Friday, September 23, 2011

Obama Turns to the Rabbis

President Obama is starting to worry about the growing divide between the administration and American Jews, a normally solid constituency in the Democratic base. Last week's special election in NY represented the most recent signal of the Jewish voter's distaste with Obama's administration.

According to recent Gallup poll numbers, 40% of Jews disapprove of Obama, while only 55% approve of the president. This represents a sharp falloff from historical numbers. Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote in the 2008 election.

Aside from general economic concerns, much of this decline in support is due to Obama's lackluster policies in the Middle East. His attempts to push an Arab-Israeli peace have unsurprisingly backfired. His two major sins—pushing Israeli PM Netanyahu on settlements and demanding an agreement based on the 1967 borders—have greatly angered many Jews. These policies have led to stalemate, as they forced both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to become locked into non-negotiable positions.

Obama's naive meddling has led to the most recent disaster today at the UN—a unilateral call for statehood by the Palestinians. Not only has this dealt a blow to the possibility of peace, but it has put Obama in an untenable position. If, as expected, this petition goes to vote in the Security Council this coming Monday, the United States will use its veto, undermining Obama's futile attempts to reach out to the Arab world. The administration's poor foresight has boxed them into a horrible corner, leaving them with little saving grace in the eyes of the international community. Somehow Obama has managed to anger everyone on all sides of the issue.

While there is little to be done about the international community at this point, Obama is apparently desperate to shore up the Jewish vote—a key constituency in what is an increasingly uphill battle for reelection. Obama  has directly reached out to a wide community of rabbis, attempting to garner Jewish support by sprinkling High Holiday[1] sermons with administration talking-points:
...[T]he Obama administration on Thursday convened a conference call with several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders. According to a participant on the call, President Obama promoted his jobs bill—noting that those who have been more blessed should pay their fair share—and briefed the rabbis on U.S. efforts to counter the push for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.
Phone calls with religious leaders is apparently a regular event, but one that has increasing importance as the president gears up for the 2012 election. The administration is clearly on the defensive, sending out Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a Jew), to assure pundits that Obama has firmly maintained the Jewish vote. Wasserman Schultz rejected any indication of trouble with the Jewish vote, stating:
That is absolutely not the case, and it will be demonstrated in the election next year that the natural home for Jewish voters, both domestically in terms of policy and in our Israel policy, is the Democratic Party and President Obama as our candidate.
Wasserman Schultz must either live in la-la land, oblivious to the poll numbers, or simply be hoping that if she states the illogical enough it will become true. Unfortunately for Obama, it is unlikely that simple rhetoric will help his waning support among Jews—or other demographics, for that matter. If Obama wants to win reelection he has to change his strategy: cut out the meaningless speeches and actually show some good policy. The administration needs to turn around the economy and straighten out foreign policy, not beseech rabbis to indoctrinate their congregations.


[1] The Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) will occur over the next two and a half weeks.

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