Friday, October 31, 2008

What Role for Dennis Ross in the Obama Administration

Just got an email from an Israeli American friend telling me that he voted, much to my surprise, for Obama. It seems that my friend, an old-fashioned centrist Zionist, the sort who thinks that Ehud Barak made the Palestinians a generous offer at Camp David, decided to bite the bullet. The main reason (aside from the fact that he is a Democrat and scared to death of Sarah Palin)? Well, he is comfortable with Dennis Ross, and Dennis Ross has emerged as Obama's Middle East Advisor.

Is this so?

There is some evidence supporting the claim. Over the course of this campaign, Rob Malley was the first to leave the public eye, followed by Dan Kurtzer, with only Ross left. Obama has touted Ross to Jewish leaders as his middle east advisor. Ross gave an interview to Haaretz last week (with the extraordinary speculation that he may be Secretary of State. I heard him on DC radio twice introduced twice as Obama's "Foreign Policy advisor." Say, it ain't so, 'O'!)

Is Dennis Ross out there just to get votes from Jews like my Israeli American friend? Or does Obama have a central role for him in the new administration.

I don't know whether even Obama knows the answer to that last question for sure. He is totally focused on winning now. Last night, there was a very revealing exchange in Rachel Maddow's interview with Obama:

MADDOW: And so, you have the opportunity to say John McCain, George Bush, you're wrong. You also have the opportunity to say, conservatism has been bad for America. But, you haven't gone there either.

OBAMA: I tell you what though, Rachel. You notice, I think we're winning right now so

Maddow, the leftwing liberal, wanted to get an ideological criticism of Republicanism and Conservatism out of Obama's mouth. She wanted the guy with the most liberal voting record in Congress to stand up and say, "I am a proud liberal." But Obama won't do it. He says that he wants to transcend ideologies and partisanship. But he also says that the American people don't like that sort of politics. And that he is winning with this strategy.

Is it just a strategy? Who knows? But I, for one, will be very surprised if Dennis Ross returns to the Israel-Palestinian negotiations. For all I know, Ross isn't himself interested. But let's face it -- he has burned himself with his post-Camp David behavior and writing. Ross is a very proud liberal Zionist -- the last person one wants to negotiate an Israel-Palestinian deal. He was a mistake from the beginning, but the mistake got worse and worse. I have blogged here before about how the only person who could represent the Palestinian point of view at Camp David was the Arabic interpreter. Obama -- and his advisors -- are too smart, I hope, to repeat that mistake.

So does Akiva Eldar, who wrote in Haaretz a few days ago:
The change also must be seen in the makeup of the American team helping to formulate the peace agreements and in an assertive enforcement of old commitments. The recycling of advisers like Dennis Ross is more of the same. His deputy, Aaron Miller, wrote in his most recent book that Ross (recently the president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute) complained that the Israelis see him as the Palestinians' defense attorney. According to Miller, none of the high-ranking American officials who dealt with negotiations has been willing or able to present the Palestinian perspective, much less fight for it
So I think that Ross will have a role in the Obama administration. But if I were Obama, I wouldn't put him anywhere near Israel, or even Iran. Ross has a top-notch mind, and his grasp of details is extraordinary. How can Obama fail to be impressed with him? I sure as heck am.

But keep Ross away from Israel. We don't need any more fashlas like Camp David. And we don't need any more liberal Zionists representing the United States of America in Middle East peace talks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And Now, Something Nice for a Change

I just received this email from a friend who is an associate of Obama. It's a small, but very powerful story, and I plan to share it with my 95-year old father, who just sent in his absentee ballot for Obama.

Please send it around. I have omitted the sender's last name for obvious reasons.


From: Judy Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 6:53 AM Subject: This is a good story

Upon arriving at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Cincinnati to vote early today I happened upon some friends of my mother's - three small, elderly Jewish women. They were quite upset as they were being refused admitance to the polling location due to their Obama T-Shirts, hats and buttons. Apparently you cannot wear Obama/McCain gear into polling locations here in Ohio .... They were practically on the verge of tears.

