No up side to Israeli meddling in US politics

From The Washington Post: Obama and Kerry must see the [Iran] negotiations through to completion in June, a goal that remains in question, given some of the missing details. Obama, in particular, must try to sell any final agreement in the face of fierce opposition from Republicans and some Democrats at home — and Israel abroad — and skepticism across the Middle East, including from its ally Saudi Arabia.

From The New York Times: As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama wwill make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

Without comment on the emerging deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear program, or on the pros-and-cons of President Obama’s foreign policy, it is becoming increasingly clear that the politics surrounding the deal will be an unmitigated disaster for Israel.

According to a ABC News/Washington Post poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans support a deal to reign in Iran’s nuclear program, with identical numbers saying they have little confidence that such a deal would work.

Significantly, the Republican majority in Congress leads American opposition to dealing with the Ayatollahs, and skepticism about the possibility of Iran keeping the terms of a negotiated agreement. Congressional opposition to a deal would certainly align with Israeli, Saudi and other US interests in the Middle East.

But it should be clear that both Republicans and Democrats alike view the deal in strictly American terms. In other words, the American debate over the framework agreement has only to do with whether or nor the deal will serve American interests, not whether plusses or minuses of the deal for American allies in the Middle East. Viewed with that lens, the debate between Congress and the White House boils down to this: Congress believes that a deal that exposes US interests to a nuclear Iran is bad for America. President Obama believes it is in America’s interest to pursue a negotiated settlement that brings Iran back into the family of nations. If that means (potentially) exposing Israel and the Sunni Arab states to a nuclear, the president appears to believe either that that threat has been greatly overstated, or he has re-thought America’s foreign policy needs on the most fundamental level. In either event, the risks to traditional US allies inherent in a world-sanctioned Iranian nuclear program are no longer of primary concern to the White House.

Regardless of one’s analysis of that debate, it is hard to see a positive side to the perception that Israel now yields direct political clout over US politicians, influence paid for with big bucks from Israel supporters like Sheldon Adelson, on an issue that Americans believe should be entirely a domestic US debate.

Traditional “winners-and-losers” analysis would appear to finger Israel as a “winner” if Congress were to scuttle a deal favoured by the Administration. In that case, Prime Minister Netanyahu would have successfully bypassed the president and thrown his considerable political weight behind a movement to oppose the Framework Agreement, and emerged with a favourable result.

In real terms, however, that Israeli “victory” would look quite a lot like a group of international Jews using their influence to affect American domestic and foreign affairs. It is hard to see the upside in that formulation for Israel.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman – no less threatened by a deal with Tehran than Israel – who kept largely silent in recent months as negotiations proceeded in Lausanne and reacted last week to the deal saying only that he hoped it would bring “stability and security” to the region, Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken a central role on the American political stage to oppose the deal.

Supporters of the prime minister will correctly note that support for Israel across the United States remains high. Seventy percent of Americans continue to identify with Israel’s narrative of the Israel-Palestinian conflict (we tried to make peace, the Arabs have rejected peace plan after peace plan and repeatedly attacked us).

But a deeper analysis of that fact shows that Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the U.S.: Since 1988, when Republicans and Democrats said they supported Israel in about equal numbers (c. 47 percent), today those numbers are widely disparate: 83 percent of Republicans say they sympathise more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians, while just 48 percent of Democrats hold the same view.

It is hard to see a positive side to that split.


Hilary 2016? Don’t bet on it

Now that the mid-terms are behind us, the media will proceed with all guns blazing to the 2016 presidential election. There is lots of evidence that Hilary Rodham Clinton, the former senator from New York, first lady and secretary of state, will to try to win the Democratic nomination for president.

But I’ll go out on a limb: Hilary Clinton will NOT win the Democratic nomination in 2016. Here’s why.

1. Age
On January 20, 2016, Inauguration Day, Clinton will be 68 years old. That would make her nearly the oldest person to ascend the presidency, second only (by several months) to Ronald Reagan. (By comparison, Stanley Ann Dunham, Barack’s late mother, would have been just 66 years old when her son became president in 2008).

In some important ways, that should conceivably give Clinton an advantage over her competitors: With age comes wisdom, and the knowledge of how to choose political battles carefully, both on the international stage and in the domestic arena. After a stint in the Senate and four tough years as Secretary of State (not to mention eight more years as First Lady, spent in the inner circle of presidential decision making), she brings to the table a deep knowledge of American political and economic interests in Latin America, Asia, Europe and especially in the Middle East.

