Many diehard Republicans watching Benjamin Netanyahu speak at the UN on Thursday were more than likely to be fantasizing about what if: what if it was the eloquent Netanyahu, and not the faltering Mitt Romney, who was their presidential candidate now? Why couldn’t they have sent him to do battle with Obama, instead of the stumbling Romney?
After all, Netanyahu is more persuasive and charismatic than Romney, especially in English, especially on TV. He is more forceful, more consistent, more faithful to the core ideology of today’s Republican Party than Romney ever was or ever will be. To paraphrase the rhetorical device that Netanyahu himself employed at this year’s AIPAC conference - “if he looks like a Republican, walks like a Republican and talks like a Republican, then what is he? That’s right: he’s a Republican”. He even “thinks Republican”, as Netanyahu himself once told former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas.
Netanyahu wouldn’t have won the Republican primaries because of political expediency and the pragmatic rationale that he stands the best chance in the general elections. He would have been selected because of, and not despite, his ideology and beliefs. He would have wiped the floor with the likes of Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum and even Newt Gingrich. He would have swept the Evangelical vote, charmed the Tea Party movement and convinced the moderate, establishment Republicans that once in power, he would be as careful and considerate as they might hope.
Netanyahu’s positions, after all, are anchored in the very heart of today’s Republican Party, as he has proven throughout his years in office.
Economically, he is a free market fanatic, a deficit hawk, a harsh critic of big government, a champion of low taxes, a dismantler of the welfare state and a friend and benefactor of the rich and famous. Like many conservative Republicans, he has an ingrained antipathy towards decadent liberals – in his case, especially if they are Jews – and he more than shares their hostility towards the academic world, the entertainment industry, the biased media and all the other co-conspirators who aim to stifle the common folk and to perpetuate their own leftist hegemony.
On matters of defense and diplomacy, as he showed once again at his UN speech, Netanyahu is part and parcel of the hawkish, neoconservative wing of the party, a staunch believer in George Bush’s “with us or against us” dichotomy, a proponent of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” theory, a committed partisan in the eternal struggle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness - and no doubts whatsoever about which is which and who is who. He too believes that President Obama has weakened America’s stature in the world and kowtowed to Islamic despots.
He too supported the war in Iraq, is now openly agitating for a war with Iran, and has no hopes for peace with the Palestinians and no plans to pursue it either.
Netanyahu, it sometimes seems, is even better than Romney in employing basic American cultural icons in getting his message across, as he has done in recent weeks with JFK, American football, the menace of a nuclear Al Qaeda or Timothy McVeigh and even the buffoonish Wile E Coyote cartoon that he brandished from the UN podium which, say what you will, certainly got the world’s attention. Netanyahu’s English may not be as perfect as it was in the days when he was the rising star of American news shows in the 1980’s – especially on Ted Koppel’s Nightline – but his Republican dialect is impeccable, and constantly improving nonetheless. He has often been ridiculed because he once was a furniture salesman, but what wouldn’t the Republicans give now for a bit of good old snake oil salesmanship to help Romney make his case?
Netanyahu is a hard core Republican through and through: he knows it, the Republicans know it, Obama knows it, and it is an unavoidable source of tension between the two. At his speech at the UN on Thursday,
Netanyahu tried to talk back his harsh criticism and to give Obama his due for leading the effort to impose sanctions on Iran, but lest there be any doubt, Sheldon Adelson was also in the house, connecting the dots between the Israeli prime minister and the Republican effort to unseat the Democratic president.
Of course, there remains the issue of Netanyahu’s birthplace, Tel Aviv, which supposedly disqualifies him from serving as the U.S. president. But hey, as many devout Republicans will say, if Obama, who was born in Kenya to a communist mother and a jihadist father, can forge a Honolulu birth certificate, why can’t Netanyahu get one from Philadelphia? That’s the city in which he grew up, in which he was educated, in which he came to know and love America to the extent that he often seems much more comfortable there than he does at home.
In fact, perhaps it isn’t the Republicans who are fantasizing at all - perhaps it is Bibi himself who is looking at Romney now and muttering to himself: what if.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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