After a minute or two of this a huge man (6'5", 300 lbs easy) wearing a Dale Earnhardt jacket and Bengals cap left the voting line, came up to us and introduced himself as Mike. He told us he had overheard our conversation and asked if the ladies would like to borrow his jacket to put over their t-shirts so they could go in and vote. The ladies quickly agreed. As long as I live I will never forget the image of these 80-plus-year-old Jewish ladies walking into the polling location wearing a huge Dale Earnhardt racing jacket that came over their hands and down to their knees!

Mike patiently waited for each woman to cast their vote, accepted their many thanks and then got back in line (I saved him a place while he was helping out the ladies). When Mike got back in line I asked him if he was an Obama supporter. He said that he was not, but that he couldn't stand to see those ladies so upset. I thanked him for being a gentleman in a time of bitter partisanship and wished him well.

After I voted I walked out to the street to find my mother's friends surrouding our new friend Mike - they were laughing and having a great time. I joined them and soon learned that Mike had changed his mind in the polling booth and ended up voting for Obama. When I asked him why he changed his mind at the last minute, he explained that while he was waiting for his jacket he got into a conversation with one of the ladies who had explained how the Jewish community, and she, had worked side by side with the black community during the civil rights movements of the '60s, and that this vote was the culmination of those personal and community efforts so many years ago. That this election for her was more than just a vote ... but a chance at history.

Mike looked at me and said, "Obama's going to win, and I didn't want to tell my grandchildren some day that I had an opportunity to vote for the first black president, but I missed my chance at history and voted for the other guy."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Israeli Government’s Secret War Against Barack Obama

Leave it to Barak Ravid, the Haaretz reporter whose job it is to publish anti-American gripes from unnamed Israeli government officials, to muddy the waters a week before the US elections. His latest article cites a "senior Israeli government source" who reports on leaks from "closed forums in France" in which rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy, after meeting Obama in July (!) , criticized his position on Iran as "utterly immature." Read the gossip here.

Update: In the meantime, the French Embassy denied the report. See about it here

OK, so this is how it works. The Israeli government wants to get the word out: Obama is dangerous because he is soft on Iran. Of course, it doesn't want to go public because that would look as if it is interfering in the US elections. So it finds a friendly reporter – usually, Ravid – to publish a leak. This way of criticizing America has been going on for some time, and I have blogged about it before.

Of course, there is something truly comical in thinking that a comment by Sarkozy in a closed forum last summer (if his comments were accurately reported) will have any impact on anybody – especially since Sarkozy's disapproval rating is now 56%. But any port in a storm.

Last week the Israeli government did the same thing. Getting nervous about the Obama lead, a "senior government source" told Ravid that if Obama is elected, he will initiate direct talks with Tehran, and "a critical Israeli interest would be to condition any talks between the West and Iran on halting uranium enrichment." The timing of this announcement, two weeks before the elections, was not conincidental. It implied that Barak Obama constituted a danger to Israel, and that his election will provoke a concerted Israeli diplomatic response (as if anybody could care about that).

In one week Barack Obama, according to the polls, will be elected president by a resounding majority, and with him a Democratic congress with an even more resounding majority. True, the congress will be predictably "pro-Israel," as will be Obama, but there will be a difference.

And, as Sarkozy was heard to say in a closed forum (according to senior officials), "Vive la différence."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gideon Levy: “No One Who Chooses to Live in Occupied Land is a Moderate.”

This is well-worth printing in full. Read it here


Yes, hate

by Gideon Levy


My settler colleague, Israel Harel, his community's champion at rolling his eyes, playing innocent and speaking with a honeyed tongue, is once again grieving and playing the victim. In a column published here last week ("Have we become Sodom?" October 23), he complained that the reason for what he termed destructive criticism of the settlers is hatred. And indeed, Mr. Harel, this time, you're right: Large segments of Israeli society do indeed hate. But this is not baseless hatred, not hatred for the sake of hatred, to use your words. It is hatred for your enterprise. You have earned this hatred honestly - the only honest thing about your enterprise.

Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see their countrymen despoiling the vineyards and burning the fields of poor farmers. Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see troops of masked settlers beating elderly shepherds with clubs. Yes, there are Israelis who do not want to see other Israelis sicking their dogs on and puncturing the tires of the soldiers who protect them. Yes, there are Israelis who are embarrassed by the fact that tens of thousands of their fellow Israelis live on privately owned lands that were robbed, stolen and extorted, both in broad daylight and under cover of darkness.

And yes, there are Israelis who think that you have brought disaster upon us, a tragedy that will last for generations. That via your actions, you have brought wars and bloodshed and the brutalization of society upon us. That if you were not there, none of us would be there any longer, in a land that is not ours. That just as we withdrew from occupied South Lebanon - solely because, fortunately, you were not there - we would also long since have been able to withdraw from the areas you have occupied. Yes, there are Israelis who hate all this.



Harel complains about the fact that Israeli society is angry at the settlers as a collective. Unfortunately, it isn't angry enough. Every class and institution of Israeli society defends the settlements, finances them from its own pockets, and is a full partner in the theft, even if some of them are disgusted by it. The collective guilt is justified: Every settler and every settlement is equal. There are no illegal outposts and legal settlements - they are all illegal, according to both international law and universal justice, which have no need of legal sophistries. There are also no moderate and extremist settlements: No one who chooses to live in occupied land is a moderate.

And now for the playing innocent part: There are "some young men," Harel writes, just "a few dozen youths," who attack Arabs. Harel says that he, like most of his colleagues, "cannot understand" this. He has already told them, during a "heated discussion," that "this is not my halakha." And he goes on to say that his fists clench when he sees violence against the elderly in Haifa and Tel Aviv or gang rapes in Ramat Hasharon. But in Ramat Aviv Gimmel people do not ask what values were instilled in these youth, Harel writes; there, it is just juvenile delinquency. Yet when the same thing happens among settlers, the guilt is collective.

So here is the real difference: Secular society denounces and rejects those who rob the elderly and rape young girls. The perpetrators are given a fair trial, they receive lengthy sentences, and both the media and secular society ostracize them totally.

But what happens in your community? Have you ever heard, Israel, of a single settler who filed a complaint with the police against another settler over a rampage against Arabs? After all, you, too, see the rioters every day, on the road from Ofra - much of whose land, incidentally, is private land that was stolen. And what do you do when you see those rioters? Have another "heated discussion"? When we see people who assault the elderly, we call the police. Do you?

And if such a thing were to happen, how would your aggressive society treat the "informers"? After all, people who have dared to voice even a hint of "moderation" in their positions - and we are not even talking about anything as drastic as a complaint to the police - have been forced to abandon the settlements where they lived for fear of vengeance. It is not the lawbreakers who are ostracized in your community, but those who try to denounce them. Look at what happened to Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun - with no ostracism and no denunciation, other than laughable lip service. Only on the day when the settlement leadership starts cooperating with the law enforcement agencies will I believe you that those "few dozen youths," who are in fact a large and violent army of thousands, are indeed loathed by you.

You must admit the truth: To you, they are the pioneers who go before the camp, the ones who stand at the forefront. They are the ones who are realizing what your generation tried and failed to do in its day. In the deepest recesses of your souls, your hearts go out to them.

You spoke with Benny Katzover and Elyakim Ha'etzni, and they told you that the main opposition to the olive harvest stemmed from "security worries"? Had you not stolen the harvesters' lands, there would be no security risk. And after you have taken over their lands, you dare to justify the theft of what little remains to them on the grounds of security - your security only, of course? Evidently, chutzpah also has no limits.

And finally, the punch line: Harel writes that people like him will soon be hunkering down in bunkers due to the "unbridled" events in commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. It is not the murder or the events leading up to it that were unbridled, but the commemorations? It is not we who have all been in bunkers for 40 years because of you, but you, the robbed Cossacks? That is already one sentence too many - perhaps even for your too numerous fans



Jews Plan to Vote for Obama in Droves

According to the latest Gallup poll, Obama is winning over the Jewish vote. The percentage of Jews planning to vote for Obama is now 74%, for McCain, only 22%. For historical comparisons, that's the percentage of Jews that voted for Kerry/Edwards. It is still lower than the percentage for Gore/Lieberman, but we have 10 days until the election. Read about it here.

