Forward Thinking

Five (Jewish) Things To Watch on Election Night

By Nathan Guttman

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It’s Election Day at last. And as we sit down in front of the TV to watch the results (for those who actually have power), here are five Jewish points of reference on this long night of swing states, bellwether counties and exit poll results.

Ohio. With polls closing at 7:30 p.m., the entire nation will watch to see if President Barack Obama wins the state, thus virtually paving his way to another four years in the White House. But Jewish politicos should look beyond the presidential race to the brutal Senate showdown between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Jewish Republican Josh Mandel. Brown is in the lead but it is a close race and if Mandel, a Tea Party loyalist, is able to pull it off, he’d be the star of Republican Jewish politics. A Mandel upset would be a bitter moment for the Jewish Democratic establishment, including in Mandel’s home state, which have fought hard to defeat him.

Florida. Polls close at 8:00 p.m. in the Sunshine State and this is the one time it is a good idea to actually look into those detailed maps on your TV hosts’ touch screens with a county-by-county breakdown. Regardless of how Florida goes, our eyes are on the three southernmost counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach.

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Ed Koch Weighs In for Obama

By Nathan Guttman

With the presidential election only days away, it is time for both campaigns to pull out their strongest arguments and best presenters in order to make that final push just a little bit more effective.

For Jewish Democrats, this means getting out Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, for a warm endorsement of President Barack Obama. In a campaign video released Wednesday Koch speaks at length about Obama’s record on Israel, and then moves on to praise the president’s economic policies. To make clear at whom this ad is directed, producers of the video made sure to film Koch with a large menorah in the background.

Koch is an important figure for the Obama campaign not only because of his standing in the Jewish community. Koch is especially valuable because of his on-again, off-again endorsements of the President, which may give him credibility as a straight-shooter with some undecided voters.

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Koch has criticized Obama several times in the past four years, even as recent as last month Now, the Obama campaign can make the point that even Koch, 87, is convinced by Obama’s record on Israel.

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Call Your Zeyde

By Renee Ghert-Zand

It’s The Great Schlep redux.

Taking a page from its 2008 video urging young people to do whatever it takes to get their grandparents to vote for President Barack Obama, the Jewish Council for Education and Research has put out “Call Your Zeyde” with a week to go before the election.

This time, it’s not Sarah Silverman using profane-laced humor to convince Millenials do the schlepping. Instead, it’s cool, young Jewish singer Michelle Citrin doing a clever parody of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

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31 Jews in Congress

By Nathan Guttman

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Rep. Brad Sherman

As the election enters its final stretch, the Forward is making some final projections for our congressional scorecard based on the latest polling results.

We now predict at least 31 Jews — 10 in the Senate and 21 in the House of Representatives — will serve in the next Congress, a slight rise from the initial projection of 30.

But the biggest shift doesn’t change the numbers either way. We are now projecting that Rep. Brad Sherman will likely win his intramural fight with fellow Los Angeles Jewish Democratic Rep. Howard Berman.

The race, which ranked as one of the nastiest in the nation, has been seen as close from the beginning when they were thrown together to fight for one seat due to redistricting in the suburban San Fernando Valley. The two even nearly got into a physical altercation during debate. Berman had the backing of Democratic heavyweights, while Sherman held on to a strong ground operation.

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Judging the Yad Vashem Debate

By Gal Beckerman

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The final debate is over — the last one ever for Obama and for us this election cycle — and it’s time for some flash judgment.

  1. Israel, Israel, Israel: As anyone could have predicted, Israel was mentioned a lot. As “true friend.” As “greatest ally.” I think I counted 6 mentions by the president to 3 from Romney. My favorite was Obama pointing out that “the largest military exercise with Israel in history happened this very week.” But what I could not have predicted was Obama’s extended riff aimed at the Jewish gut, or more precisely the cheek of your nana living in a retirement community in Boca Raton. He had Yad Vashem in there. He mentioned the children of Sderot. And he made sure to not give Romney any, er, daylight, to make his usual “Israel under the bus” argument. When he was done, all Romney could offer to distinguish himself was that he would try and indict Ahmadinejad for genocide incitement.

