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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60 comments to The Other Obama-Romney Debate

  • Yaakov Menken

    Mr. Reisman has demonstrated that the use of ad personam* simply proves that the speaker has no valid argument left. Dr. Luchins did the same, saying my arguments were “shrill” simply because he couldn’t rebut them. It’s also quite hypocritical to chide the Orthodox for being “hard-right”, given the extent to which Jews mindlessly vote democratic even when the other candidate is much more friendly to our interests (McCain).

    Without question I believe that the party that is generally more pro-Israel and more pro-religious rights today is the Republicans, but that’s not always true — George HW Bush, for example, was no friend of Israel, and I recall one Anglo-Israeli radio host who spoke for most Americans then in Israel (including myself) when he hoped “the Bush will burn” and Clinton would win. With Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, it’s not even close.

    *Ad Personam: [Latin, To the person.] A term used in debate to denote an argument made personally against an opponent, instead of against the opponent’s argument.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    To Rabbi Menken: I have no argument left because we have no common basis upon which to argue. You have your set of facts, and I have mine, and never the twain shall meet. However, I stand by the point I have made numerous times on Cross-Currents: The Orthodox Jewish community has adopted the right-wing positions of the Republican party as its own, and will vote Republican no matter what. Reasons will be devised to justify it later. Also, I don’t see how I am hypocritical for pointing this out even if “most Jews mindlessly vote Democratic.” After all, most Jews in America are not Orthodox. Finally, I would never claim that someone who disagrees with my point of view, “really does not need a voting booth, but a padded room.”

    To Phil: I read the Hamodia piece per your suggestion. It doesn’t say anything about President Obama that Hamodia has not been saying for the last four years. It’s just more of the same.

  • Yaakov Menken

    You have your set of facts, and I have mine, and never the twain shall meet.

    That’s the first mistake. Facts are facts, whether or not one chooses to ignore them in favor of a dream.

    I would never claim that someone who disagrees with my point of view, “really does not need a voting booth, but a padded room.”

    That’s good to hear. Neither would I, of course, as the reader may discern for him or herself.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Rabbi Menken: The problem is that each of us sees a different set of facts. Ergo, we cannot argue on a common basis. You see me as ignoring facts in favor of a dream. I see you as either ignoring facts or twisting them to fit your prejudices. As to the comment about a padded room, that is a quote from your post answering Dr. Luchins. What was its purpose if not to characterize those who disagree with you?

  • Yaakov Menken

    OK, we have now reached the “beating a dead horse” stage, and I will try to refrain from further comment. The problem with Mr. Reisman’s latest is that he has presented only one “fact,” seconded from Dr. Luchins: that Condi Rice said she wanted to “shrink Israel.” That fact isn’t a fact at all, as I explained previously, and is irrelevant as well, given that she isn’t Mitt Romney. So what facts does Mr. Reisman think I’m ignoring? He hasn’t shared them.

    My quote about a padded room was in the context of a specific point. Surely Mr. Reisman, being an intelligent, sane, and rational individual, appreciates the difference between what President Obama said when he thought he wasn’t being recorded, and what Governor Romney said. He just chooses to set this aside and believe that Obama is a great friend of Israel who is just disguising it awfully well. Intelligent people can ignore facts in favor of a dream, but that doesn’t make them insane.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Rabbi Menken seems to ignore Rice’s record both as national security advisor and as secretary of state. She was no great friend of Israel, no matter what she writes in her memoirs. I do remember what the English language Israeli press wrote about her back then. Any case, I’m not arguing that President Obama is a great friend of Israel. All I argue is that US policy under him will not be substantially different than it would be under Mitt Romney. And given the Republican position on domestic issues, I’ll take the President over Mitt Rommey any time. (And let’s not get into “facts” presented by Rabbi Menken in his post. Massachusetts voters did not elect Scott Brown senator for the sole purpose of defeating Obamacare. Massachusetts voters have less stake in Obamacare than anyone else in the country, thanks to Romneycare, which no one in Massachusetts wants to repeal. And if you think Paul Ryan really has a plan to shrink Medicare growth, you have your own twist on facts that I can’t argue with.)

  • david luchins

    Verily, I am starting to see the wisdom of those who have warned us of the dangers of the internet. I am saddened by the amount of time apparently intelligent people spend talking past each other in this echo chamber.

  • Bob Miller

    Rice was nearly as bad as Hillary Clinton with respect to Israel. At any rate, we already know Obama’s Israel policy is wrong on balance and even in tone. Romney’s has a significant chance of being better.

  • Reb Yid

    If last night’s “debate” showed anything at all, it was Romney pretty much agreeing with Obama on his foreign policy, per Lawrence Reisman’s earlier post on the subject. No “daylight” to be found, that’s for sure.

  • Yossel

    It is a fact that Rice pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in PA elections. It is also a fact that she comapared the Palestinian condition to South African Apartheid:
    [Google: jta rice veep]