Archive for September, 2008

RJC Peddles Lies About Obama, Hurting Israel

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is peddling lies about Barack Obama’s record on Israel and, in so doing, harming the Jewish State.

That was the emphatic message of several speakers yesterday at the National Jewish Democratic Council policy conference in Washington, DC.

Here’s Mel Levine, former Congressman and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy advisors: “I have never seen anything … that resembles this type of outrageous slander directed against Barack Obama being led by the Republican Jewish Coalition.”

Here’s Shelley Berkley, a Jewish Congresswoman from Nevada: “You cannot dissect and destroy and split our community in the interests of getting someone elected — and that’s exactly what they are doing.”

What has Berkley and Levine and many others in the Jewish community so upset is the push-like polling that RJC is conducting in swing states like Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio, phoning voters, and, after ascertaining that they’re Jewish, falsely linking Obama to the PLO and other anti-Israel forces.

As the Jewish Week reports, citing the AP:

Jewish voters in Florida were contacted by callers claiming to be survey researchers asking if they would be influenced if they “learned that Obama has donated money to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.”

Jewish voters in other states were also asked: “What if you were told that the president of Iran endorsed Obama?” and “What if you were to find out that Obama supported a united Jerusalem and then switched his opinion and believed in a divided Jerusalem?”

All of which are outright lies.

Obama has never donated money to the PLO.

Ahmadinejad has never endorsed Barack Obama. (I found this statement direct from Ahmadinejad on Presstv.ir, the English language Iranian international news network: “I have never voiced support for Barack Obama. I merely said they would not allow him to become the US President,” adding: “It makes no difference to us who wins [the US election].”)

And in any event, Obama is on record, in absolutely unambiguous terms, opposing Ahmadinejad and everything he stands for. Here’s a recent AFP article:

CLEARWATER, Florida (AFP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Zionist and anti-US remarks in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

“I strongly condemn President Ahmadinejad’s outrageous remarks at the United Nations, and am disappointed that he had a platform to air his hateful and anti-Semitic views,” Obama said in a statement.

“The threat from Iran’s nuclear program is grave. Now is the time for Americans to unite on behalf of the strong sanctions that are needed to increase pressure on the Iranian regime,” Obama said.

And, finally, Obama has not flipped on his Jerusalem policy, and does not in any way believe in a “divided Jerusalem.” Here’s Obama’s recent statement to CBS news:

My policy hasn’t changed, and it’s been very consistent. It’s the same policy that Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn’t divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that is a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” (Obama, CBS News, 7/22/08)

Yet the facts to don’t stop the RJC from shamelessly attempting to scare Jewish voters away from Obama. This — despite that fact that ultimately, it hurts Israel.

“What the RJC is doing is undermining bipartisan support for Israel and … weakening Israel in terms of the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Levine, who knows a thing or two about the topic, having worked for a decade in Congress between 1983 and 1993 to try to gin up Republican support for Israel, including at times when the GOP was cool to the Jewish state.

“What the RJC is doing,” he added, “is denigrating the record and associations of strong friends of Israel, starting with Barack Obama.”

“The RJC is intent on tearing apart someone for purely partisan reasons … regardless of the impact on the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“In my view it is irresponsible, it is harmful.”

For the record, Obama has a perfect voting record of support for the Jewish State, including backing all foreign aid to Israel, in the U.S. Senate.

In 2006, Obama told Palestinian university students in Ramallah that the U.S. would never distance itself from Israel.

Obama is cosponsor of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which outlaws direct assistance to any entity of the Palestinian Authority controlled by Hamas.

Obama authored and introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act in May 2007 – aimed at containing Iran through tough sanctions and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (The bill, which would make it easier for state and local governments to divest their pension funds from companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector, has been blocked in the Senate by Republicans who don’t want to give Obama a victory in an election year – again, like the RJC, putting partisanship over Israel.)

Obama has written a letter to the European Union pressing the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The Jews who know Obama best, in Chicago – including Lester Crown and Penny Pritzker – have attested to Obama’s rock-solid commitment to Israel and its security for years.

And, yet, the RJC shows no signs of letting up in its campaign to undermine Obama.