All is not bright, however. It seems that Obama attracts more older Jewish voters than younger Jewish voters (67%). And 29% of the voters from 18-34 describe themselves as politically conservative, as opposed to 16-17% of Jewish voters older than that.

But – and here's the kicker – when it comes to party affiliation, there is no significant difference among age groups. Did you think that the younger generation of Jews are flocking to the Republicans? Not according to the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. Could it be that the nasty Republican Jewish Committee ads backfired? Or is the phrase "Jewish Republican" still an oxymoron? Nah – a whopping 13-17% of American Jews are Republican.

10 Days to Go

Some medium takes at the conclusion of Shabbat. I wanted to write them yesterday, but I ran out of time.

1. Sarah Palin -- The Gift that Keeps on Giving.

A Washington Post/ABC Poll last week reported that perceptions of Sarah Palin are increasingly negative. Read about the poll here. The Post writes

Thursday evenings, after the disclosure that the Republican National Committee used political funds to help Palin assemble a wardrobe for the campaign, 51 percent said they have a negative impression of her. Fewer, 46 percent, said they have a favorable view. That marks a stark turnaround from early September, when 59 percent of likely voters held positive opinions.

The declines in Palin's ratings have been even more substantial among the very voters Republicans aimed to woo. The percentage of white women viewing her favorably dropped 21 points since early September; among independent women, it fell 24 points.

It is too early to say whether the choice of Palin won the election for Obama – I think that it will probably increase his win by a percentage point or so, but that it will not be the critical factor.

But the real question is, will Palin have any national aspirations in the future? And will her supporters continue to be enthusiastic?

My hope is that she continues to be a national player, and that she and her supporters see her as the presumptive leader of the Republicans. For then we will have a lovely culture war in the Republican party, and among the conservative movement, for some time.

2. Charles Krauthammer -- Going Down with the Ship.

As one-by-one the conservative pundits jumped the McCain-Palin sinking ship (with the notable exception of Palin admirer, William Kristol), I started to get nervous about the pundit I love to hate, Charles Krauthammer. I can't think of a writer who has been so consistently wrong over the last decade as Krauthammer. He has cheerleaded excessive militarism, war in the Middle East, Islamaphobia, anti-Europeanism, the surge in Iraq, right wing Zionism, etc., that I thought to myself, "My God, if Krauthammer defects to Obama, maybe I should consider voting for McCain." I especially got nervous when I saw him get it right for once, about Sarah Palin.

Barukh ha-Shem, Krauthammer has remained true-to-form by endorsing McCain. Read it, if you can stomach it, here. I can now sleep at night knowing that he is not supporting Obama. As prepared as I am to be disappointed by Obama, I am not prepared to vote for somebody favored by Krauthammer.

3. Leon Wieselthier's Endorsement – Better Late than Never

The Torah teaches that even if a person repents an hour before his death, his repentance is accepted. I happen to know that it took a long time for Leon Wieselthier to come around to endorse Obama. Read about it here. This delay may seem surprising, given that his boss at the New Republic, Marty Peretz, jumped on the Obama bandwagon during the Democratic primaries (more for hatred of the Clintons than love of Obama.) But Wieselthier genuinely liked McCain (so did I), and he was – and is – apprehensive about Obama's learning curve with respect to foreign policy.

What brought him to Obama? His personal impression of Obama's character. And, that, my friends, is the real story of Obama's success. He has simply impressed a lot of people with his calm, thoughtful, and unflappable presence, while McCain, especially since he has been behind in the polls, has struck many people as angry and erratic. If you are following the election from Israel, you miss this dimension.

