Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mr. Obama Goes to AIPAC

This post will be written without the traditional supporting links, not for any good reason, but because I am feeling too damn lazy this particular morning to go dig 'em out. If you want 'em, you'll have to google 'em yourself.

I think I figured out why Obama's trip to AIPAC, mouthing all the ritual loyalty oaths and shibboleths to the Blind Support For Likud wing of American Jewry, was so frustrating.

It's because he is so often willing to tell people what they don't want to hear.

Obama is someone who went to the Cuban exiles in Miami, and talked about ending the embargo on Cuba.

He's someone who stood his ground as McCain and Clinton pandered with a useless gas-tax holiday.

He's stood up for negotiating rather than ignoring then invading countries we are at odds with.

-- And on and on. One of Obama's key strengths is going and talking to people he disagrees with in ways that earn their respect while not papering over the disagreement.

But not on Israel. On Israel, he just went and said the shibboleths.

Now, there isn't a single remotely plausible argument that this is a reason to vote against Obama -- simply because his opposition, John McCain, is equally bad on this score, and is overwhelmingly worse on every other score. So voting for McCain -- or not voting* -- is simply ridiculous as a response to this.

But it's disappointing.

There has arisen a cottage industry of trying to figure out Obama's "real" position on the middle east -- is he (as, of all people, Marty Peretz seems to think), a genuine Likudnik?** Or is he really secretly sympathetic to a just and equitable solution to the issue? Or does he genuinely not care much?

I have my opinion on this, but I won't give it, because I actually don't think it matters nearly as much as most people do. There are lots of issues on which the Democrats are better than the Republicans -- Iraq, the environment, health care, etc -- even if on none of them are they as good as I, for one, would like. But then there are the depressingly large number of issues -- copyright reform, ending the drug war, and, oh yeah, Israel -- on which both parties are essentially equally bad.***

On the former, the important first step to take is to elect Democrats. Then we can get busy applying sufficient political pressure/support to allow them to follow "the better angels of their natures" and actually follow through on their stated positions -- or even, heavens to betsy, improve on them. (Surgeon General's Warning: Even very good politicians will not behave well without constituent pressure to do so. Apply daily until problem disappears.)

But on the latter, whoever we elect won't help much. So on those, what's needed is sustained grassroots actions to change the political climate, so that a set of politicians -- probably Democrats, but who knows?**** -- will emerge who might be good on them. (Then we work to elect them; then we pressure them... see above.)

So if you care about peace between the river and the sea, go join J-Street or Brit Tzedek v'Shalom or whatever other organizations are out there. (Those two are specifically Jewish groups devoted to mid-East peace, which are just the ones I happen to know about.)

And vote for Obama... because of Iraq, and global warming, and health care, and restoring constitutional balance, and probably quite literally hundreds of thousands of other reasons: but not because of Israel.

But yeah, it's disappointing: because on some issues -- say, again, Cuba, or stupid gas-price-pandering -- Obama is one of the best democrats out there,***** willing to lead while others wilt into Republicrats. So there was some hope -- however dim -- that even on this issue he might be better than the run of Democrats.

But, alas, 'tis not to be.

* Which includes, as its functional equivalent, voting for Nader or Barr, writing in Ron Paul, or anything of the sort.

** That is, Peretz supports him, and in general seems to believe anyone who isn't a likudnik is an anti-semite, including, of course, half the Jewish population of Israel.

*** The hypothetical third category -- issues on which the Republicans are better than the Democrats -- is, at least at the moment, the empty set. A purely theoretical construct without any actual examples.

**** I know that Republicans are probably about as interested in my advice as, well, something disdainfully uninterested in something is in that thing, but what I'd suggest they do is rather than pursue policies in every single dimension of political life that have not only turned out, in practice, to be complete and utter disaster, but which the public is now starting to realize are disasters, they should instead pick some issues on which the Democratic party is actually bad -- again, Israel, copyright, ending the drug war, and maybe scaling back our overseas empire a la Ron Paul (just without the life-long publication of racist newsletters angle) -- and work out good positions on them. Don't double-down on failed imperialism, economic deregulation leading to catastrophe, environmental stalling leading to ditto, and let-em-die style health care; rather, pick some issues on which your opposition isn't very good and work on those.

Yeah, I know: as long as I'm wishing, I should wish for a pony. But where would I stable it?

***** The only issue I know of where Obama is not as good as the Democrats get (well, aside from a few Kucinich figures who have no realistic shot at national office) is health care: his health care plan was slightly worse than Hillary Clinton's, which was a genuine reason to support her. Although let's face it, neither were offering anything close to single-payer, which is what would be really ideal.

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