“They have apparently made a decision that they are willing to do anything to try and destroy Barack Obama’s reputation in the Jewish community,” Levine said. “They don’t care what the facts are – they are just out to destroy Barack Obama.”

“I regret coming to that conclusion,” he added, less angry than wistful. “But I have no doubt that’s the conclusion.”

McCain’s September Surprise: The Giuliani Comparison

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I just returned to Akron from Washington, DC. I’d planned to finish blogging tonight on the NJDC policy conference. I will — tomorrow. In the meantime, I want to say something about McCain’s September Surprise — his call to postpone debates.

If you want the partisan red meat on this, click over to Huffingtonpost, which has a huge screaming headline “McCain Wants a Time-Out,” over a picture of a slightly dazed McCain. Or, watch the clip from Letterman, who got wind of McCain’s announcement during the taping of the show. This, from Drudge:

Earlier in the show, Dave kept saying, “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.” And he joked: “I think someone’s putting something in his metamucil.”

“He can’t run the campaign because the economy is cratering? Fine, put in your second string quarterback, Sarah Palin. Where is she?”

I want to take this in another, more personal direction.

I was sitting in the audience at the policy conference when the NJDC board chair announced the breaking news that McCain was seeking to postpone the debate. A sort of audible boo-hiss rose from the crowd. I heard at least a couple people make mock chicken sounds. Bawk bawwwwwk.

I’m the Neurotic Democrat, though. I immediately worried: What’s he up to? As soon as I had the chance, I walked upstairs and found a TV at the bar. It quickly became apparent that McCain was positioning this as he had positioned the postponement of the GOP Convention with Gustav bearing down. He was assuming the mantle of leadership, rising above partisanship. It worked for him then — reporters went gaga over his presidential, for-the-good-of-the-nation posturing. Why wouldn’t it work for him now?

I had no idea what Obama should do. Once again, I fretted — as with Sarah Palin — McCain had thrown the world, starting with me, for a loop.

I went back downstairs and started asking everyone I could for their opinion on what Obama should do. A well-respected pollster suggested Obama should hold the economic debate the next night. A top Democrat in the Jewish community said he hoped Obama would stand firm — and make the point that a president should be able to multi-task.

That’s when an Orthodox rabbi, also a Democrat, said confidently that Obama should call McCain’s bluff. He reminded me of Rudy Giuliani’s move to postpone elections after 9-11, extending his term as mayor. Mark Green acceeded to Giuliani’s request. Green’s primary opponent Fernando Ferrer did not. And Green paid a steep price, as this NY Times article from September 2001 recalls:

These contrasting positions, in a year when all the candidates have struggled to balance criticism of Mr. Giuliani with praise of his tenure, caught the eye of many Democrats yesterday, among them Green supporters who were not happy with the turn of events. Some suggested that Mr. Ferrer, who waited for Mr. Green to issue a news release backing Mr. Giuliani before announcing his opposition, had seized the higher ground, at least from the perspective of Democrats who tend to vote in a primary.

Mr. Ferrer said that although the mayor had performed admirably since the attack, his handling of the crisis did not justify changing the law to allow him to linger in City Hall. Mr. Green, who is the public advocate, said he was trying to ensure that the city had an orderly transition during a difficult time.

Essentially, Ferrer was able to accuse Green of being rolled by Giuliani. ”Many Democrats may be suspicious of this kind of arrangement,” Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s communications director, told the Times. “Freddy looks big. He looks principled.”

Though Green held off Ferrer in a close run-off election, he eventually lost the mayoralty to Michael Bloomberg, 49 percent to 47 percent.

This may just be an apt comparison for what happened today.

What unnerved New York voters at the time was the suspending of the rule of law — and upending the orderly succession of power — especiallly given the tinge of potential partisanship that it carried.

In the same way, these presidential debates were planned a long time ago, by a bipartisan debate commission. They are an essential part of how we Americans determine the crucially important task of electing our leaders. Everything about them — from their timing to their spacing — is intentional, and agreed upon in an orderly fashion in advance. Suspending them would be a very big deal — and therefore it shouldn’t happen except under the most extraordinary conditions, for instance if our very national security were clearly and imminently at stake. And under no conditions should it happen in a way that gives one of the candidates a political boost.