Wieselthier is a self-described "liberal hawk". Those of us on the left wing of the Democratic party like to dis "Scoop-Jackson-Democrats," who are practical indistinguishable from neocons when it comes to foreign policy. In Israel, they are often called, "disappointed leftists." Folks like that usually start their sentences with disclaimers, "Jerry, I also believe in a two-state solution," or "Hey, I am against the Occupation." And then comes the "but" comes… "But the Palestinians are not ready," or "But we don't have a credible partner," or, in the case of the liberal hawks over here, "But Islamic fundamentalism is an existential threat," or, "But the Geneva Convention rules shouldn't apply in a War of Terror because it is a nasty world out there."

Still, I am all for building coalitions, and if a liberal hawk like Leon wants to vote for Obama over McCain, I say, God bless him.

4. "Ma'am, We're Voting for the N-gger" in Virginia

The assumption among pundits is that white racists won't vote for Obama because he is black. That may be true for some racists, but not for all. Just like anti-semites can support Jewish candidates (not to mention Jew lawyers and Jew doctors), there is nothing unusual in a racist voting for a black man, especially if they are both Democrat.

The story below, reported by Sean Quinn of here, relates the experiences of a Obama campaign worker in Big Stone, Virginia:

Last week, Julie Hensley made one of her thousands of phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama. A woman answered. As Hensley ran through her short script, the husband impatiently broke in.

"Ma'am, we're voting for the n-gger." And hung up.

Hensley wasn't having it. "I went and made a couple other calls but chafed over this absurdity," she told us, "so I called them back, as I still had a couple questions for the wife." This time the man answered, asked pointedly who she was, and when she replied he hung up again.

We continue to hear stories like these in Appalachia. Big Stone Gap, where Barack Obama's southwesternmost field office in Virginia sits, gave us our latest version.

Quinn comes back to the story at the end of his report:

As for Hensley, her story ended with a twist. A couple hours later during a pause in her dials, her phone rang. She recognized the number. "This is going to be good," she remembers thinking, getting ready to scrap.

It was the husband. He was calling for the woman on whom he'd hung up. She then got something she didn't expect -- an apology. Calmly, Hensley told the man she'd accept his apology on one condition -- he had to tell her who he was voting for.

"Oh, I don't normally talk about it but I feel like I owe you," the man said. "I am voting for Senator Obama." He asked if Hensley would like to speak to his wife, as he'd interrupted the original call. Hensley mentioned that she had been surprised when he'd called to apologize. Apparently the husband and wife had been talking the entire couple hours since the original call. "Did she get upset with you?" Hensley asked.

"What do you think?" the man replied

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back from the Holidays

Some of you have noticed the dearth of Magnes Zionist posts lately. Between the Jewish holidays, the semester, and the election, and research, I haven't had much time. I hope I will be able to get back to 2-3 a week soon.

Thanks for the encouragement. It's been a long holiday season, and in the US it is over tomorrow night.

Kristol and the Shikse

After Barack Obama wins the election in two weeks (assuming that planned attempts to prevent Democrats from voting aren't successful), credit will be due several people.

But a special thanks will be due to William Kristol, who, according to a must-read article by Jane Mayer in the current New Yorker, fell under Palin's spell during a cruise to Alaska last year, and lobbied mightily for her inclusion on the McCain ticket. Let's face it: the choice of Palin will be long remembered as the single most significant move that sunk McCain's boat. Palin's total ignorance of anything outside of the state of Alaska vitiated the "national security" argument against Obama, raised serious questions about McCain's judgment, and caused the most serious defection of conservative writers from the Republic ticket in years. Just read the devastating criticisms of Palin made by Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, Chris Buckley, Matthew Dowd, George F. Will, and even Charles Krauthammer. Polls show that Palin is now a liability to the ticket. What was McCain thinking? The base Palin energized would have turned out to vote against Obama even if the Anti-Christ (or Bill Clinton) were the Republican presidential nominee.

In a recent op-ed, Kristol sneered at Peggy Noonan's remark that "the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics." According to Kristol,

Politics in a democracy are always "vulgar" — since democracy is rule by the "vulgus," the common people, the crowd.

