Searching For That One Big Issue

Anyone can see how the upcoming but still far off presidential election is going to play out. Whoever the Republicans run has to deal with their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, where those who have chipped in all their lives for coverage once their working lives are over will now get a small coupon they can use to buy coverage on the private for profit market, if they can find it. That’s wildly unpopular. It already cost the Republicans a House seat. And the plan to change Medicaid into simple block grants to the states, with no oversight or requirements that it be spent on the poor or the disabled, is starting to alarm people. Two-thirds of all the elderly in nursing homes, those who have exhausted their assets, depend on Medicaid to pay for their room and board and minimal care. What happens to them when Medicaid is effectively unavailable? They cannot pay.

Perhaps we could just shoot them. But that doesn’t solve the other problem. What happens to all the people who work at those facilities, and to the owners of those facilities, often large corporations that make big bucks warehousing the old, feeble and disoriented? Even if you are sanguine about just tossing the old, feeble and disoriented out in the street – that sort of Tough Love associated with Compassionate Conservatism – if you’re a pro-business Republican that might give you pause. The rich, who own such places, would get hammered. You cannot have that.

And there are other matters. Obama got Osama bin Laden while Bush spent almost eight years talking big talk about getting Osama bin Laden. It seems that Texan actually was all hat and no cattle. And there was all that talk about how stupid it was to bail out the auto industry – let the fools go bankrupt, as they had messed up. But now, bailed out, they’re thriving, and hundreds of thousands of jobs, and an entire industry, was saved – and they’re now paying back the bail-out money, with interest. The federal government saved the jobs, saved the industry, even made a small profit – that seems to have worked out pretty nicely. You cannot really attack Obama on that. You said what you said. Oops.

And there’s the whole matter of insisting that turning the economy around depends on curtailing or limiting workers’ rights – hammering away at the greedy teachers and policemen and firemen, the new welfare queens. And then something has to be done about the janitors and the road crews that fix the potholes too. That effort has turned out to be a bit unpopular. People seemed to hear a message that workers, as such, were useless greedy bastards, always whining and asking to be treated fairly.

Ah, too many people could relate to that. Drat. And there’s the whole matter of tax policy – the very wealthy need to keep paying the lowest effective tax rate they’ve seen since 1931 or they’ll not start businesses and hire people, and to pay for those low taxes, to pay our bills, and pay for our wars, we really do need to phase out Medicare and Medicaid and then Social Security. The money has to come from somewhere. We need to get rid of the social safety net in order that the rich don’t get all sad and discouraged. But if you’re not a millionaire or billionaire that just not does sit well. Nor does the push to stop regulating Wall Street and the banks – after what happened in late 2008 that seems kind of nutty.

Nope, there’s not much to run on here. And now that the Birther issue turned out to be a joke, and mostly a joke on Donald Trump, that’s off the table. The Republicans not only need a candidate. They need an issue.

And this week they’re having a bit of a problem with Obama’s trip to Europe. Obama is not giving them much to work with. He charmed the Irish and they loved him, and in London he charmed the Queen, again, and had some serious planning sessions with their prime minister – on dealing with this Arab Spring thing, and Libya in particular – and then he spoke to the combined houses of Parliament. And Alex Massie notes here that Britain was somewhat enamored of Obama:

Not being Bush still works in Europe. Indeed, such is Bush’s legacy that Obama arrived in Britain as the least controversial president in more than thirty years. Ronald Reagan was adored by British Conservatives but loathed by the left and a “peace” movement that hated the presence of American nuclear weapons on British soil. George H. W. Bush was a politician’s politician, not a media performer and though Bill Clinton was admired by the British left, the Conservatives viewed him with suspicion.

But Obama was a rock star, and that continued in France – the crowds were beyond warm and the big summit meeting was all business, without any posturing and bluster. There was work to do. There was not much to say about how Obama blew it – embarrassing himself and embarrassing America. There just wasn’t anything to work with.