Perhaps if McCain had avoided the whiff of partisanship — by discussing it with Obama in their conversation earlier in the day, before going to the media — the two could have worked out a mutual agreement, truly keeping politics out of this.

But, we now know: He didn’t. He cold-cocked Obama, who found out — like the rest of us — on CNN.

Obama had the wisdom to see that. And he had the good judgment and even temperament to react accordingly, calling McCain’s bluff, and declaring his intention to move ahead with the debate, exactly as planned.

The Jewish Gender Gap

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Jewish women are stronger supporters of Barack Obama than Jewish men.

That’s what pollster Anna Greenberg, the senior vp of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, said at the National Jewish Democratic Council’s policy conference this morning.

With all the polling I’ve seen about Barack Obama and the Jewish community, this was something new, and it suggests something very important about how we win this election.

We’ve known for some time that Barack Obama’s support in the Jewish community is between 62 and 65 percent — much lower than Kerry, Gore, and Clinton, who got betwen 75 and 80 percent of the Jewish vote. And we’ve known that much of Obama’s problems stem from his less-than-stellar support among older Jews.

But no one had looked closely at the Jewish gender gap to see if that also played a role.

Greenberg said Jewish men currently support Obama by 52 percent to 44 percent. Jewish women support Obama 67 percent to 28 percent. That’s a significant 15-point gap.

And it’s even more pronounced among younger Jewish women — 72 percent of whom support Obama.

The reasons for it, Greenberg said, are that Jewish women tend to feel more strongly about reproductive rights; they tend to be more alarmed about Sarah Palin; and they have been alienated by McCain’s strong tilt toward Evangelical Christians.

“Jewish women are such strong supporters of Barack Obama,” Greenberg said.

She added that in addition to younger Jews talking to older Jews about Barack Obama, Jewish women can play a key role in this election by talking to Jewish men about why they support Obama-Biden.

“It’s pivotal that younger Jewish women, 72 percent of whom are for Barack Obama, go out and talk to people about Obama,” she said.

What it Will Mean For You

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Amy Walters, editor-in-chief of The Hotline, says something about Barack Obama is still holding voters back.

“It’s quite remarkable,” she told more than 200 people at the National Jewish Democratic Council Policy Conference last night: When you consider all Obama has spent, many “voters feel they don’t know anything about him.”

Walters, part of a panel of political experts that handicapped the race, said one of Obama’s biggest concerns is that he is underperforming among single white women. Kerry enjoyed the support of 55 percent of that demographic; Gore had 57 percent, a Democratic peak. Obama is currently stuck at 43 percent.

“He’s yet to give voters — you’re now just starting to see some language [from Obama] to say to them: What am I going to do that’s going to matter to you, directly, in your daily lives,” she explained. “This is what I will do for you.”

I sent a question up to the dais: What language, exactly, should Obama be using?

Walters said he should be talking more about things like minimum wage and pay equity.

“It’s hard for a lot of voters to connect to Barack Obama due to his style — he’s not Bill Clinton ‘I Feel Your Pain,'” she said. “He has an aloufness that comes across.”

She gave a great example. In response to the latest fiscal crisis, McCain came out shooting from the hip: Wall St. is broken. Washington DC has been asleep at the wheel. Don’t worry — we’re on the way. We’ll fix it. Visceral. Declarative. Personal. I will help you.

Obama, on the other hand, said essentially: It’s a complicated problem we have on our hands. It will require complicated solutions. We don’t want to make snap judgments.

“It was not as compelling,” Walters said. “It was not: When I’m president, this is what it will mean for you.”

Another panelist, William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, argued that the upcoming debates will be crucial for Obama. He compared the mood to 1980, when there was a strong anti-Carter, anti-incumbent sentiment. Going into the debates, though, the race was still very close. It was through the debates that Reagan eased voter’s concerns about the idea of a Reagan presidency. He made them comfortable, and won in a landslide.

Walter said that in the debates, Obama needs to get away from the didactic, professorial approach. It’s about him “finding anyway he can to say: Here’s what I’m going to do. Here’s what it means to you.”

The sense seemed to be that despite all the millions already spent on this election, now is Obama’s moment. This is his turn for home.

