Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Thoughts

Now and then I turn on the TV and, against my better judgment, flip to one of the twenty-four hour news networks. There’s been a lot of talk lately about how “stressful” this election is to many Americans. People are making appointments with psychotherapists to work through their fears that if the right guy doesn’t win, the world will go up in smoke.

I can’t say that I’ve always been very level-headed about these things myself, although for me, it’s a little bit different. I’ve been planning to vote for Obama from the outset, and just about every development since the primaries—not to mention every debate and every article I’ve read and discussion I’ve heard by professional wonks—has supported my conviction that this is probably the right decision. But then there’s this little voice in my head that says, "What if the McCain people are right? What if Obama is elected and the Middle East falls apart, capitalism collapses, and the world goes up in smoke? It’ll all be my fault." At this point, I remind myself about the electoral college, and how (to paraphrase a friend) every vote counts, but mine doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, this does little to dispel the worry that I am a Traitor to the Jewish People. (I believe they call this “Jewish guilt.”) The argument goes something like this:

The difference is that unlike Shepherd Smith (who, for the record, is not exactly a left-wing reactionary), I tend to walk away from the conversation worrying that my position is the dangerous one. There’s no rational reason for this. It’s just a neurosis.

Well, today I am feeling less neurotic, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts on this subject. Of course, I’m not expecting to affect anyone’s vote at this point. You may even have already voted. But if you’re sick with worry over how an Obama win will result in the death of Israel, maybe this will calm you down some. (Probably not, but I can try.)

First, as Shepherd Smith pointed out, Obama has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with Israel. Does this mean anything? Probably not—every candidate does it—but it’s certainly unfair to say that Obama is anti-Israel. Nothing he’s said or done has demonstrated any ill-will toward the Jewish state.

Most of the focus of the “Obama equals death of Israel” argument has been on his stated willingness to “sit down” with Ahmadinejad, as well as other leaders whom he himself has pointedly labeled “America’s enemies.” In and of itself, this is not a controversial position. Our government has talks with enemy leaders all the time, and McCain has admitted that he would also pursue diplomatic relations with Iran and other countries. The argument between the candidates has been over “high-level” talks vs. lower-level talks and “preparation” vs. “preconditions.” There may be real differences here—it’s hard for someone like me to tell—but it’s certainly not the difference between being pro- or anti-Ahmadinejad. Both McCain and Obama have strongly criticized Ahmadinejad for his words on Israel, and both recognize him as an enemy.

The truth is, there’s only so much that the U.S. can do about the existence of countries and leaders that hate Israel and the Western World. We can’t “bomb Iran,” as McCain famously joked; we don’t have the resources for another war, and even if we did, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea. All we can do is speak softly and try to convince the world that we still have a big stick. Obama is generally better at speaking softly, while McCain is better at bragging about his stick. But in the end, I don’t think their policies would be very different.

One other matter has emerged recently, relating to an apparent relationship between Obama and Rashid Khalidi, an outspoken critic of Israel. According to the LA times, Obama has had dinner with Khalidi’s family a number of times and has remarked that the latter has encouraged him to consider his “blind spots and biases” and to continue the “conversation” with Palestinian leaders. To me, this sounds like pure politics and nothing much to worry about. But don’t take my word for it. Take Martin Perez’s:
I assume that my Zionist credentials are not in dispute. And I have written more appreciative words about Khalidi than Obama ever uttered. In fact, I even invited Khalidi to speak for a Jewish organization with which I work.

Moreover, the Israelis are trying to live cooperatively and in peace with Palestinians whose unrelenting positions make Khalidi almost appear like a Zionist.

I’m not saying that an Obama presidency would be better for Israel than a McCain presidency. I’m no foreign policy wonk, and there are many complicated issues involved. I’m just suggesting that we all take a deep breath here. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine and watch the election results—or don’t. The world isn’t going to go up in smoke if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted. And even if it does, there isn’t much you can do about it now.