Political Points–Up, Up and Away we go


Welcome to Political Points, the final edition …. or is it????

**Tablet’s Marc Tracy comes up with an alternative explanation for GOP House whip Eric Cantor‘s "trial balloon" proposal to separate Israel out of the foreign aid budget: He’s all hair.

Maybe Eric Cantor is a haircut whose idea of governing is reflexively opposing whatever the president’s foreign policy priorities are, and he was (and remains) too stupid to realize that the implications of his reckless politicking would be to backfire against an issue—being pro-Israel—that he subscribes to genuinely but in much the same way that a five-year-old genuinely subscribes to the belief that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles deserve to triumph over Shredder?

I mean, I don’t actually think that’s true. Am just floating a trial balloon.

National Jewish Democratic Council, likey. Republican Jewish Coalition, not so likey.

The Washington Jewish Week definitely no likey Cantor’s plan. From this week’s editorial:

For starters, it would place a disproportionate burden on the Jewish state by subjecting it to more intense scrutiny (and political pressure) than any other aid recipient.

Cantor’s proposal also runs the risk of upsetting the status quo in the Middle East, where Israel is not the only recipient of American aid. Large chunks go to Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, and those allocations have helped maintain stability in the region.

Moreover, upsetting the careful balance of historic foreign aid approaches could negatively affect cooperative relationships with other U.S. interest groups, some of whom back funding for Israel precisely because they know it will gain them support for foreign-aid causes they embrace.

If that weren’t enough, Israel’s fiscal segregation could devolve into a political litmus test, which might endanger the bipartisan backing the Jewish state has long enjoyed.

My compliments to the anonymous editorialist: "Fiscal segregation" is great coin.

The New Republic’s Jon Chait wonders how the Emergency Committee for Israel political action committee squares its opposition to "anti-Israel" Democratic candidates while not peeping about Republicans who oppose foreign aid, including the annual package’s generous $3 billion bite for Israel. Among these are Pat Toomey and Rand Paul, running respectively for open U.S. Senate seats in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Chait refers to an article on the PAC by the WJWeek’s Adam Kredo, who quotes ECI’s Noah Pollak as saying that Toomey’s established record of voting against aid, as a congressman, was "a matter of larger fiscal principles. He has never shown a particular animosity toward Israel — far from it."

Chait thinks that’s a hoot: 

That’s hysterical — Republicans who oppose economic aid to Israel are acting out of "principle," while Democrats who believe (like moderate Israelis) that Jerusalem will have to be divided can only be animated by hostility to Israel.

One thing you can say about the neocons: They’ve disproven the slur that everything they do is just cover for protecting Israel.

It is true that congressional bills are complex, vexing things, and force lawmakers into making unkind priorities. But isn’t that the point — especially when it comes to funding bills? Call it the "if you like it, put a ring on it" theory of politics — it’s all just smooth talking until you fork over the cash.

**The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Dan Coben wonders why Obama seems to likey Lincoln Chafee, the former GOP senator from Rhode Island now running for governor as an independent. Obama refused to endorse Chafee’s opponent, Frank Caprio, because Chafee endorsed Obama in 2008. Caprio responded with an epithet.

Coben runs through Chafee’s record — less than friendly, by the lights of the mainstream pro-Israel community — and advisers Jewish buyers to beware come Obama’s reelection bid in 2012.

One thing I do admire Chafee for, but only as a reporter covering a beat a lot of people insist on mythologizing: Pro-Israel money went to Chafee’s opponent, now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in 2006, and a lot of the lobby-obsessive crowd were eager to pin Chafee’s defeat on pro-Israel nefariousness. But Chafee got it right: That year, Iraq still pre-surge, Katrina still reverberating, a Republican was lucky to get elected dog-catcher.

Chafee, citing Iraq particularly, made it clear at the time that it was not pro-Israel money that defeated him, and quashed at least one sprout in the conspiracy garden. His fellow GOP Iraq skeptic, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, by contrast, has griped about pro-Israel influence — even though he left Congress entirely of his own accord.

**At his blog, Alex Kane makes the pro-Palestinian case against Cantor in a leadership role. UPDATE: Israel Matzav re-runs Kane’s post, and winks at the end: "Sounds good to me."

MJ Rosenberg, writing at TPM Cafe, makes the liberal case for a GOP-led Congress, saying it will remove what he says are the congressional Democratic "handcuffs" on Obama’s Middle East policy:

Regardless of why, it is Democrats not Republicans who rush to the floor every time a possible peace initiative raises its head and shoots it down. Republicans are godawful too but defending the occupation hardly ranks on their radar screens although Muslim-bashing does (along with gay and immigrant bashing). Also, Republicans understand that no matter what they do on Israel, there is far less money in it for them and even fewer votes.

The same applies to Iran. The most effective and tenacious Iran hawks are Democrats. The case for sanctions or war (not negotiation) will be weakened considerably when it is Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Dan Burton making the case, not Howard Berman and a host of other liberals).

Bottom line: the Republican surge could free Obama from the handcuffs that Gary Ackerman, Anthony Weiner, and the rest of the "Israel, right or wrong" crowd puts on him. The only question is: will he put them back on himself. 

"The 5th (New York) Congressional District’s Supporters of Israel" say, in a full page New York Jewish Week ad, that Ackerman doesn’t squeeze the handcuffs tight enough, principally because he accepts money from J Street. (Jewschool, which posted the ad on Flickr, clearly does not approve of the Ackerman non-approvers.)