  2. It’s good to be the chief: Obama seemed to dominate this one, and he was helped largely by the fact that, as he reminded Romney at one point, he has “actually executed foreign policy.” All of the references to real decisions he has made, to conversations with secretaries of defense, to being the commander-in-chief, were calculated to making Romney look small (aside from also happening to be true). It gave Obama an upper hand that he did not squander.

  3. Agreed: Remarkably, Romney spent much of the debate agreeing with Obama’s foreign policy approach. Another a few minutes and he might have endorsed him! From Egypt to drones, again and again, Romney said he supported Obama’s policies. The difference he proposed to bring to the office was to have a stronger, more forceful tone in the execution. To my ears, this distinction sounded hollow. What does it mean practically to just project more toughness? Do you used more superlatives in your speeches? How does it help get things done? Obama seemed to hit a nerve when he said that it sounded like Romney wanted to follow the president’s policies, but just speak more loudly.

  4. Etch-a-sketch a-shak’n: Another clear objective of the president tonight was to use the foreign policy conversation as another opportunity to define Romney as inconsistent. Obama did this again and again, pointing to the zig zagging policy prescriptions voiced by Romney over the course of the last year. And Romney seemed to oblige by presenting tonight yet another face. Anticipating that Obama had a claim on toughness locked down through the killing of Osama bin Laden, Romney attacked the president from…the left. At times, he sounded like John Kerry. He argued that the president hadn’t used enough soft power – improving civil society, working on girl’s education, speaking to the peaceful nature of the Muslim world. “We can’t kill ourselves out of this mess,” was Romney’s practiced line. It sounded like just another shake of the etch-a-sketch. Though it’s possible that others didn’t hear it that way.

  5. Europe? The environment? China?: While we’re thrilled at the Forward that the Middle East and Israel got so much attention, it was disappointing to see such a limited range of subjects discussed. The environment was not seriously brought up once in all these debates and it’s quite a global issue. Or what about any part of the world that is south of the equator? Even those issues that were touched on were done so in a very perfunctory way. The moral and legal dimension of using drones was never explored, for example, once it was established that both candidates agree that they are good policy. The predictability of the questions helped contribute to the staleness of all the debates, I thought, whether the moderator was forceeful or not. The heat instead came from the two men pushing each other and their seeming visceral dislike for one another. Thankfully the debate format gave the space for these fisticuffs to occur.

Thanks for indulging my quick take. If you’d like, participate in our own snap poll on the question of Israel and Iran.

And that’s where I draw my red line, folks!

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Obama Won by Talking Like a Republican

By Jay Michaelson

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This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.

On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.

On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.

So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.

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The Long Island Jewish Community Center Debate

By Gal Beckerman

Having used the Forward’s patented debate drinking game tonight, I’m sitting here quite dry. Which means I’ve got a few quick takeaways from the slugfest in Lon Giland.

1) Jewiest debate ever: Let’s just get this out of the way. Carol Greenberg? Jeremy Epstein? Barry Green? Cary Latke? Latke?! Thankfully the next debate is in Boca Raton, which is a relief, because I was worried only middle aged Jews would get a chance to make their voices heard this election cycle.

2) Maybe there was an altitude problem in Denver: Obama was so much more present, energetic and effective right out of the gate that at first I even thought the extreme contrast with his Denver performance could be a liability. It would highlight just how bad he had been. But then he just kept striking the contrasts he needed to strike — most notably on tax policy and social issues — and it became obvious that whatever happened, whether the altitude or anything else, Obama had clearly learned from his mistakes and had shown up. It made for a much, much more lively debate all around and put the lie to the conventional wisdom that somehow this town hall debate would not lend itself to sharp exchanges and attacks. It was actually the least congenial debate I can remember in any recent election cycle, for better or worse.

