Tuesday, January 15, 2008


By sheer coincidence, as soon as I posted my previous post on Obama, a commenter Moishe Kapoyer (not a real name, of course) placed his own long comment, here.

I decided it was worth a post all of its own.

There is a joke about a young Jewish boy during the heyday of the New York Yankees when Babe Ruth was a household name. "Grandpa, grandpa," the boy said excitedly as he ran into the apartment the family shared, "the Yankees won the world series." "Nu," said the grandfather, "is it good or bad for the Jews." The story loses a little flavor translated from Yiddish, but the idea that Jews need to weigh everything in terms of their preservation (which is different from self-interest) is something which has never disappeared. Nor should it. Being eternally vigilant is the price one pays, however reluctantly, for being part of a minority group which has been vilified (and worse) for over half of recorded history.

The question for any American Jew regarding who is going to serve as the best leader of her/his country is not something that is taken lightly. But it is obvious that there is a variety of opinion among Jews as to who the best person to fill that position is. I personally have a hard time understanding how some of my Jewish friends and acquaintances (fortunately,very few are Republicans) supported (and still support) Bush. I find him a national embarrassment in terms of his inability to be spontaneously articulate or to even read convincingly from a teleprompter, his lack of intellectual curiosity, his unabashed pride in being "born-again" and his being embraced by evangelicals who have an agenda rooted more in the Book of Revelations than in real national interest, never mind their inability to understand what a scientific theory is and their insistence that the universe is only a few thousand years old. Ask yourself if you would trust such people with your children's education if they were truly a prevailing force in this nation's public schools. I give thanks every day that a senator like Rick Santorum (I maintain that the letter "i" was removed from two places in his surname to disguise his origins) was not reelected.

I spoke with my father the other evening. He is 89 years old, a veteran of WWII, a survivor of the Great Depression, the son of a baker from Lodz who was at one time the secretary of the Baker's Union in St. Louis, and, as most Jews in this country who were on their way up from a lower socioeconomic standing, a lifelong Democrat. So am I, for that matter, and I make no apologies about it because as an American, I don't have to. My father told me that he supports Obama and feels that Bush has run this country into the ground. He is not a knee-jerk liberal -- he has always been in favor of the death penalty -- I think of him as more a pragmatist who feels that the "little guy" deserves as much of a break as the corporate world of companies like Halliburton.

I think that it is difficult for anyone who has not grown up in this country to appreciate the subtle dance or sometimes outright tension between domestic and foreign policy. It is also a grave error to assume that because a president like Bush supports Israel unequivocally that his former opponent would have done the opposite, or would have been lukewarm at best. From my point of view, as a Jewish American, I think that in the long run, I (and possibly even Israel) have more to lose from a conservative "faith-based" administration than from an administration which does not have a potential hidden agenda of hastening the advent of the messiah, which incidentally, for any ultra-orthodox who might have tuned in, is also proscribed by the Talmud. No barbecues for the Almighty at a restored temple for me, thank you.

I don't think that the Democratic Party is necessarily less kindly disposed towards Israel than the Republicans -- it was Truman who recognized Israel, it was Eisenhower who essentially forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai in '56, and it was Nixon who harbored the typical small-town anti-Semitism in spite of having Kissinger (who I'm not sure I would trust to watch my luggage while I used the airport restroom) as Secretary of State. And I don't think that Clinton was lukewarm on Israel. I realize that the status of the territories is a very sensitive and serious issue, but I think that if Arafat had not been a forked-tongue thug (and probably frightened to death of being assassinated) instead of a statesman (now there's an oxymoron), an accord at Camp David would have been preferable to the tragic violence that ensued. That said,even though I was never wild about Sharon, I think his visit to the Temple Mount was just a very convenient pretext for the Palestinians.

So on to Obama. You have to look carefully at a larger picture. The fact that he attends a church whose minister is suspect in some ways is not that important in terms of what Obama himself stands for. A former rabbi (at our synagogue which I don't attend very frequently) was caught plagiarizing. Because I didn't resign my membership doesn't mean I supported plagiarism then or now. Besides,why should I have resigned when he resigned a year later? There are other things (like a circle of personal friends or charitable programs) that keep you connected to place of worship even if the leader is flawed. So until I hear differently, I won't assume that Obama has hung a portrait of Louis Farrakhan in a prominent place in his home. Quite honestly, I don't think I've heard much of substance from any of the candidates as far as real details of foreign policy are concerned -- only generalities. It's just as easy to say that you'll talk to rogue nations while you're in the early stages of a campaign as it is to say you'll whack their tushes so hard they'll feel it for a decade. I think it's far too early to get exercised about any candidate. I support Obama at this time because I feel that our country is suffering from some very serious internal injuries and he is the only candidate who has something resembling the vision that JFK had instead of the same old tired platitudes. That he doesn't have enough experience is a canard. Counting the time he spent in the Illinois legislature, he has more years in government than Hillary. Just because it's a state legislature doesn't mean that the experience is less valuable. If anything, many state legislatures tend to get things done more efficiently than Congress because what they do on a day to day basis isn't in the national news and leads to less posing and posturing.

