Every Jewish mother's nightmare
Forget having a son who doesn't become a doctor or lawyer. How about one who becomes a Republican?
ORLANDO, Florida - At least twice a week, veteran Democratic activist Arlene Faracchio goes to work at the party headquarters in Jacksonville - her kids, worried about her health, won't let her do more. In 2008, Faracchio, 76, was a big Hillary Clinton supporter, but after Clinton lost in the primaries, she threw her weight behind Obama - now she has porcelain plate with his portrait decorating her kitchen.
And Faracchio, who is also active in her Jewish community, doesn't understand what went wrong with her son Dean, a retirement planning and benefits adviser who lives in Orlando. Dean loves firearms and is a proud member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
"Every mother should have a Dean, he is a wonderful boy, a great son," she says, pouring some tea in her cozy house, with a Magen David at the entrance and walls full with family photos. "But it's beyond me, why he went to the Republicans."
The Republican primaries in South Carolina are just days away, but the elections frenzy has already reached Florida, the next to vote, and the biggest swing state that might not only seal the official GOP nominee, but possibly also provide an augur for the general elections.
Florida's half-million Jews only make up about 3% of the population, but those 500,000 are deeply involved in various campaigns, causing rifts in some families, with some even losing friends over political differences.
Dean Faracchio was raised in a staunchly Democratic family - his father was a union school teacher. His mother has been involved in politics as long as he can remember, even taking him to party events.
For years, he considered himself a Democrat - until he got advice to start listening to Rush Limbaugh's radio talk show. Limbaugh, the radio voice of the right wing, is carried by some 6,000 stations around the country, and is known for his harsh rhetoric against Democrats, leftists and the other usual suspects.
Faracchio says he doesn't agree with all he hears, but it "did change the way I look at things", he says. "I began to realize I am a Republican. Socially I am very liberal. I don't believe in keeping people stupid and poor."
His wife Nancy is a registered Democrat, but he thinks she is "pretty much a Republican."
Dean says he likes shooting, has about 20 firearms, and he even started sports shooting groups in two synagogues. His mother, upon hearing this, rolls her eyes and sighs. "When I was a kid, my parents said I could not own a gun," Dean says. "Now I am a grown up, and I think it's fun and it's practical. It saved me in several incidents from being attacked. I have already shot at the range twice this week."
In 2008, the overwhelming majority of Jews in Florida voted for Obama. "About 25% of the Jews here are Republicans, but I think now it's more like 40%," Dean claims. "They will not necessarily change the way they are registered - it's like the sports fans - even if their team loses every single game, they will still root for it. But many people are disappointed. I don't think it's Obama personally. ... All I care about is the policies he is promoting, and what the effects of these policies have been. And as far as I am concerned, the effects of these policies have been destructive. They've been destructive on American business, American fabric and they've been destructive on the security of Israel."
Obama's policy on Israel, says Dean, is also a sore point among the Jewish community and American at large.
"There were several things he said and did that made people think he is indifferent - or unfriendly to Israel," he said. "And people do care about Israel, it's like our little brother or sister being bullied. I think forces aligned against Israel would rather attack us - but picking on Israel is easier."
His mother, obviously, holds the opposite view about the president.
"Obama is a gentleman, he is very bright, and he is turning this country around. It can't be done all at once. But by the time the election comes, then you are going to see a big change."
Arlene is also sure Obama is a friend of Israel - but still has hopes for the "dream ticket" with Hillary Clinton running as Obama's vice president.
"It would squash it all, because she is a great friend of Israel, and so is Bill."
She is also confident Florida Jews will vote this time exactly as they did the last time. When I ask her if she is going to call to congratulate her son should Obama lose a Republican, she bursts into laughter.
"The Republican is not going to win. Come on, look who they have running - it's a joke. Meanwhile Obama lets them have their thing at the primaries. Once they selected someone - then the race begins. Then you'll see."
The Obama campaign in Florida is already very busy, taking, among other things, the Martin Luther King Day weekend to organize voter register drives.
Talking to Jewish seniors in nursing homes, it seems that nothing has changed in the past three and a half years for those who disliked Obama from the beginning.
Those who were suspicious back then still cite the same rumors and - after Obama holding a job of the president of the U.S. for over three years - referring to him as "community organizer." On this, the Obama campaign will probably have to push harder.
At the River Garden Hebrew Home in Jacksonville, a Jewish Federation nursing home, I meet the Schumer family. The 78-year old mother says she is a long-life Democrat, but in the last elections for the first time she voted Republican - and this time, she is going to vote for Mitt Romney, if he gets the nomination.
Why not Obama? "I'll vote for a snake first", she proclaims.
I ask them what specifically bothers them about Obama.
"Everything" says the dad.
Their 55-year old daughter, who came to visit from Tampa, tries to explain the negativity - although she still thinks he is going to win the election.
"His agenda is not my agenda. His agenda is South Chicago. I cannot relate to it. What part of Obama understands how we live? He is a community organizer. ... Last time I also voted Republican - and I never voted Republican in my life. Obama is beautifully put together, he has a gorgeous family - but I don't identify with him, I don't relate to him, I don't get him. I think they are kind of wannabes. He is one of those people who are eloquent, but I don't believe him. He never ran a business, he went to Reverend Wright's church - he only went to Harvard because it was an affirmative action. He is not uber-smart. Please, what has he done?! What does he bring to the table? People take it as racism, entitlement, lot of things it's not. How he ended up running for a commander in chief? What has he done? Has he served in the military?"
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