The Other Obama-Romney Debate


by David Luchins

[Editor’s note: Mishpacha has hosted a fascinating exchange about the attractiveness of President Obama’s candidacy to the Orthodox community. The combatants have been our own Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum and Dr. David Luchins. Jonathan is a regular contributor to Mishpacha, and did have some home-turf advantage. While Mishpacha did allow Dr Luchins to respond through a lengthy letter to the editor, it was still edited for size. Since Jonathan’s Mishpacha article was republished on Cross-Currents, David asked us for the right to respond with the full, unedited response he had prepared, and also to allow a fuller flow of comments than Mishpacha could handle as a print medium. We are happy, of course, to allow the reciprocity]

I was flattered to see that my wise friend Yonasan Rosenblum felt I could make “the best case” for re-electing President Obama (Mishpacha, September 3, 2012), but I do wish he had stayed to the end of the debate, when I addressed several of the points he raises in the article.

Yonasan is correct that I have not voted for a second term President since Richard Nixon in 1972, when, on Hubert Humprey’s personal recommendation, I was the youngest National Vice Chair of Democrats for Nixon. But my reason was hardly because second term Presidents “stick it to Israel”. On the contrary, I’d be hard pressed to say that Ronald Reagan’s second term (visits Bittburg and recognizes the PLO) was nearly as “bad” for Israel as his first (sells AWACs to Saudis; tears up the agreement to share US intelligence with Israel when they have the temerity to bomb the Iraqi reactor, forcing them to pay Pollard for information they had been promised; and saves Arafat from Sharon in Beirut). I think second terms tend to be bad (see Clinton, William J; Bush, George W.) independent of the Israel issue.

Similarly, my point about Dr. Rice is hardly answered by saying she was as “bad as Hillary Clinton”. Read her autobiography or her speeches. Her criticism of Obama for “failing to shrink Israel,” as she boasts Bush did in Gaza, is chilling; as is her description of how she forced a weak Israeli government to allow Hamas into the PA elections. Why does this matter? I think it matters that she gave the major foreign policy address at the Republican Convention and that she, and her mentor Jim Baker, were the most prominent foreign policy figures at the biggest Romney fundraisers’ weekend in Utah.

Yonasan is correct that we all need to sacrifice. But our community would be devastated by the Ryan/Romney Budget cuts in Medicaid (nursing home care for the elderly, in particular), food stamps, healthcare, WIC, housing (including Section 8), Pell and Homeland Security Grants, poverty assistance and middle class tax deductions, in order to provide millionaire and billionaire Republican contributors with lavish tax cuts. I, for one, do not consider that “shared sacrifice”.

There is much, much more to say. It is sad that our politics are so polarized and dysfunctional, and yes, I fault President Obama for his votes as a Senator against raising the debt ceiling and confirming John Roberts, and his failure as President to embrace Simpson-Bowles or articulate policy goals to the American people as clearly as he should have. But, I find the Republican policy of demonization to be even more disturbing.

Yonasan apparently felt that my unvarnished critique of President Obama’s record suggested that I might not be voting for him. Quite the contrary, I suspect I am more comfortable with my vote this time around than the average Republican whose fancy flitted from Trump to Bachman, to Perry to Cain, to Santorum to Gingrich, until reluctantly accepting Romney. The President has done a superb job of fighting terror; strengthening the coalition against, and subversive activities within, Iran; protecting Israel at the United Nations and partially righting an economy that was in virtual free fall when he took the oath of office (including saving the domestic auto industry) over the strenuous objections of the Republicans in Congress.

I ended my debate presentation with a story. In March of 1991 Senator Moynihan and I were visiting with Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir when he asked the Senator “are you thinking of running for President?” When the Senator assured him that he had no such intentions, Shamir replied “good, then we can stay friends because it is very dangerous when the Prime Minister of Israel feels he can’t say “no” to his friend the President of the United States”.

I vastly prefer President Obama’s bad body language (and superb security cooperation) with Prime Minister Netanyahu, over a President Romney, backed by a rubber stamp one party Congress (as Bush enjoyed during the Gaza “disengagement”) calling on his “friend”, the Prime Minister of Israel accompanied by the likes of Jim Baker and Condi Rice.

Dr. David Luchins served for 20 years on the Staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as a National Vice Chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. He has served as Chair of the Political Science Department of Touro College since 1978 and on the National Board of the OU since 1971. [Ed. unsolicited addition: He has distinguished himself in the latter role for his devotion to NCSY]. The views in this letter are his own, not those of any organization or institution he may be affiliated with.

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Bob Miller
3 years 1 month ago

David Luchins commented above, “I have problems with both parties and their elected officials. Does that make me a bad Jew or just a confused one?”