But at age 68, there will be strong questions about Clinton’s ability to withstand the day-to-day pressures of the presidency, her ability to command the US military through a difficult period of adjustment (and perhaps reduction, if Defence Secretary Hagel’s recommendations come to fruition) and her strength to clearly define and defend US interests in a rapidly changing world. Especially when there are serious questions about her…

2. Health
Unlike Ronald Reagan, who’s most serious health scare as president occurred as the result of an assassination attempt in 1981, Hilary Clinton had a scare in 2013 when doctors discovered a blood clot between her brain and her skull. Since then, rumours have persisted that the blood clot has developed into a tumor. Government officials and the Clinton family have strongly denied the rumours, but the notion that Clinton is simply not healthy enough to withstand the demands of the presidency, and certainly not for eight years, will dog her campaign. Even Bill Clinton’s insistence that he would only be “Hilary’s first husband”, and Chelsea’s insistence that her mother “exud[es] the energy, the vibrancy, and certainly the mental acuity” to be president” couldn’t mask the legitimate concerns that Clinton is up to the pressures of a campaign or of public office. The lady (or, at least, her minions) doth protest too much, methinks.

3. Not Likeable
There is no nice way to put this: Hilary Clinton is simply not likeable. She never has been. Starting in 1992 with her first term as First Lady, too many people have viewed her as an opportunist, not a public servant. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, appointed her to head a national task force to revamp America’s healthcare system despite the fact that she had no background in healthcare policy (or any policy background, for that matter).

Later, in 2001, she rode Bill’s coattails into the Senate despite never having lived in New York, and despite the fact that her primary qualification for the job seemed to have been eight years as the president’s wife (supporters will point out, correctly, that Clinton is an accomplished woman in her own right, having attended Yale law school. But that was nearly 30 years before her election to the Senate, and that qualification played little part in her campaign in New York).

More recently, her failure to answer substantive questions at a campaign stop in Miami in late February that media reports described as “stage managed” does not augur well for a presidential campaign (as president, Barack Obama appears wooden and devoid of emotion, but Candidate Obama was engaging and charismatic. Clinton is neither).

And the recent renaming of the Bill Clinton Foundation as the “Bill, Hilary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation,” seems to have been an opportunistic pre-campaign name change (could it also foreshadow a foray into politics by Chelsea?), more inspired by Hilary’s presidential hopes than deep passion about the Foundation’s worthy initiatives on women, kids issues and jobs

In short, Clinton is banking on the notion that the time is right for the American people to elect a woman president. She is probably right about that. But Clinton is never going to have a better shot at the Oval Office than 2008.

4. Stunning failure to understand politics
What? From the Clintons?

And yet, history suggests strongly that Clinton has made a fatal mistake (supported by her many friends in the media) by beginning her campaign too early. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Clinton has tried to keep her name in the public sphere while biding her time to formally announce a presidential bid, probably sometime in early-to-mid 2015.

But the 2008 candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign and others suggest that the common comment made about American presidential campaigns – that they are simply too long – is true. Two years before the 1992 election, few people outside Arkansas had ever heard of Bill Clinton. George W. Bush did not become a serious contender for the Republican nomination until the primary season got under way in early 2000.

Here, too, I’m betting on an early peak-and-fizzle. Twenty-four-seven news cycle or no, I believe it will be impossible for her to “slowly build momentum” until the Democratic primaries begin in just under two years.

5. No Habla Español
Clinton is correct that Barack Obama’s presidency destroyed the old template for US presidential elections – two homogeneous tickets comprised of four white men aged 45-60. But Clinton’s gender will not be sufficient qualification to secure the nomination, let alone election.

The 2016 election is likely to be the first in American history that is truly bi-lingual. More than 37.6 million Americans, more than 10 percent of the total US population today, now speak Spanish at home, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Twelve-and-a-half million of these people live in California alone, making up 30 percent of the electorate there. In seven states – California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida and New York – Spanish speakers make up significant portions of the electorate. Together, their voices add up to 167 electoral votes – more than half of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

This fact has not been lost on Republicans, who will have a wealth of Spanish speakers to choose from as the race gets underway. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez are just two of the potential candidates with the ability to hit the campaign trail in Spanish and with inspiring rags-to-riches personal histories will resonate with voters and turn the campaign into a The Promise of America campaign.