3) Patronizing Mitt: Since Republicans spent a lot of time picking apart every one of Joe Biden’s eye rolls and giggles, it seems safe to take a look at Romney’s style tonight. From basically telling the president to shut up and wait his turn to having to be told by Candy Crowley to sit back down in his chair, Romney came off as less empathetic and human than he did in the first debate. He seemed angry. While the president seemed — amazingly — to be enjoying himself. Romney also seemed to have a harder time with issues like gender inequality and gun control. While he kept trying to move to the center, Obama kept pushing him back to the right. This was brilliantly done by the president in the exchange over George W. Bush. Romney made what looked at first like a bold decision to throw Bush under the bus (where at least he’ll have Israel for company!) for not dealing with the ballooning deficit. Obama then took the opportunity to compare Romney with Bush and further cemented his image of the governor as the “severe conservative” he once claimed himself to be, to the right of Dubya on issues like immigration and social security.

4) Triumph of the fact check: So much of this campaign has revolved around competing claims of truth and falsehood. Each side repeatedly calls the other a liar and a whole industry of fact checkers has emerged over the last few cycles to act as referees. Because of this, the moment that will probably have the most resonance from this evening is when Candy Crowley fact checked in real time (a feat in itself) a claim by Romney, calling it in Obama’s favor, to the applause of the audience. Put aside that the Obama administration has not come up with a good answer for the way the attack on the Benghazi embassy was spun in the hours after it occurred, the president did in fact call it an act of terror in the Rose Garden the following day. Romney was caught looking silly and like a prevaricator for saying otherwise. And I’m willing to predict that the enduring moment, bound to be replayed tomorrow a few times, is Obama asking, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”

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The Forward's Debate Drinking Game

By Forward Staff

At the Forward, we’re always looking for ways to help our readers stay in touch with current events from a Jewish perspective.

In that spirit, we’ve come up with a Jewish drinker’s guide to tonight’s presidential debate.

After his lackluster performance two weeks ago, it’s President Barack Obama’s shot at debate redemption. Mitt Romney can seal the deal with another commanding performance. Joe Biden won’t be anywhere near your TV screen, so hopefully you don’t have to worry about “malarkey.”

Get some booze, grab your remote and play along.

Take a SIP if you hear:

“The only democracy in the Middle East…”
“Red lines”
An anecdote about a Jewish lady in Florida/Ohio/Nevada or some other random swing state
Anyone over-pronouncing Hamas as “Kkkkkhamas”
“My friend Benjamin Netanyahu…”
A properly employed Yiddishism

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Joe Mentioned Malarkey. Drink Up!

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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All but four of the people at Professor Thom’s bar in the East Village on Thursday night were watching the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

The other four were watching the Yankees lose to the Orioles in extra innings in their playoff series.

In a bar that leaned heavily Democratic, the cheers for the Yankees landed incongruously, one coming in the midst of what might have been a Ryan applause line in another bar.

It’s hard to get a good read on the response to a candidate’s performance in a boozy, partisan watch party at a pub. (I tried a similar thing in West Palm Beach last week, where I sat in on both Republican and Democratic debate watch events.)

As far as I could tell, though, the experience of the Democrats at the divey NYU-area sports bar last night was anxiety, followed by relief.

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Hail to the Veep

By Gal Beckerman

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Wiping the sweat from my forehead after a much, much more engaging debate, and just have a few thoughts to share.

1) It was not boring. Between Joe Biden’s fulminating about Paul Ryan’s “malarkey” and the appearance of actual, warm blooded conversation between two men with opposite worldviews, it was impossible to tear your eyes away from this one. This was, of course, a sharp contrast with the last debate, which seemed to disappear into the weeds way too often.

Here both candidates connected with the audience and with each other. Will it have the game changing effect of the first debate? Probably not. These are the vice-presidential candidates, after all. But for the Obama campaign, it did probably staunch the bleeding.

2) Charming attack dog. Biden did exactly what he was supposed to do. He attacked, exhausting every Irish euphemism for baloney that he had in reserve. The greatest casualty of Obama’s listless debate performance was the depletion of excitement among Democrats. Biden helped to correct that.

One answer, early on, included the words “47%” and “Mitt’s taxes” within seconds of each other, causing Democratic debate watching drinking parties to get immediately sloshed. The only question — the one Republicans surely want us to be asking — was if he was too aggressive, if there was too much eye rolling and interrupting. As a son of Israelis, I can say that this is what normal conversation looks like at my family’s dinner table. Hard to say how the rest of America might perceive it.

