoticed by outreach czar Barajas, who is making Republican immigrants available as speakers in dozens of different languages, no longer ceding even the high school crowd to the Democrats.

“The GOP used to be invited into the high school government classes to give their version of politics and government, and the GOP would not even bother, while the Democrats spoke to all the kids,” Barajas said. “Now we are there, and we don’t shrink from explaining the tough stuff, like why we oppose driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. These kids are the future voters.”

Among a dozen top public and private pollsters in California, none believes Bush can win the state. But with a Republican president who’s as comfortable in a monied group of Middle Eastern business leaders as with Latinos at a rally in the Southwest, it may be only a matter of time before Democrats have to fight back in order to hang on to immigrants. n

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. She can be reached at www.jillstewart.net.

Candidates Blow Campaign Smoke


It’s crunch time in the presidential campaigns. With less than two weeks to go and most polls pointing to a photo finish, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are pulling out all the stops — as long as those stops are in a tiny handful of swing states.

The spin machines are in overdrive; the campaigns are pouring out ads, position papers, talking points and press releases. But they’re mostly blowing smoke when it comes to some of the top issues of the day.

At the top of the list: the federal budget crisis and its likely impact on needy Americans today and the children who will some day have to pay the bill.

Both candidates want voters to believe that they have plans to lower taxes, protect vital social programs, fix Social Security, fight terror and slash the deficit all at the same time — an act of magic that makes the term “voodoo economics,” coined by Bush’s father, sound like comical understatement.

For Jewish audiences, Israel may be the only issue the candidates talk about, but the budget crisis touches on every one of the community’s foreign and domestic priorities.

In 2000, then-Gov. Bush made big tax cuts a major plank in his drive for the White House. And contrary to recent U.S. political tradition, he did exactly what he promised, with the help of a conservative Republican majority in Congress and timid Democrats.

Now, four years after a big budget surplus, the nation is wracking up a record $415 billion deficit in the current fiscal year — a change the Bush administration attributes to the costs of fighting two wars and the recession.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) disagrees. A much bigger factor, according to the CBO, is the administration’s tax cuts, which have produced huge revenue shortfalls.

However, Bush, known for his refusal to back down from a position taken, has promised more of the same in a second term, insisting that the ultimate result will be economic growth that will make up for the revenue shortfall.

Kerry thinks the tax cuts unfairly benefit the rich but fearing the “tax-and-spend liberal” label, proposes middle-class cuts of his own, all the while promising more domestic and defense spending.

Bush is pursuing faith-based budgeting, with the poor and future generations slated to pick up the tab if his prayers aren’t answered. Kerry, anxious to avoid political minefields, isn’t telling Americans the hard truth about the impending economic train wreck.

The net result: Campaign 2004 is taking place in economic fantasyland.

Both candidates are making promises that can only compound the current crisis and dodging the issue of where the money will come from. Neither is telling the American people what they need to hear: That the current situation will require agonizing, hard-headed decisions about spending priorities, and that tax cuts that are not demonstrably meant to spur economic expansion will just speed the rush to insolvency.

Neither seems willing to fight a Congress that can’t manage to pass a budget or realistic spending bills and can’t say no to budget-busting pork.

If the presidential candidates don’t have any economic vision, some lawmakers do, hoping the runaway deficit will eventually allow them to do what they’ve been unable to do in the past — radically downsize government and finally start to dismantle programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The idea is to cut back government programs “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” in the immortal words of ultraconservative guru Grover Norquist.

Absent visionary leadership by either Bush or Kerry, that’s the fate awaiting America’s beleaguered social programs.

For the Jewish community, the stakes are obvious. Despite its relative affluence — many Jews are benefiting handsomely from Bush’s tax cuts — the community’s traditional social justice concerns are in danger of being swept away by the tidal wave of red ink in federal ledgers.

The mounting budget crisis threatens the health and welfare programs that the Jewish community has come to depend on to meet the needs of its most vulnerable members. Social Security is teetering on the brink of disaster, but the budget emergency means that there are few options for saving it. Privatization, the administration’s all-purpose panacea, is unlikely to do the trick and could make things much worse.

The budget crisis threatens the very prosperity that has provided a secure base for the Jewish community at home.