Expect, then, for Spanish-language campaigning to become standard for both parties. That will put Clinton at an unsurmountable disadvantage against younger, bi-lingual Democratic challengers such as John Pérez, speaker of the California Senate and a veteran former union organiser. And even if she manages to win the Democratic nomination, her candidacy will pale in comparison to
Time will tell, obviously, but with the 2016 election 33 months away, this bookkeeper is offering odds away from Hilary Clinton. Yes, I think she’ll run, but the early money should move away from betting on her for the Democratic nomination two years from now.

Down to the Wire in New Jersey

Off-year elections rarely make headlines, especially in the United States, where just over half of all eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections and barely one-third vote in state and congressional elections. But as American voters prepare to go to the polls on November 3, Democratic and Republican eyes alike are focused on one race that might in other years seem insignificant on a national scale: The gubernatorial race in New Jersey.

At first glance, it is hard to see just why the New Jersey race has grabbed national headlines. In many ways, there is little unique about the state – with a huge budget deficit ($ 8 billion), surging unemployment (currently at 9.7 percent) and some of the highest taxes in the country, it bears striking resemblance to New York, California and several more states around the country.

And yet New Jersey is in the news. Even Virginia, the only other gubernatorial election being held this year, has failed to garner the same national attention as the Garden State: An internet search for “Virginia governor election” returned a fraction of the same search with the words “New Jersey.” How come?

One reason is Chris Christie, the Republican challenger and a former US prosecutor. Christie, a native New Jerseyan and life-time resident of the state, has enjoyed a large lead in state polls since beating Steven M. Lonegan for the Republican nomination last summer. Even though Governor Jon Corzine has narrowed that gap (as Mishpacha went to press the two candidates were virtually tied in the polls), the fact that Christie held a large lead for so many months is no small feat for a solidly “blue” statethat Barak Obama won by more than 500,000 votes over John McCain last year. It is no exaggeration to say that at the end of 2008, many people left the GOP for dead.

One analyst, Michael Fragin, said the resurrection of the Republican Party in New Jersey has as much to do with Democratic infighting as it does with Republican comeback. 

“You’ve got an interesting undercurrent amongst Democrats in New Jersey,” said Fragin a veteran political observer a former aide to ex-New York Governor George Pataki. “There are a number of ugly leadership fights, including a nasty one between State Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. and Senate President Richard J. Codey, as well as some tension between upstate – downstate regions of the party. There’s a lot of disarray there. 

Referendum on Obama?

Beyond issues of local politics, some national observers have debated the possibility that the New Jersey election could be a preview next year’s mid-term elections, when nationwide 36 governors, 37 senators and all 435 members of the House of Representatives will face re-election. Mid-term elections are generally believed to be a referendum on the president’s job performance, but it is unclear whether this off-year (as opposed to ‘mid term’) election has any national significance. Michael Fragin says “yes,” but only if Corzine wins.

“State elections are usually about state issues, not national ones. But I’d have to say, if Christie can pull this one out, it’s a comment on Obama. But if Corzine is re-elected, it’s a statement about Corzine, not about Obama.

Predictably, some Republicans disagree. One senior GOP official dismissed the “referendum” out-of-hand: “If Jon Corzine can’t win here after spending more than $40 million, I think it is hard to blame it on Barack Obama,” he said.

Bi-partisan support

For New Jersey’s 100,000 Orthodox Jews, the result of the election has clear implications. Orthodox leaders across the board agree that Governor Corzine has “generously” tried to accommodate the unique needs of the frum community, in a variety of areas.

“As governor, Jon Corzine has pushed for and signed some of the most progressive  legislation to benefit our community,” said Josh Pruzansky, the head of Agudath Israel – New Jersey. “Today, thing such as kashrus, shabbos and yom tov observance and other critical issues are enshrined in law. State employees cannot be fired or penalized for taking time off for weekday holidays, teachers and university professors must accommodate students that refuse to take Saturday morning exams, state elections cannot be scheduled on Jewish holidays, and more. If a person is hospitalised on Shabbos, he cannot be compelled to sign anything. Nursing homes must provide kosher food for their residents. Obviously, these are very important issues to us.”

Meir Lichtenstein, a Democratic member of the Lakewood Township Committee and a former mayor of Lakewood, agrees.

“There is a general feeling in our community of gratitude towards the governor,” he told Mishpacha. “I’ve personally had opportunity to work with Jon many times on a great number of issues, and he has always been there to help our community obtain funding for medical issues, helped us navigate planning red-tape when the Lakewood Township was planning to deal with growth in the city and helped us approach the commissioner of health to approve a pilot program for Hatzolah in Lakewood.  It’s the first private paramedic outfit in the state.”