Having grown up seeing first hand the degradation that Black Americans experienced (St. Louis is not truly a southern city, but it was still segregated when I was in high school) and hearing the ignorant prattle that otherwise reasonable adults engaged in when it came to racial issues, I feel a sense of relief that enough progress has been made that a person of color can be seen running for the highest office in the country. So he isn't "all black." Believe me, Ms. Centrist, the fact that he is even "part black" is still an issue to more Americans in some parts of this country than I would hope would be the case, a reflection of attitudes not much different from those of the Third Reich . I would venture to guess that some people might consider the fact that he is the product of an interracial marriage even more of a liability. My father the pragmatist opined that Obama had better have a lot of life insurance, possibly because during his career, he encountered a lot of what he called "people with small minds." He was called a(n)"n-word lover" by one of his co-workers because he spoke up about civil rights in the late 50s -- he also, for those who might not be aware of it, said that the anti-Catholic venom among his coworkers with rural Missouri backgrounds at McDonnell Aircraft was much stronger than their prejudice against Jews.

The dynamics of race, religion, and politics in this country are complicated. It's gradually getting better, but there is a long way to go. Anyone who holds out hope or the prospect for even more healing is going to get my vote until he or she proves himself truly untrustworthy in some critical way.


The New Centrist also commented on my Obama post, here:

First comment:

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not an Obama supporter as he is way too inexperienced for the job. Hillary is my first choice among Democrats and I like McCain and Giuliani in the Republican field.

To your points, I expressed concerns about his church to friends quite a while back. It does appear that Wright is a bit of a wing-nut. While more attention is placed on the political orientation of conservative churches (given their influence and membership), progressive churches have worldviews of their own. In the case of African American churches, the influence of Afro-centrism, black nationalism and a blatantly pro-“Third World” perspective. Generally speaking, exponents of these views have often not tended to think highly of Jews or Israel.

Which brings me to Farrakhan. Outside of Chicago (and limited pockets of NYC), Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are not taken so seriously. The organization has declined from a peak of 600,000 in the 1960s to less than 100,000. But the vast majority of those members live in Chicago. By flying to Libya with Farrakhan he was displaying a commitment to African independence and pan-Africanism and acknowledging Farrakhan’s place as leader in the African American community. I’m not trying to justify Mr. Wright’s behavior merely pointing out that Farrakhan has sizable influence in Chicago. The closest parallel I can think of in NYC is Reverend Al Sharpton.

To anyone considering voting for Obama, I encourage them to take his faith into consideration. However, in fairness he's hardly out there wearing his religion on his sleeve like some of the other candidates. Of more concern to me is having Zbigniew Brzezinski as one of the stars of his foreign policy team.

Second comment:

Hello again.

"Why isn't there a more vigorous media investigation into Obama and religion?

There are a few unusual circumstances there and if Romeny was grilled and pointed at for his Mormonism, why isn't there the same rigorous engagement with Obama on this subject?? In the end, it will not be in his favour if the subject is suppressed for PC reasons.

"If you (and Hitchens) are saying the press should do their job and bring up controversial elements of the candidates backgrounds, their bases of support, and so forth I am 100% in agreement with you. Full disclosure on all candidates.

However, my understanding of most of the mainstream media is they spend most of their time repeating and occasionally challenging a politician’s narrative about her or himself. For example, Romney and Huckabee both make direct appeals to socially conservative Republicans based on their own religiosity. So the media focuses on their respective religious backgrounds, who they will (and will not) appeal to, etc. Obama, by contrast, is not making much of an effort to woo religious or “values” voters. Since he isn’t focusing on religious voters or mentioning religion in his speeches, the media isn’t focusing on his religious background either. Instead he is focusing on his ancestry and background so you have pundits talking about “is he black enough,” the role of Oprah in his campaign, etc. If this all sounds facile, it’s because the level of analysis in the United States mainstream media is pretty weak.