Excuse me, Bill? Read the Constitution lately? Since when has democracy in this country meant rule by the mob? Apparently, Kristol is not content to strike against the liberal media elites; he also doesn't like conservatives with brains.

Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber…[is] the latest ordinary American to do a star turn in our vulgar democratic circus. He seems like a sensible man to me.

In the match between the intelligent conservatives listed above, and Samuel Wurzelbacher, an unlicensed plumber who owes back taxes and hasn't yet figured out that he would get a tax credit under Obama's economic plan, Kristol goes with the latter.

I wouldn't spend so much time on Kristol if I didn't think that his writing is indicative of a wider phenomenon. Call it the Jewish intellectual's "Fanfare for the Common Man." Ever since Russian intellectuals glorified the serfs as the true Russians, their Russia Jewish imitators glorified the simply laborers and farmers. Labor Zionism, of course, was built on this form of intellectual self-hate. In embracing the mythical "Joe the Plumber" Kristol shows that he stands with the redneck, the common man, the Real American. Kristol may not look like Rush Limbaugh, but the message is the same: Those guys are real.

Kristol wasn't the only conservative pundit smitten by Governor Palin. After the Weekly Standard's cruise set sail from Juneau, the National Review's cruise dropped its anchor. Rich Lowry, the editor, Jack Fowler, the publisher, Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor, the historian Victor Davis Hanson, and a bunch of others fell under Palin's spell. In the New Yorker article, several made remarks about Palin's good looks. (Has anybody heard of a female conservative pundit praise Palin's looks?)

In short, what we had here was a bunch of middle-aged white males going gah-gah for Sarah. And Kristol, apparently, fell for her the hardest:

The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska's political circles. According to [Paulette] Simpson, Senator [Ted] Stevens told her that "Kristol was really pushing Palin" in Washington before McCain picked her. Indeed, as early as June 29th, two months before McCain chose her, Kristol predicted on "Fox News Sunday" that "McCain's going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket." He described her as "fantastic," saying that she could go one-on-one against Obama in basketball, and possibly siphon off Hillary Clinton's supporters. He pointed out that she was a "mother of five" and a reformer. "Go for the gold here with Sarah Palin," he said. The moderator, Chris Wallace, finally had to ask Kristol, "Can we please get off Sarah Palin?"

Of course, the short Jew with the statuesque shikse on his arms is a familiar image: Irving Berlin had his Ellen McKay; Henry Kissinger had his Nancy Maginnes; Woody Allen had his Diane Keaton. In his fawning over Sarah Palin, Kristol has managed combine the glorification of the real American with something akin to shikse worship.

Which just goes to show you that you can take a Jew out of Russia, but you can't take Russia out of the Jew – especially a "tough Jew" like Kristol.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why I Didn’t Sign the Jewish Studies Scholars’ Petition in Support of Obama

Recently, I was asked to sign a petition of Jewish Studies scholars supporting of Obama. Since I am a Jewish Studies scholar, since I sign petitions, and since I support Obama, I should have agreed, right? Especially when I had just co-hosted a fundraiser for Obama (featuring Michael Chabon, Nathan Englander, and Ayelet Waldman), and I had solicited and received money from the person who asked me to sign the petition.

For those of you are interested in this petition – and the signatories -- you can read about it here.

I have signed petitions in the past calling for international intervention in Israel/Palestine, for Israel to recognize its responsibility of the Nakbah, and in support of IDF refuseniks – all using my real name and academic affiliation. But, frankly, I don't think that my being a Jewish Studies professor, or my scholarly expertise, bears much on my support of Obama. I am a liberal Democrat; ergo I support Obama. Lots of folks in the Academy are liberal Democrats. My Judaism and Jewish identity is also involved – but not qua Jewish Studies professor. So I was curious to see what all this had to do with the Jewish Studies guild.

And here is the line"

As scholars of Jewish Studies, we are concerned that distortions of Senator Obama's record and biography have caused undue anxiety among American Jews about what an Obama presidency would mean for Israel and the Jewish community.

