CHARLOTTE - If Barack Obama wins the presidential elections in November, the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte will come to be remembered as the turning point.
Though the Democrats could not completely recreate, they nonetheless succeeded in rekindling memories of the enthusiasm that marked the 2008 elections - if not for love of Obama, to paraphrase a Talmudic saying, than for resentment of Mitt Romney.
Romney was the favorite punching bag and the energizing warm up act at the convention, as speaker after speaker hammered and ridiculed the Republican candidate, to the delight of the thousands of delegates at Charlotte’s Time Warner Arena, who grew louder and bolder by the hour. In an evening timed, directed and choreographed to perfection, the Democrats threw everything but the kitchen sink at Romney, including a revival of the late Ted Kennedy from his grave to once again demolish Romney, as he did in their original 1994 Massachusetts debate.
It was a night of stinging zingers at Romney’s expense, from former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s memorable “if Romney was Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves”, to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s “he loves to fix things, but Massachusetts isn’t one of them”, to keynote speaker and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s “he just doesn’t get it”.
By the time Michelle Obama took to the podium, the crowd was already primed, having realized that something special and unexpected was going on. Then she brought the house down with an exquisitely delivered speech that was described by gushing pundits as the best ever by a First Lady, perhaps one of the best ever, period.
The deafening applause, the ringing chants for “four more years” and the general gung-ho atmosphere that was evident after Obama had finished speaking not only took the media by surprise, it seemed to astonish the delegates themselves. Rather than a washed up party that had lost its energy and vigor, the Democrats embraced their pronounced diversity and progressive ideology with renewed gusto, to the point that even Obama’s hitherto-shunned health care law was upgraded to the status of “a badge of honor”, as Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described it to deafening applause.
One could feel their excitement and confidence growing as the evening wore on, as the Democrats began to realize that they were outpunching, outperforming and outshining the relatively subdued Republican convention held last week in Florida. Perhaps the starkest contrast with the doomy and gloomy Republicans was that the Democrats also appeared to be having the time of their lives.
In fact, one of the greatest dangers for the Republicans is that the Democrats will rediscover their “Yes we can” inner voice, not for changing the world, perhaps, as they thought four years ago, but at least for standing a fighting chance of winning a second term for Obama and preventing a Republican takeover, a scenario that, for many Democrats, has assumed demonic dimensions.
If the intensity of the Democratic opposition to Romney and his ideology suddenly matches the ferocity of the Republican dislike for Obama, the Republicans will have lost their main advantage in the upcoming elections. All this, before megastar Bill Clinton takes to the stage on Wednesday night in Charlotte, and before Obama, who was described last week in the New York Times as a competitor who hates nothing more than placing second, does his damndest in advance of his Thursday night speech so as not to be completely eclipsed by his wife.
It has not been a good week for Obama and the Jews, at least those Jews whose vote is swayed by perceptions of the president’s strained relations with Israel. After the reports of the scaling down of the joint Israeli-American military exercise, after the White House refrained from reprimanding General Martin Dempsey’s injudicious use of the word “complicity” in relation to a possible Israeli attack on Iran and amidst persistent reports about periodic flare ups between Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu – along came the Democratic Platform on Tuesday, with its missing sections on Jerusalem the “undivided capital of Israel”, which, according to some DNC sources, were apparently removed by the White House. Republicans pounced with a vengeance, and Democrats were tongue-tied as usual.
Former Congressman Robert Wexler who heads the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace took to the stage in Charlotte to defend Obama’s record on Israel in a speech that was notable on two fronts: 1. That no other foreign country would even dream of being the sole subject of an entire political address at an American national convention 2. That most of the delegates didn’t seem the least bit interested and were happy to use the time to chat with their neighbors. Wexler’s assertions that Obama was serious in his intent to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons garnered only tepid applause from the few delegates who remained engaged.
Now the eyes are on Clinton, who insiders say is likely to address the Israeli issue in his speech tonight, and even more so on Obama, who is expected to ratchet up the tone of his statements on Iran and to reaffirm his commitment to Israeli security, if not to its claim on all of Jerusalem.
Jewish Republicans were probably disappointed with the fact that former President Carter didn’t mention Israel in his much-ballyhooed video address. Despite his banishment to a not-ready-for-prime-time slot, the Republican Jewish Coalition and others had blasted Carter’s very invitation to speak before the Democratic Convention, albeit by video, with the ADL’s Abe Foxman describing the former president as harboring “a biased obsession that borders on anti-Semitism” and even David Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council describing Carter’s appearance as an “embarrassment” and his analysis as “harmful to the peace process.”
But Carter failed to supply the goods, made no mention of apartheid Israel or valiant Hamas and deprived the Republicans of the ammunition they were seeking in their Sisyphean campaign to pry away Jews from the Democrats.
Which is perhaps the right opportunity to describe the Jewish protests against Carter as nothing less than an unbecoming chutzpah by all concerned. Because whatever one thinks of Carter’s current positions and the grief that he periodically brings to supporters of Israel, Carter remains a singular and positive figure in Israeli history. He singlehandedly saved more Israeli lives and contributed more to Israel’s security and prosperity than any other president, perhaps more than any other man alive.
Without Carter, there would have been no peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, visionary statesmen that they may have been, would not have signed the 1978 Camp David Accords or the 1979 Peace Agreement without Carter’s persistent pressuring and cajoling and downright threats. The treaty with Egypt was a watershed event which revolutionized Israel’s standing in Middle East, allowed it to divert billions of dollars to developing its economy, to waging wars in other theaters – and, ironically, to erecting more settlements in the West Bank as well.
But its paramount achievement, as anyone from my Yom Kippur War generation will tell you, is that it maintained a quiet southern border for 34 years. Countless lives of the very best Israelis, perhaps thousands, would have been lost in another war or two that would have undoubtedly broken out were it not for the efforts of the so-called “anti-Semitic” Carter.
President Johnson gave Israel Phantom jets, Nixon sent airlifts, Reagan formalized strategic relations, Clinton empathized, Bush was a friend indeed and Obama, according to Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, has done more than previous presidents to enhance security cooperation between the two countries.
But none of these past presidents can hold a candle to Carter’s unique contribution to Israel’s wellbeing, no matter what he says or does today, no matter how low his detractors may go. Indeed, if saving Jewish lives is the yardstick, Carter belongs in the pantheon of Righteous Gentiles and, at the ripe old age of 88, perhaps its time that his critics show some respect.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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