These are side comments to Hitchens:

The tremendous emphasis placed on a religious man, MLK, Jr., need not “lead to a crude rewriting of history that obliterates the great black and white secularists.” This is a false dichotomy created by Hitchens. The two—secular and religious—do not need to be mutually exclusive. One of the strengths of the American civil-rights movements was the pluralism of participants in terms of ideology, faith (or lack thereof), and skin color. Also, Bayard Rustin is listed as a secularist but he was affiliated with the Society of Friends (Quakers), the African Methodist Episcopal Church and co-organizer (with King) of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“[W]hy is a man with a white mother considered to be "black," anyway?

”Unlike other countries (I’m familiar with Latin America and Cuba) the notion of race in the United States has been dominated by the “one-drop rule.” Simply stated, if you have any African ancestry, you are considered “black.” Now, that obviously does not mean that there were no people who could “pass” as white in the United States. There were (and are) plenty of light skinned black folks in U.S. However, in a legal and political sense, these individuals were considered black for the vast majority of the country’s history. It’s a fairly recent development in the U.S. that “bi-racial” individuals are not only able to embrace “both sides” of their ancestry i.e. not be forced to make a choice between one or the other, but that the entire notion of mixture between peoples is a good thing.

In the interest of full disclosure, as they say, commenter Moishe, I've been told, is a friend of a good friend of mine who detests Bush and is totally enthralled to Obama.

So I'm grateful for Moishe for his long and patient explanation which is the mirror image of my friend's position about these things, which I have heard many times before.


Bob From Brockley offers a few links, too

Jeff Weintraub, too. ("Good for the Jews" dares to appear in his considerations)


At 9:38 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Moishe” makes some good points. It’s important to differentiate elements of the Democratic party’s vocal “progressive” base from party leadership. While this element of the base often holds anti-Zionist positions, most of the party leadership is fairly consistently pro-Israel. This is because the Democratic party, like all parties in the U.S., is made up of a collection of coalitions. Thankfully most of the elements of the coalition, especially those that vote in the largest numbers and with greatest consistency, have been pro-Israel. I’m thinking here of union members in particular.

Interestingly, in contrast to the progressives in the Democratic party the social conservative base of the Republican party is very pro-Israel these days. This was not always the case. Back in Moishe’s father’s day and even into days growing up, I recall much anti-Semitic and anti-Israel opinions coming from Catholic and Protestant elements of the religious right. These people talked about a common Christian heritage, not a Judeo-Christian heritage.

So, when did this shift take place and why? If Christian Zionism is such a huge movement in the United States, where did these people come from? They certainly were not around when I was growing up. Or, if they were, they were much smaller and less organized than today.

I suspect—and I have not done much research on this—that the development of this coalition across religious and sectarian lines was the result of conscious organizing by these respective groups. In other words, this was not a natural development, it was hard work and did not happen overnight.

The question is, is this to be lauded, condemned or simply analyzed? I suspect it depends on your political perspective.

“Quite honestly, I don't think I've heard much of substance from any of the candidates as far as real details of foreign policy are concerned -- only generalities.”

Not as specific as I’d like, but much clearer than anything coming from Obama:

Toward a Realistic Peace
Defending Civilization and Defeating Terrorists by Making the International System Work
Rudolph W. Giuliani
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007

An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom
Securing America's Future
John McCain
Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007

At 10:05 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't trust the further Right in the Republican party and I don't trust the farther Left in the Democratic party, when it comes to Israel.

In the "further Right" I count James Baker, Bush senior, Pat Buchanan and journalists like Bob Novack.

In the "farther Left" I count people like Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson. Journalists are too numerous to count.

The big question is where is Obama located in the arc between the centre Right and Centre Left?

At 1:22 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"A former rabbi (at our synagogue which I don't attend very frequently) was caught plagiarizing. Because I didn't resign my membership doesn't mean I supported plagiarism then or now. "

This is an inept analogy, at best. At worst, it is disingenuous. You, Moishe, are not running for the most responsible job in the world, and your decisions will not decide the fate of millions of people.

And I'm willing to bet that if your rabbi went on record praising and celebrating David Duke for his great contribution to humanity, you would take the proverbial flamethrower to the synagogue in order to erase the shame of such declarations.

I hope you are not offended by my explicitness. Even our mutual friend, whom I cherish, would not be allowed to get away with such an analogy.


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