What then are your problems with Obama, Biden, Pelosi and Reid, and how have you attempted in practice to solve them?

Reb Yid
3 years 1 month ago

The discussion here says much about the shifting paradigms of two segments of American Jewry that are growing further and further apart.

The fact that this is happening when the Republican Party has shifted so drastically to the right reveals that it is many Orthodox Jews who, in DF’s terms, do not “see it”.

David luchins
3 years 1 month ago

I have no idea who the brave , but alas anonymous,DF is , but he is way off about the “Political Party of his youth” I supported John Lidsay for Mayor, Melson Rockefeller for Governor and worked on the Javits and Goodell campaigns. Very proud to have worked for Hubert Humphrey (and for Richard Nixon at his behest in 1972)and Pat Moynihan . Voted for D”Amato and Pataki a few times, for Bob Dole in 1996 and for only one Democrat (Gillibrant ) in four state wide offices in 2010.But rather than answer my facts (Google “Rice” and “Shrink… Read more »

3 years 1 month ago

“But our community would be devastated by the Ryan/Romney Budget cuts in Medicaid (nursing home care for the elderly, in particular), food stamps, healthcare, WIC, housing (including Section 8), Pell and Homeland Security Grants, poverty assistance and middle class tax deductions, in order to provide millionaire and billionaire Republican contributors with lavish tax cuts.”

I see. So I should vote for Obama because he will forcibly take money from rich people and give it to me.

Forgive me, but that sounds worse than sodom. I like to think that I should live ethically, and that Hashem has enough money to feed… Read more »

Crazy Kanoiy
3 years 1 month ago

Dr. Luchins,

It is wrong and unfair to blame Bush for the Gaza disengagement. This plan was devised, implemented and supported by PM Ariel Sharon and his government. It enjoyed the support of the majority of Israelis at that time. Before being felled by his stroke Ariel Sharon was posed to score an overwhelming electoral victory even after the disengagement from Gaza took place.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Condolezza Rice stood strongly with Israel at its time of need. They forcefully backed Israel’s right to defend itself and take on Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. The strength of… Read more »

3 years 1 month ago

Dr. Luchins and I have had occasion for vehement disagreement in the past, regarding questions of academic freedom. But his article here is largely correct. He’s correct that the GOP is beholden by a neder to Grover Norquist, and they will not compromise on anything by raising revenues through taxation; moreover, Romney’s made clear there will be absolutely no cuts to military, even where they want it.

DF pigeonholing Dr. Luchins as some stereotypical baby boomer Jew is offensive, when he (nebuch) was on Dems for Nixon. I can certainly understand how DF’s chevra will be voting GOP this year though.… Read more »

dr. bill
3 years 1 month ago

Realize that the US has strategic intetests that must trump any friendship/kinship with Israel. that said, a US president who is friendly to Israel attempts to align the two counties strategic interests. JW Bush tried to align israel, with eygpt, turkey and the saudis to face the common enemy – Iran. Sharon did not respond adequately and the opportunity evaporated.

On the other hand, this president has done nothing but isolate israel with his “bowing” to dictators and mea culpas for western values. other presidents have and will disappoint, as Dr. luchins point out, if we judge them… Read more »

3 years 1 month ago

Our old family-friend Dr. Luchins, is, as many in the close-knit orthodox community know, a distinguished educator, a genial fellow – and a baby-boomer who’s not yet shifted his paradigms. Thus, by the very definition of a paradigm shift, it is impossible for him to see what’s become of his childhood political party, no matter what you show him or point out. He will simply not see it. Thus he can still cling to the long-outdated stereotype of the GOP as the party of millionaires and billionaires, (a cliche hasnt been true since at least, and even before, the dawn… Read more »

Bob MIller
3 years 1 month ago

In these times, it’s evidently quite possible for brilliant, politically astute observers of the scene to get the big picture 100% wrong. It comes from filtering the data through preexisting political biases. Any Jew who now has no fundamental problems with the Democratic Party and its elected and appointed officials, and their policies, needs a deep attitude check.

As for debates among candidates and others, anyone with enough IQ and preparation can make an effective case for any side of an issue. The emes, though, still is what it is.

L. Oberstein
3 years 1 month ago

I am very conflicted by the dichotemy between domestic vs Eretz Yisroel issues, but, in the end, am not going to vote for Obama this time. My lack of support is symbolic in my state of Maryland which will vote Democratic overwhelmingly. The voters in the swing states will decide.
The sad reality is that we have gridlock in Washington and no matter who is President, Congress is still dysfunctional. Romney is much more rational than his stated positions. He doesn’t believe in the flat earth dogma of the current Republican Party , he is just saying… Read more »