Still, it is far from clear cut that Corzine will win the Orthodox vote come Election Day. His support for the “pro-life” movement and some socially liberal ballot issues such as single-gender “marriage,” and the governor has emphasized his close relationship with President Obama – a positive in most New Jersey eyes, but a definite negative for a large portion of the Orthodox community.

More importantly, Corzine he has made clear that be does not support one of the most important issues facing the largest frum community in the country outside New York: public funding for yeshivos and Jewish day schools, something that Christie supports (but has failed to outline plans that would satisfy the US constitutional separation of religion and state). With more than 27,000 children enrolled in private Jewish education in New Jersey, at an average cost of $10,000 per child, school vouchers and or tuition tax credits for private education  is a burning issue for many people.

Then again, many voters are simply itching for change, especially in a state that many people believe has become synonymous with “corruption.” Andrew Schwartz, a tax accountant from Clifton and a 15 year resident of New Jersey, said many or even most New Jerseyans are simply fed up with politics as usual in the state.

 “People are so cynical about politics and the corruption in the state at this point that they don’t trust anyone,” he said. “To me Corzine is just another executive who can buy elections and then raise taxes on everyone. It’s your standard limousine liberal fare. ‘I can afford my tax bill to subsidize the morass of state programs and municipal pensions, why can’t everyone else?”


At the end of the day, the final piece of the puzzle may rest in the hands of Chris Daggett, a 59-year-old independent candidate who is not expected to win the race but who has set both the Corzine and Christie campaigns on edge. As Mishpacha went to press, some polls suggested Daggett could win as much as 17 percent of the vote on Election Day, a number that makes it unlikely that he could achieve an upset victory but could position him to play the role of spoiler for one of the main candidates. Again, analysts disagree which major candidate is likely to suffer because of Daggett.

But Daggett rejects the notion that a vote for an independent candidate might be wasted, telling CBS News, “I am beginning to convince people that the only wasted vote this year is the vote for politics as usual.”

© Mishpacha magzine 2009



Okay, so Bloomberg’s not running…

Okay, so I got it wrong about Mike Bloomberg. Hizzoner squelched rumors of a White House bid last month, writing in the New York Times that he will suffice to “continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance.”

That should just about put an end to Bloomberg’s political career. He’ll be 70 at the next presidential election in 2012, and Rudy Giuliani’s example of a once-popular, high-profile New York mayor who couldn’t mount a serious challenge for the Republican nomination will seriously dissuade Bloomberg from throwing his billions at a campaign in four years.

Predictably, he’s been mentioned as a vice presidential candidate on McCain’s ticket, but I don’t see it happening. His break with the Republican Party was so public, and he’s been so critical of “the system” that it would be hard for him to retrace his footsteps to the party, and it is even more unclear whether or not the party would accept him back if he applied for re-instatement.

Furthermore, McCain doesn’t need Bloomberg as a VP. The two are nearly identical candidates – probably the reason Mike B. stayed out of the race – and McCain needs a little variety to expand his voter base, as well as a way to neutralize Barack Obama’s appeal to black voters or Hilary Clinton’s presumed appeal to women.

Early eyes should focus on JC Watts, a conservative former representative from Oklahoma and the last black Republican to serve in Congress. Watts is a devout Christian and a former church youth leader, and since retiring from the House of Representatives he has demonstrated his commitment to public service, serving on the national board of Boy Scouts of America, the United States Military Academy and more. Apart from his obvious appeal to black voters, he could shore up McCain’s appeal in the Bible Belt

Another potential running mate is Susan Collins, the popular senator from Maine. She’s the perfect age to stage a run for vice president (55), and her moderate voting record has caused some conservatives to label her a RINO (Republican In Name Only).  “Green” groups have praised her concern for environmental issues, her strong support of abortion rights has irked religiously conservative Republicans, and she is known as a voice of moderation amongst Congressional Republicans. More importantly, she has voted against Republican majorities on several occasions, showing she’s committed to doing what she considers to be the right thing, even at the expense of party unity. Here, too, she would not only appeal to many women voters, as well as shore up McCain’s campaign in a critical region of the country – the northeast.

In any event, McCain is sure to wait until after the Democratic ticket is set. With several highly-qualified black and female candidates to choose from, he can comfortably wait to see who his opposition will be, and choose a running mate accordingly.