So it will have to come down to Israel, and the current dustup over those 1967 borders and all that stuff. Benjamin Netanyahu was here, and said Israel would never return to those 1967 borders, as Obama said they should, and Obama said he didn’t say that, but only said that was a place to start talking about settling things with the Palestinians, and then Netanyahu said yes, that is what Obama actually said in the first place, but he was still offended. In short it was Netanyahu playing to his base back in Israel. There was nothing there. Netanyahu even said so.

But it was a lever. It led Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican congressman from Illinois, to offer this very angry column in the Daily Caller on our policy towards Israel:

It pains me to say this, but President Obama is not pro-Israel. After last Thursday’s speech, that should be clear. His call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the 1967 borders should leave no doubt where he stands. The 1967 borders are entirely indefensible. He is not pro-Israel.

And Steve Benen comments:

It pains me to say this, but Rep. Joe Walsh is not smart. After today’s column, that should be clear. His argument that President Obama wants a peace agreement based on the 1967 borders is demonstrably ridiculous – Obama, like Netanyahu and all modern U.S. presidents, sees the borders with land swaps as a starting point for negotiations – should leave no doubt where Walsh stands. The argument the congressman presents entirely indefensible. Walsh is not pro-reality.

We could, I suppose, explore whether Walsh is deliberately trying to deceive the public or simply doesn’t understand the subject matter he’s writing about, but either way, the column is idiocy.

But then Walsh goes after American Jews who refuse to see the world as he does:

Where is the outrage from the American Jewish community? Don’t they understand that the president is not pro-Israel? … The short answer is that most American Jews are liberal, and most American liberals side with the Palestinians and vague notions of “peace” instead of with Israel’s wellbeing and security. Like the president, the U.N., and most of Europe, too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be and too many share his belief that the Palestinians are victims of Israeli occupation.


So, after getting President Obama’s policy position completely wrong, Walsh feels comfortable lecturing Jews about their need to support Israel the way he wants them to. Walsh, of course, is Catholic.

What’s more, after ten paragraphs, Walsh never quite gets around to explaining how his approach to foreign policy strengthens U.S. interests, improves Israeli interests, bolsters the peace process, or helps anyone in any way.

It’s almost a parody of what a right-wing reactionary foreign policy looks like…

But it is a policy, such as it is. And it’s at least something to say about Obama.

But there’s trouble. There’s this – “Israel’s daily Maariv published a poll showing about 57 percent of voters believe Netanyahu should have supported Obama’s initiative, rather than opposing the president.” Or as Benn puts it, by the right’s logic, Israelis are anti-Israel – and perhaps Walsh should explain to Israelis that they’re insufficiently pro-Israel.

And Benen points Adam Serwer and this piece encouraging a larger reevaluation of what it means to be “pro-Israel” these days:

For too long, the term “pro-Israel” in the American political context been used to describe only those who minimize the suffering of Palestinians and actively enable the Israeli right’s attempt to bring the peace process to a halt, even as they offer rhetorical support for the idea of a two state solution. But political changes in the Middle East and demographic changes in the region have created a shrinking window of time for Israel to seek a resolution to the conflict on terms favorable to its long-term survival.

Any objective evaluation of what it means to be “pro-Israel” would mean applying the label to those who recognize the existential peril the country faces, both as a Jewish state and a democracy, as a result of the failure to successfully reach a two-state solution. Instead the term is used to describe those who enable Israel’s most regressive political actors, those whose actions endanger its continued existence. That’s deeply twisted – and tragic.

And Benen notes that Jeffrey Goldberg understands this – Obama, unlike Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, seems to understand the regional demographics that make a two-state solution a necessity. Obama did tell that AIPAC crowd this – “The number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder, without a peace deal, to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.”

As Benen notes, this isn’t proof of Obama being insufficiently supportive of Israel as it seems to be the exact opposite.

But that may not matter as Obama faces reelection. You just say he hates Israel, and say Netanyahu is the far better man, the man who should direct our foreign policy, not Obama.