Abroad, the skid to insolvency will undermine the ability of the United States to serve as a force for stability, a direct threat to the State of Israel. It will also cripple the global war against terrorism.

Neither candidate is facing up to the train wreck both parties have engineered. The results could hurt the United States even more than the terrorists who have attacked it.

Fate of Sharon, Gaza May Hang on Vote


With opposition mounting among settlers and in his own Likud Party, Ariel Sharon’s political future and the fate of his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank may be decided in the Knesset next week.

The Israeli prime minister hopes to win a decisive majority in the Oct. 26 vote on his disengagement plan, laying to rest the debate over its legitimacy and blocking growing pressure for a nationwide referendum. But a victory is not a foregone conclusion, and if he loses, it’s difficult to see how Sharon can continue as prime minister.

On the face of it, Sharon would seem to be assured of a comfortable majority. As things stand, he can count on a total of 65-69 votes in the 120-member Knesset: 20-25 votes in Likud, 21 from Labor, 15 from Shinui, six from Yahad and two from breakaway legislators.

Of the remaining 51-55 Knesset members, up to 35, including as many as 20 Likud rebels, seem set to vote against. Another 21 legislators, including 16 from fervently Orthodox parties eyeing spots in a future Sharon coalition, are likely to abstain.

If those figures hold up, Sharon will silence calls for a referendum, open up coalition-building possibilities and secure both his own political future and the road to disengagement.

But there’s a catch: A majority in the Likud’s Knesset faction is trying to foist a referendum on Sharon. If they succeed, the Oct. 26 Knesset vote, rather than being a defining moment for disengagement, will be reduced to a virtually irrelevant sideshow. The final decision on whether to go ahead with the disengagement plan effectively will have been removed from the Knesset and handed to the people.

Sharon sees the referendum idea as a ruse to delay implementation of the disengagement plan. He argues that having been elected prime minister, he has a mandate to conduct Israeli policy as he sees fit. Referendum advocates know it would take months if not years to legislate the ballot and will try to use the legislative process to delay disengagement indefinitely, Sharon says.

But Likud pressure for a referendum is welling up. Among the party heavyweights in favor are Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat.

After meeting settler leaders over the weekend, Livnat declared that a referendum was necessary to prevent a serious split in Israeli society — even, “God forbid, a civil war.” Livnat is proposing that the Knesset vote go ahead as scheduled but with a rider that makes it meaningless: That it be contingent on the results of a future referendum.

The mounting pressure led to a Likud faction meeting Monday in which the referendum issue topped the agenda. Most of the faction, even some of Sharon’s supporters, backed the idea.

Some Likud legislators may condition their Knesset vote on a commitment from Sharon to hold a referendum. If he won’t budge, and if enough Likud legislators vote against, Sharon conceivably could lose the crucial ballot.

In the run-up to the Knesset vote, the settlers will make a supreme effort to convince Likud legislators to insist on a referendum and refuse to vote for disengagement unless Sharon gives way. Whichever way it turns out, they argue, a referendum will help them cool tempers among the settler population; it also will make it easier to persuade Orthodox soldiers to obey orders to evacuate settlers, despite a recent rabbinical ruling that they should refuse to do so.

Another factor that could upset Sharon’s calculations is the state budget. A budget vote is scheduled for the week after the disengagement ballot.

Labor and other opposition parties that support Sharon on disengagement oppose his economic policies and are certain to nix the budget. If the Likud rebels add their votes against, the budget won’t pass.

That could set off a process leading to elections next spring, before disengagement begins. According to Israeli law, failure to pass the budget by next April automatically will trigger an election.

That would delay implementation of the disengagement plan but also might cost some of the rebels their Knesset seats — a prospect that might give them cold feet.

Sharon could still press for a Knesset vote not linked to any referendum commitment. But even if he wins and even if he manages to pass the budget, his opponents are not going to melt away.

Sharon therefore could give way and agree to a referendum-linked Knesset vote — but that could stymie his disengagement plan and leave him weakened and without credibility. Worst of all, he could lose the Knesset vote and find himself staring into a political abyss.

What makes Sharon’s position especially poignant is the fact that it’s his own Likud faction that is threatening to bring him down. The fate of disengagement, then, could hinge on whether Sharon can outmaneuver the rebels within his own party.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.