What does the reisha (beginning) have to do with the seifa (end)? I don't feel especially concerned about this matter "as a scholar of Jewish Studies." Any decent person should be concerned about distortions. But there are quite a few rightwing Jewish Studies scholars who may be unhappy about Obama for what they consider to be good reasons. And, I know that some of the signatories – Danny Boyarin, for example – will share my real concerns about President Obama's policies towards the Israelis and Palestinians. It will be harder to oppose the policies of a misguided American liberal Democratic president than a Republican one.

Look, this is not big deal, and if I weren't so busy with other matters, I would blog about something more important. If liberal Jews in my guild want to publish a petition in support of their candidate, they can go ahead and do it. But I do not see the connection between that guild and that support. And call me old fashioned, but I would prefer that the Jewish Studies business be left out. When I say on my blog that I am a Jewish Studies professor, that is for identification purposes only.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Barak Effect. Vs. the Bradley Effect

At the moment of this writing I believe that Obama will win by a landslide four weeks from today. Anybody following developments in the last week can see that the economy has taken over the election. Despite the many advice-to-McCain columns written by scared conservative pundits (mirroring the advice-to-Obama columns written by scared liberal pundits two weeks earlier), there is little the McCain-Palin ticket can do. Don't expect major gaffes from any of the candidates. It's now October 7. The game is over.

Fair enough, you say. But "by a landslide"? Isn't that a bit silly?

Not if you take into account the Barak Effect.

No, I didn't misspell Obama's first name. I am referring to Ehud Barak, and the 1999 prime ministerial elections in Israel.

I arrived in Israel three days before that election. The polls showed Barak and Netanyahu neck-in-neck. Our cabdriver from the airport was a Moroccan Jew and a long-time Likud supporter. "So," I ventured gingerly, "it looks like it will be a close election." He paused and said, "A lot of people are going to be surprised with this election." "Why," I said, "you believe that Barak will get elected?" And he said, "A lot of Sefardim who voted for Likud all their life are going to be voting for Labor -- not because of ideology, or because they think Barak will bring peace, but because they are sick of the economy."

And he was right -- Barak won big, with a lot of Likud supporters from oriental communities voting for him. But they lied to the pollsters because their folks never voted Labor.

Now we know that a whole bunch of people lie to polls, even to exit polls. They do it for the obvious reason that they don't want their vote known. Analysts have focused on the "Bradley" effect, named for Mayor Tom Bradley, who was favored by the polls to win in an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1982. Bradley was black, and there were white folks who said they voted for him when they did not, since they did not want to appear racist. But this time I think we are going to see the "Barak" effect -- people who live among McCain supporters who don't want to go public with their decision to back Obama -- not because they have turned liberal, or because they have no problem with a Black man in the White House, but because they are voting for the guy who has come to throw out the bums.

Of course, there is a big difference in the elections: Bibi was the incumbent and McCain is not. So I think Obama will win by a landslide only if Obama continues to pursuade that McCain's policies are those of Bush.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

And One Sobering Thought…

Liberals should be prepared to be disappointed with Obama, if he gets elected president. I have it on the best of authority that even with a democratic majority in Congress he is going to stay centrist and even, gasp, conservative on some fiscal issues. I mean the best of authority. The ideologues think that, a la George W., he is sounding centrist now, but will turn ideologue later….Ain't gonna happen.

And let me tell you what the difference is – George W. came into town with some ideological principles and very little brain. He let ideologues, and his Vice-President, run the show. Obama is much more his own man, and he is a pragmatist. And for liberal ideologues, that is bad news.

As for Israel -- I have said time and time again that Obama's views are garden-variety American-liberal-Zionist. The tone will be better; the reality, however, will remain the same. I only hope that he and his advisors learn from the mistakes of the Clinton and Bush administrations. The so-called "Peace Process" serves the interest of the Israeli government, the PA, and nobody else. Let's hope that the message gets through to the Obama administration early in the game

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Small Blessings

Round-up of the good news of the week.

