Debating and the Middle East
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The Vice -Presidential debate last night enabled the Democrats to right their campaign ship after President Obama's less than scintillating performance last week. Both Biden and Ryan seemed to follow predictable scrip with Biden the mature veteran and Ryan the intelligent young kid on the block. As many of the analysts observed Biden probably won the debate but Ryan legitimated his right to stand on the stage. Substantively, the take-away will be how the President will address the State Department's sloppiness in addressing the Libyan security lapse and for Romney will be whether he can defend himself on the abortion issue and women's issues in the town meeting next week. Of the two issues, precedent suggests that the abortion/women's issue will be the more challenging to defend and could have more traction during the next few weeks.
With the respect to the Middle East, as long as one does not engage in minute literal parsing, there was virtually no difference between what Biden or Ryan said. Both men were falling all over themselves to insure that there was no misunderstanding about their commitment to sustain strong U.S.-Israel relations and that they would protect Israel's back on Iran. The efforts to score on this issue was transparent and patronizing to the Jewish community. Curiously, for Obama it was good that Biden handled the issue now–since foreign policy will not be addressed by the two candidates until the final debate in two weeks. In addition, Biden's personal record of support for Israel has never been subjected to any question, so he did not subject his responses to any second-guessing. For Ryan, with a limited background on the issue and minimal experience on foreign policy but with sharp recall, his responses were true to the Romney playbook and well delivered.
What persists in every campaign is the perceived need on the part of both parties to pander to the Jewish community. Despite a few historical bumps in the road, the relationship has been become ironclad, largely insured as a result of the overwhelming support in Congress, attested to by Congressman Ryan and then Senator Biden.
While, there might be more Jews supporting Republicans today than previously, when they truly consider the basis for their Republicanism (or their Democraticism) it is not honestly because of U.S. commitment to Israel's safety and security. In fact, today many Jewish interests are being determined by economic issues and even social issues, much like the overall national population. This is the case despite protestations to the contrary. In fact, while good polling has yet to be done, it seems, impressionistically, that the more outspoken some Jews have become in their support for Israel, the more there are non-declared (or denied) underlying issues driving their political affiliation.