But see Kevin Drum on this matter:

I really don’t follow Middle East politics closely enough to say this with any confidence, but things feel very different to me today than they have in the past. The Israeli prime minister, for the first time ever, now feels free to publicly dress down an American president in the secure knowledge that Republicans consider him a firm partisan ally and Democrats will go along uncomplainingly. Then he goes in front of Congress and says he won’t negotiate the right of return, he won’t negotiate Jerusalem, he insists on a permanent military presence all the way to the Jordan River, and his only concession is that he won’t annex the entire West Bank. And he gets twenty standing ovations for it. Netanyahu’s visit has been practically a triumphal procession.

It’s hard to know what to think of this. My instinctive reaction is revulsion over being treated this way, and that’s despite the fact that I’ve always fundamentally blamed Arabs for the lack of a peace agreement. They’ve started and lost three wars against Israel, they’ve turned down every peace agreement offered to them, and they’ve adopted terrorist tactics against Israel that no country in the world would tolerate. Israel, obviously, bears a considerable share of blame for this state of affairs too, but it’s a distinctly minority share. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen it.

But now? After watching Netanyahu in action; after watching his orchestrated attack on an American president who quite plainly is on Israel’s side and proposed nothing new in the way of negotiating parameters; after watching the almost fawning reception he got from Congress; after watching him make it belligerently clear that he will concede nothing for peace; and after watching his almost smug recognition that he can singlehandedly direct American foreign policy – after watching all that, I just don’t know anymore. Rationally, I still think that Palestinians are the ones who need the bigger reality check, but in my gut it’s now a much closer call than it’s been in the past.

Benen concurs:

Congress, obviously, rejects this in its entirety, but I wonder how many other responsible, level-headed observers have been thinking along the same lines over the last week.

This could be an issue that dies, as people look into it. But another Republican congressman, from Florida, Dan Webster, who of course wants to stop spending government money, as they all do, but he has his priorities:

You take away the money from Israel? No. That’s something we can’t do. Do I like foreign aid? Sometimes, but not every time. Don’t like giving money to our enemies, but I love giving money to Israel. And so there’s a picture there that people realize that, we stop helping Israel, we lose God’s hand and we’re in big time trouble.

Ah, that’s the ticket, or the issue. God says do what Netanyahu says to do, or God will be pretty ticked off with us. Can you run on that notion? Perhaps you can.

But there was this news from Israel:

Netanyahu’s [Washington] trip not only put a brake on the drop in his popularity ratings, but actually reversed the trend.

And Andrew Sullivan comments:

And his phony outrage has also advanced his other key goal: defeating Barack Obama in 2012. By cutting off the donations.

And Obama’s insistence on a two-state solution may have done just that:

Billionaire financier Haim Saban told CNBC last night that Obama hasn’t done enough to show support for Israel. He also said that he has no plans to contribute to the president’s campaign…

There have been reports that Obama is losing Jewish support after his clash with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, but this development is the most significant so far. If a key donor like Saban has decided to break with the president, then there are likely others who will follow suit.

Steve Rosen, director of the Washington office of the Middle East Forum, and a former AIPAC official, said that this is part of a trend of Democrats rejecting Obama’s policy toward Israel. “It’s not happening in isolation. It’s happening in a context in which Harry Reid broke with the president in the last two days,” Rosen told me. “I think that Saban is another step in that direction.”

Maybe this will be the key issue in the next election, but one of Sullivan’s readers says not so fast:

Saban was, from the beginning of the 2008 cycle, a Clinton donor who was over and over extremely critical of Obama (also he is not merely a Jew, but an Israeli with a certain political profile). He may have come around at the end but there was no love there to begin with. And you can see that those loudly attacking Obama are the usual left-Israel hawks who always take the Likud maximalist position–Dershowitz, Koch, etc.

I would ask that you take this story with a grain of salt.

It is in reality a Republican line of PR right now, so unless in a few months we see the number of Jewish supporters drop precipitously we have NO idea what is really going on in the background except for the stories being shopped by the WSJ and Commentary about Obama’s Jewish doom. Really, you’re repeating these stories without skepticism when there is an agenda there? Why not write about the countless Jews who after seeing Netanyahu insult their president on US soil are actually more and more supportive of a Palestinian state than they were before. While this is anecdotal I can tell you that people of my generation – 30-45 – are disgusted and ready to throw in the towel on Israel, and I’m a hard-core Zionist, who lived in Israel, who speaks Hebrew and lost friends to terrorist attacks.

