Two Conventions, Cognitive Dissonance and the Jewish Vote
I recently attended the Republican National Convention (RNC) as a guest of the Maryland Delegation. I had never personally attended a convention and aside from the near-100% humidity in Tampa, Florida I had a great time. I also watched the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on television. Here are some thoughts about how the two events juxtapose one another, especially the “G-d and Jerusalem” debacle, and how recent events should influence Jewish voting this November.
One obvious similarity was the focus on individual biographies, primarily dealing with people overcoming extremely difficult socio-economic hurdles in order to ascend to powerful positions. However, while speakers such as Ted Cruz of Texas or Marco Rubio of Florida told their tales as a way to laud America, explaining that only in the USA can someone climb up the socio-economic ladder so quickly, many of the DNC speakers seemed to resent the USA for forcing them to overcome such obstacles and complained about the injustice of their adversity. It seemed to this observer that a sense of entitlement permeated most every speech. Michael Goodwin of the NY Post put it well when he described it as a frenzy of grievance and entitlement.
In addition to the Democratic sense of grievance and victimization is the question of “G-d and Jerusalem” and the Democratic Party’s 2012 overarching political platform. This is the 2008 language relating to the contested phrases:
- “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
- “The United States and its Quartet partners should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel’s right to exist, and abides by past agreements. Sustained American leadership for peace and security will require patient efforts and the personal commitment of the President of the United States. The creation of a Palestinian state through final status negotiations, together with an international compensation mechanism, should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel. All understand that it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
- General language regarding G-d: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”
The drama occurred during the Democratic Convention when, after days of criticism following the removal of the abovementioned language, the Democratic leadership took to the floor of the convention hall and offered a revised document adding the G-d language as well the Jerusalem language back into the party platform. The vote on the floor was striking as at least as many “no” votes were received as were “yes” votes. In fact, when the amendment “passed” (the vote clearly did not receive the needed 2/3 affirmative to amend) thunderous boos permeated the stadium. It was astonishing how much anger was directed at the pro-Israel language. In fact, Republican Jewish groups are running video of the vote in political ads supporting Mitt Romney.
It is true that party platforms tend to come from the political activists and have very little influence on a president’s governing strategy. However, it has since been documented that President Obama was well aware of these changes and only objected after days of criticism. Even so, he only added back some of the “controversial” language. I use quotes because the fact that this is considered controversial is disappointing in and of itself. At any mainstream Republican event this type of language would be taken for granted.
This event is just one more example of countless acts that demonstrate the Obama Administration’s attitude toward Israel. Indeed, in just the past few days President Obama refused a meeting request by Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying Obama simply was too busy. His scheduling conflict was a campaign rally and appearance on the David Letterman show.
It is clear that there is now an open and transparent rift between Israel and the United States. This is particularly troubling as Israel is facing a terrible decision regarding Iran. Because the international community has shown no intent to declare a red line for which military action would be triggered if crossed by Iran, Israel must decide if it should strike Iran’s inchoate nuclear program in spite of the predictable backlash from the international community. However, the lack of a strong ally in the United States makes Israel’s decision much more difficult. For the first time since the Bush/Baker foreign policy team, Israel cannot assume support from the United States.
In fact, Zbigniew Brzezinski (Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, current MSNBC contributor and Johns Hopkins University Professor) famously stated in September 2009 that if Israel were to attack Iran the United States should shoot down the attacking Israeli fighter planes. In addition, Mr. Brzezinski’s boss Jimmy Carter – himself no friend of Israel – spoke at this year’s DNC via satellite.
Furthermore, while President Obama should not be blamed for the chaos in the Middle East, his lack of leadership and failure to publicly lay out a strong moral case against radical Islam the way President Reagan did against Communism, has likely contributed to the flowering of radical Islam following the “Arab Spring.” This has made both the United States and Israel considerably less secure. Ironically, the Drudge Report posted a link to a quote from then Senator Obama claiming that Muslim hostility toward the USA will ease immediately following his inauguration.
As I have written many times in the past, President Obama is under no obligation to be pro-Israel. I harbor no animosity toward him for his policies regarding the Middle East. However, I feel a tremendous amount of frustration with Jewish Americans who personally are pro-Israel but suffer under a state of cognitive dissonance and support him despite his policies.
For generations Jews in the USA have convinced themselves that Conservative Christians are their political enemy, regardless of how often the GOP aggressively stands up for Israel in the face of Democratic attack. This is simplistic and trite analysis and belies the level of education enjoyed by large percentages of Jewish voters.
It has been a very long time since we have seen as clear a contrast regarding positions among presidential candidates toward Israel policy. President Reagan received approximately 40% of the vote in his 1980 campaign, the high-water mark for GOP votes among Jews. If Mitt Romney does not, at least, meet that mark, then shame on us as a community. Like any malady, cognitive dissonance is not easily corrected. However, if we as a community fail to begin in November, President Obama will certainly feel he as wide leverage to act as he sees fit in the Middle East.