**Ilario Pantano, the Republican attempting to unseat Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), is a former deputy sheriff in Wilmington N.C., a former Marine once accused of premeditated murder in Iraq (the charges were dropped), a born-again Christian, a man who fundraises at a shooting range — and a transplanted New Yorker with a stack of Jewish buddies from his days at Horace Mann and Goldman Sachs. He has been married to a Jewish Vogue model, Jill Chapman, who posed for Robert Mapplethorpe. Unclear if the marriage is still on — he does not name his wife in his bio.

Yes, the sound you just heard is this election getting even weirder.

**A GOP win is not necessarily good news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Akiva Eldar says in Ha’aretz — it will force President Obama into a foreign policy corner:

Obstacles that the Republicans are expected to put in his path regarding domestic legislation are likely to enhance the president’s ambition to secure successes outside of American borders. When it comes to foreign policy, the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces has a clear edge over the House and the Senate.

As they say in basic training, “There is no such thing as ‘I can’t,’ there is only ‘I don’t want to.’” In Obama’s case, there isn’t any such thing as “I don’t want to” either. Should he desire to avoid dealing with the Middle East conflict, the conflict will hound him. Should the American president not be disposed to advance final-status negotiations in the months ahead, the Palestinian leaders will look elsewhere. When Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and perhaps also Russia and France, submit to the United Nations a resolution proposing recognition of the Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, Obama will not be able to sit on the fence.

Support for such a resolution, or even abstention, would cause a major crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations. On the other hand, a vote ‏(with Micronesia?‏) against the entire world would harm America’s status in this volatile region. Should the wind get knocked out of the sails of the president of the United States, there will be rejoicing in the presidential palace in Tehran, in government offices in Gaza, and in Hezbollah headquarters in Beirut.

There won’t be any cause for celebration tomorrow in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

**David Broder, the "dean" of Beltway pundits at the Washington Post, says Obama could vindicate his first term in its second half through a confrontation with Iran.

In a show of the new amity at the Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg agree that this is clinically nuts. So Does Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy.

Or, more accurately, they agree that it’s clinically nuts to declare war to salvage the economy and get reelected — but I don’t think Broder is positing this. He’s doing what he’s done since time immemorial (or what counts for time immemorial in a town where no one can remember the day before yesterday): He’s mapping out how the fates and political savvy could conspire to save Obama’s presidency. He’s not prescribing a plan.

**Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast says Jon Stewart‘s Rally to Restore Sanity will have untoward political repercussions — it will make liberals seem condescending and effete:

There are quite rational reasons, in America today, to be scared out of your wits. Many Americans think that the great recession is not a passing misfortune but the new normal—that they will never regain their old quality of life.

At the Huffington Post, Rabbi Sid Schwarz wishes Stewart had amplified a liberal message a little more:

In what was a not so subtle dig at the excessive partisan rhetoric on Capitol Hill in this election cycle from the media pundits and from cable newscasters, Stewart declared: "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

That was it. That was the message. Everything else was irony, parody or comedy. It was not enough.

The breakdown of civil discourse in this country is a serious problem. It is eroding our confidence that our democracy can work. We hope that elected officials, pundits, NGO leaders, academics and intellectuals might engage in the kind of inquiry and purposeful conversation that could help find solutions to the very serious issues facing our country and the world. Instead we get the intellectual equivalent of 5th graders engaged in a spitball fight. If you want to understand why, in the space of 25 years, the United States has fallen behind so much of the rest of the developed world in key areas like education, technology, ecological responsibility and the like, look no further than the failure of our leaders to lead.

Jon Stewart did not ask to be the leader of the free world and never claimed that he was. But history has a way serving up opportunities when we least expect it. Saturday’s rally was one of those moments. Half a million people were eager to be galvanized. Jon Stewart: "We never heard you."  

And if you think the rally isn’t a Jewish story, turn on your applaud-o-meter and listen to Reverend Guido Sarducci count down the religions, seeking a divine signal, during the "benediction:"

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear  
Father Guido Sarducci – Rally Benediction
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or Fear The Daily Show The Colbert Report

**Salon’s Steve Kornacki and the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn write a political obituary for Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) before the man has given in. Cohn says he’ll miss an authentic independent progressive; Kornacki explains that while Wisconsin has a tradition of electing progressives, it is also a swing state in a poor year for Democrats.

The other question: How long has it been since Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate representation was not all Jewish? Since Feingold’s election in 1992 is when. That’s when he ousted (Episcopalian) Bob Kasten to join (Jewish) Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) My old AP colleague, Fred Frommer, has written about the anomaly of two midwestern states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, with sparse Jewish populations, consistently sending Jews — Republican and Democratic — to the more sedate chamber of Congress.

**Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, another well-liked Jewish pol from a midwestern state running for the U.S. Senate, has, on the other hand, given up for all intents and purposes. Talking Points Memo’s Evan McMorris-Santoro explains how and why.

**A Tea Party wilts in Brooklyn, and in Tel Aviv. The Brooklyn Eagle reports that Menachem "Mendy" Raitport, a Hasidic butcher from Crown Heights, is the Tea Party pick to beat incumbent Assemblyman Karim Camara (D), a Baptist minister. Raitport, running on the GOP and Conservative tickets, is not the pick of the Crown Heights Political Action Committee, the voice of Jewish political money in the district.

"Mendy [a nickname for Menachem] is an A-one guy,” said Moshe Malamud, a founding member of the PAC. But, he added, “Karim has been our partner, our friend, our advocate since Day One.”

Rabbi Shea Hecht, co-chairman of the PAC, put it more bluntly. “Can Mendy Raitport do anything for us more than Mr. Camara? The answer is no.”

For the New York Times, Isabel Kershner reports that an Israeli bid to establish a "Tea Party" to withstand any future pressures from Obama to freeze settlement drew barely a hundred enthusiasts to a Tel Aviv inaugural — withering in its tea leaves.

Recommended from JTA