And see Jeffrey Goldberg:

If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning.

It is the demographics:

I would applaud Netanyahu for including no bold initiatives that would have suggested to the world that Israel is alive to the threat posed by its seemingly eternal occupation of the West Bank. In fact, I would make support for Netanyahu the foundation stone of my patient campaign to dismantle the world’s only majority-Jewish country. I would support not only Netanyahu, but the far-right parties of his governing coalition, the parties that seem uninterested in democracy and obsessed with planting more Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The settlements would have my wholehearted backing. I would encourage my brother Palestinians to help build settlements at a brisk pace. I would ask the Israelis to build an even more intricate system of bypass roads on the West Bank that would connect Jewish settlements to one another and to Israel proper. I would ask my ostensible allies among the Arab nations to provide interest-free mortgages to Israelis in Tel Aviv, so they could move out to the settlements for some fresh air and a little more yard. And, while I was at it, I would insist that my leaders abort their campaign for United Nations recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

My goal: To hopelessly, ineradicably, entangle the two peoples wedged between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Then I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:

“We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ‘temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote.”

And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel. Either the Jews of Israel would grant the Palestinians the vote, at which point their country would lose its Jewish majority and its identity as a refuge for the Jewish people, or it would deny them the vote, and become an apartheid state. The latter option is untenable, of course: Many Jewish Israelis would be repulsed by this thought; other nations that already consider Israel a pariah would now have just cause; and Israel would lose its last remaining friend, the United States, because no American – including and especially young American Jews – would identify with a country reminiscent of pre-Mandela South Africa.

It’s a plan. That would blindside Netanyahu, as if he weren’t blind enough already. And Andrew Sullivan offers this:

That is one of the lessons I have learned from the latest round of grinding conflict on this. Israel now means for a critical mass of Israelis a state from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan. Borders they defended with brilliance and vigor and ease in 1967 are now “indefensible” – but the vulnerable spaghetti of settlements on the West Bank are allegedly integral to security. But they are obviously very vulnerable as is. And it seems very likely that the only way to defend them permanently is annexation of the whole West Bank. What scales were left have therefore dropped from my eyes. Israel has moved past a two-state solution, and has done so through these cumulative facts on the ground and the rise of Jewish fundamentalism and American Christianism. I do not see how this will be easily reversed, and with every day, this new reality gets set in the concrete and stones of new settlements.

It is a different country now. The UN vote will be bitterly isolating and destabilizing, but a country with 150 nuclear warheads, the best military in the region by far, and a willingness to kill countless civilians as collateral damage in a war with Hamas is not going anywhere. The question is whether the US wants to jeopardize its global standing, destroy the promise of the Obama presidency, and betray the nascent Arab democracies in favor of a staunch, impenetrable, inviolable defense of Greater Israel. Any other question is becoming delusional, alas.

Do we want to align ourselves with that, and do Republicans want to base a presidential campaign on that? That too is risky.

And there is Mathew Yglesias at The American Prospect with a new column on Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to congress with this summary:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a lot of things in his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, most of them foolish and some of them offensive. But one of his very first statements was among the most important: “Israel has no better friend than America,” he claimed, “and America has no better friend than Israel.”

The former is accurate. The latter is absurd.

Protecting Israel is a special project taken on by the United States. The reasons may be good and bad, but it’s a burden we undertake. Israel does us no favors and is no use to us. Recognizing that fact hardly solves the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict, but it ought to be the starting point for what Americans should debate – not Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian subjects but America’s policy toward Israel.

Yes, let’s talk about that. And it seems we will have to. The Republicans have nothing else. And they are running out of issues.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in America and Israel, Israel and the Palestinians, Israel First, Israel's Survival, Republicans in the Wilderness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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