“We’re not normal,” Walter said, looking out across the Hilton ballroom. “Normal people don’t talk about politics at this level of detail. Most folks are still not plugged into this race yet.”

“We’re like: My God, we’ve only got 40 days left! And they’re like: We’ve got forty days. I’ve still got the debates to follow. We’ve got the World Series coming up.”

Which is to say, stay tuned.

Biden: Obama Gets Israel in His Kishkes

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Joe Biden knows Barack Obama is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state.

That’s what Biden told an audience of more than 200 people tonight at the National Jewish Democratic Council’s policy conference in Washington, DC.

Biden started off by recounting his decades-long relationship with the Jewish state. His first trip he took abroad was to Israel, he said. He met Golda Meir and a young aide, Yitzhak Rabin. He said he has personally met with all nine Israeli prime ministers since then. He spoke about some of the highlights of his Senate career, when he has gone to bat for the Jewish state: he fought the AWACs sale to the Saudis; he was an original co-sponsor of the Palestinian anti-terrorism act. He noted that he has spoken out forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe, and in Arab countries.

“Why do I tell you this?” he asked.

Because, he said, he supports Israel from his stomach to his heart to his head.

“And I promise you — I promise you,” he said. “I would not have joined Barack Obama unless I knew he shared the same commitment to Israel that I do.”

When he said that — when he reiterated what so many of us in that room have felt and long known to be true — he received an extended standing ovation.

“Barack is more than on the record” on Israel, Biden said. “He understands. He gets it.”

The Flustered Rookie

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Unlike most people, apparently, I love Washington, DC.

Sitting on the patio at Bagels ETC on P St. this morning, eating an egg and cheese bagel and hashbrowns while reading the Washington Post, I felt something subtle — a slight spring in the city’s step — that comes around sometimes, every four years, with the hope that the old, entrenched party, is about to be ushered out by voters.

You can sometimes feel it in the air around Dupont Circle. Maybe, just maybe, the times are a changing.

When I found mostly good political news in the Post, I started getting nervous.

I’m a Democrat, remember. Good news is just one more thing to worry about.

The off-lead article today was headlined, “Obama, McCain In Tight Race in Va., Polls Show,” subdeck: “Economy is Top Issue.”

Obama leads in Virginia among likely voters, according to the poll, 49-46 percent, a statistical dead heat. Fifty percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue, and they gave Obama a 10-point edge there. When third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr were included in the polling, Obama had a 5-point lead.

Though there were certainly strong signs of support for McCain — particularly on the commander-in-chief question — on balance, it seemed like more good news for Obama.

Virginia is a must-win state for McCain. Virginia is to McCain what Pennsylvania is to Obama: If he loses it, it’s going to be hard for him to win the election. Which means, at the very least — even if he ultimately comes out on top — he’s going to have to dump resources into the state.

The Post also reports the latest polls show Obama leading, by thin margins, in Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota, with a widening lead in Wisconsin (49-42). Leading — even the Neurotic Democrat has to admit — is at least better than not leading with six weeks to go.

But perhaps the most incredible article was this column by George Will (“McCain Loses His Head“). Will, of course, is a capital C conservative, widely respected inside and outside the Beltway for his views. At one time — maybe 8 years ago — it would have been inconceivable that a George Will would have backed a progressive candidate like Obama over a McCain. Yet here’s how Will begins:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Will compares McCain to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who famously had “only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!'” He goes on to skewer McCain for responding to the latest fiscal crisis by saying he would fire Chris Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journalto editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential”

And Will doesn’t back off an inch from there, writing:

McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

Noting that McCain said he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Attorney General from New York and son of former liberal Governor Mario Cuomo, Will writes: “Conservatives have been warned.”

He touched on something here that I’ve wondered about: Why is it that the GOP base seems now to fully trust McCain, after years of antagonism? McCain himself is telling them: I’m a maverick. I’m running against my party (and your still-beloved George Bush). I’m flip-flopping all over the political map for votes. If elected, I’ll do whatever I want. Has Palin really erased all those years of doubts about McCain, on the Right? Here’s Will’s conclusion, and an answer:

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. George Will, the conscience of conservatism, coming right out and saying that McCain is a riskier choice than Obama. Obama is the calmer, less likely to panic, more reasonable, more presidential candidate. There it is! Right there between those lines: Obama for president!