1. Obama's Lead Continues to Widen. In the US, one is hard-pressed to think of a genuine left-wing national politician, with the exception of a non-politician like Ralph Nader. Liberals don't get elected president in America, or haven't for a while. Jimmy Carter may now seem like a flaming liberal, but when he was president he was considered liberal-centrist. As for Bill Clinton…well, no need to go there. Was L.B.J. the last liberal president? Do I hear Vietnam, anyone?

So when the presidential candidate with the most liberal voting record in the Senate finds himself, a month before election-day, with an average 6-7 point lead in the polls, that's got to be sweet, right?

Poor William Kristol, the pointy-headed, effete Jewish neocon who envies "real Americans" like Sarah Six-Pack-Moose-Hunter-Red-Meat-Eater-Hocky-Mom Palin. Kristol has so far written three or four columns fantasizing how McCain and Palin can still win this thing. In his latest effort, he offers up two suggestions – attack Obama-Biden on ideology and go negative on character. As for ideology,

One shouldn't underestimate the ideological issue, and the potency of the fact that Obama and Biden are orthodox liberals. They're for raising taxes, federally funding abortions, naming activist judges, and losing wars. The American people may think--they do think--the country's on the wrong track, that the Bush administration has made too many mistakes and that the Republican party's no great shakes. But they haven't suddenly become liberals. And they probably aren't crazy about the prospect of a liberal administration governing unchecked, hand in hand with a liberal Congress. During the next four weeks, the McCain-Palin campaign should make this risky prospect vivid.

Uh, excuse me, but it seems to me that McCain and Palin have been shouting from the rooftops that Obama and Biden are "orthodox liberals," and that the "tax-and-spend-wave-the-white-flag" charge has failed abysmally in this election. So why does Kristol think that this strategy will suddenly work? Because he simply can't believe that real Americans are liberals. He's right; they aren't. They aren't conservatives, either. Americans didn't elect George W. because they were conservative, and they won't elect Obama because they have turned liberal. The fact is that most people are not Kristol-style ideologues. Sure, there are a bunch of those on both sides, but you can't get elected only with them. Folks believe that the country is in a mess, and that the Republicans are mostly responsible. They are willing to give the other side the chance to do better. That's what this election is about.

As for the attacks on character, that's hilarious, or should I say, Hillary-esque. Kristol writes:

Character is a legitimate issue. Obama hasn't shown much in the way of leadership or political courage, and he's consorted with dubious figures. It's fair to ask whether Barack Obama is personally trustworthy enough to be president, and the McCain campaign shouldn't be intimidated from going there.

Do I hear Mark Penn? Reprising Ayers, Wright and Co. will work for the McCain Republicans even less than it worked for Hillary Democrats. Man, that is totally old news! If the Republicans have a really good new scandal, that may be different. (Have you heard that Obama and Bin Laden have been spotted together on the same planet?)

Look, the campaign is far from over. But neither is the bad news about the economy. Where I think the Obama campaign has to hit back is over the stupid McCain-Palin claim that victory is in sight in Iraq. Sure, the levels of casualties are down; massive troop deployment does that. But as Peter Galbraith writes in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books,

Less violence, however, is not the same thing as success. The United States did not go to war in Iraq for the purpose of ending violence between contending sectarian forces. Success has to be measured against US objectives. John McCain proclaims his goal to be victory and says we are now winning in Iraq (a victory that will, of course, be lost if his allegedly pro-surrender opponent wins). He considers victory to be an Iraq that is "a democratic ally." George W. Bush has defined victory as a unified, democratic, and stable Iraq. Neither man has explained how he will transform Iraq's ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran's vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq's new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so.

(Galbraith's piece is a must-read for those who claim that the surge is working.)

2. New York Sun goes belly up. One of the nastier rightwing Jewish news rags, the New York Sun, folded last week. Barukh Dayyan Emes. Just more proof that God's special providence is at work. Read about it here.

3. Eckstein soaks the rightwing goyim for $824,000 a year. Haaretz reported that Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, received an annual salary of $824,000 last year. Ah, plus ça change…another clever Jew knows how to make money off of the goyim. Can't wait till it hits the blogs and general media.