It’s enough to give the Neurotic Democrat a serious case of jitters.

McCain’s Mudslinging ‘Tipping Point’

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Perhaps Joe Biden just made his first big gaffe, calling an Obama campaign ad about McCain “terrible,” and saying it wouldn’t have been run had he known about it. Article here. Biden has since backtracked. But how long before we again see Biden’s words used against Obama in a TV ad, indicating that the candidate of hope has sunk into the mud?

Here’s why this is even more frustrating. According to independent watchdog groups, it’s McCain — purportedly of the Straight Talk Express — who has in fact sunk so low with his Obama attack ads, most agree there’s no precedent for it in modern politics.

Consider this article, from today’s USA Today. Though the headline and subdeck indicate a kind of moral equivalency between the campaigns (“Fact checkers find rivals’ ads low on truth”), there can be no doubt — when you read the article — McCain is by far a worse offender. Here’s the nut:

Veteran campaign watchers say they have never seen ads quite like some from Republican John McCain. The spots contend that Democrat Barack Obama caused high gasoline prices, called McCain running mate Sarah Palin a pig, plans to raise taxes on the middle class and — in an ad called Education that’s emblematic of the trend — wants to teach graphic sex to kindergartners. All the claims are false.

The article notes that Obama has also run negative ads, with a key difference:

So far, several analysts say, most of Obama’s ads mislead and misrepresent in familiar ways — twisting a statistic or a snippet of video to make a questionable point, for instance. They say McCain has been in a different league, epitomized by Education.

“McCain is making no effort to be truthful,” says Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. “The lies aren’t routine political lies where they stretch the truth of what a candidate might have said, or take a candidate out of context.”

PolitiFact.com, a fact-check team from the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and Congressional Quarterly, rates 22 statements and ads from McCain as barely true, 23 as false and six as “pants on fire” (absurdly, ridiculously false) out of 117 analyzed. For Obama, the score is 14 barely true, 18 false and one “pants on fire” out of 120 analyzed.

Check out www.politifact.com. It’s pretty illuminating, on all the candidates. Obama has certainly dipped down into the mud, particularly with his “pants on fire” ad, equating McCain’s views on immigration with Rush Limbaugh’s. But this was Obama’s first ad of this kind. McCain already has 6 that feature outright lies. Even the race-baiting Willie Horton ad run against Dukakis in 1988 was at the very least true. (Horton didcomit the crimes while out on furlough.) What we’re watching now with McCain is something new.

McCain is trying to maintain some sense of moral equivalency between his ads and Obama’s. But as the independent groups point out, there is no equivalency. McCain clearly has no standard for what he will say about Obama.

The USA Today article calls McCain’s “Education” ad, in which he knowingly lies outright — claiming that Obama’s “one legislative accomplishment” was a bill to teach sex ed to kindergartners — was a “tipping point”:

Reporters, columnists, editorial writers and watchdog groups produced fact checks pronouncing it beyond the pale even by the elastic standards of political advertising.

“It was a remarkable ad because it was wrong in so many ways,” says PolitiFact.com editor Bill Adair. Its rating was a mix of “barely true” and “pants on fire.”

Remember, Adair is a nonpartisan factchecker.

Clearly, McCain will say or do anything at all to get elected.

By the way, Politifact.com is currently slamming the NRA for a “pants on fire” mailer against Obama, sent to its members, stating that Obama would rewrite the Second Amendment and ban the use of firearms for home defense. According to the Web site:

There’s ample evidence to the contrary. Here’s Obama speaking at a forum sponsored by WJLA-ABC7 and Politico.com on Feb. 12, 2008: “I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. And a lot of people — law-abiding citizens use it for hunting, for sportsmanship, and for protecting their families (emphasis added). We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage…We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measures that I think respect the Second Amendment and people’s traditions.”

That doesn’t sound to us like someone planning to “ban use of firearms for home defense.” Quite the opposite, actually.

On this score, as with so many issues, Obama has a reasoned approach that seeks to govern from the middle ground where most of us live.