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Jewish Races Among Nastiest in Nation

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Howard Berman

Jewish candidates are involved in some of the meanest, dirtiest races of the 2012 election cycle.

There are 435 U.S. House races this fall. Politico picked the ten “nastiest.” Of those, three feature Jewish candidates.

Politico doesn’t divulge its criteria for picking the “nastiest” races. But even an unscientific survey by the wonks at the D.C.-based political website came up with some pretty ugly contests.

Some of the picks are obvious. The California race between Jewish Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman has been covered heavily in the Forward.

As our Rex Weiner reported last week, things are really heating up in the San Fernando Valley.

The match-up, until now tense but polite, turned into a fracas when the Berman campaign launched a volley of negative TV, internet and direct mail messages charging that Sherman repaid himself for personal loans to his campaign war chest, plus interest, for a profit totaling more than $461,000 over a 17-year period.

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Watching the Debate in a Swing State

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis
Joan Waitkevicz and her wife Shirley Herman watch the presidential debate together in West Palm Beach, Florida.

At the Republican debate watch party in West Palm Beach, Florida, Romney supporters were exulting. At the Democratic debate watch party ten minutes away, Obama supporters were getting into shouting matches with Republicans.

The Democratic event, hosted by the Obama campaign in Florida, was held at a sports bar on a main drag in downtown West Palm Beach. A couple of tables full of Romney backers had taken over a corner of the Obama group’s room, laughing at Romney’s zingers and applauding at his applause lines.

At first the thirty or so Obama volunteers and minor Democratic dignitaries didn’t notice. But the Romney tables got louder, and the Obama people started shouting back.

The scene, said Obama supporter Joan Waitkevicz, 65, was “like a sports match.”

Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County Republican Party’s debate viewing at another nearby sports bar was like a boxer’s dressing room after a knockout.

“I thought Romney cleaned his clock,” said Sandra Tenace, a part-time South Florida resident attending the Republican event.

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Some More Snap Thoughts on the Debate

By J.J. Goldberg

Was tonight’s debate a turning point in the campaign? Republicans believe it was, and that’s important. Republicans believe Romney won and they’re energized. The money that was fleeing Romney in the last several weeks is going to come back. Romney’s campaign was collapsing until tonight, and now it’s not collapsing anymore. He’s got a second wind. That’s huge.

CBS snap poll of undecided voters: 46% believe Romney won, 22% say Obama won, 32% say it was a tie. CNN snap poll of registered voters who watched the debate: 67% say Romney won, 25% say Obama won.

A crucial point to watch for tomorrow, thanks to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC: the question tomorrow will be whether Romney gets slammed for making stuff up or Obama will get slammed for letting Romney getting away with it. Some examples: Romney said Obama shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich – after all, he opposed raising them a year ago when the economy was in trouble and hey, it’s still in trouble. Actually, Obama wanted to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich only and the GOP blocked him, insisted on saving all the Bush cuts or none of them. The notion that Obama made a judgment call not to raise taxes last year is simply false, and Obama let it slide.

Romney said he doesn’t want the government deciding what healthcare he can get. Right now insurance companies decide what care you can get. Romney said it’s a bad idea to raise taxes because it will kill job growth, while lower taxes will create jobs and generate new tax revenue to close the deficit. Clinton raised taxes, got enormous job growth and closed the deficit. Reagan lowered taxes, got job growth and exploded the debt. Bush lowered taxes and got listless job growth and exploded the debt even more. Obama just didn’t parry any of Romney’s points. Romney was sharp and Obama wasn’t. He was convoluted, sleepy and unresponsive.

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First Thoughts on Tonight's Debate

By Gal Beckerman

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The first presidential debate just ended and I’ve pressed the mute button on the remote control. Without listening to the yammering of the pundits, here are some of my immediate impressions.

1) Serious Energy Deficit: I’m not talking about economics here. I mean the basic level of emotion and personality and spunk expressed between the two contenders. Mitt Romney had it and the president simply didn’t. It was like someone had replaced Obama’s coffee with decaf. If the biggest impact of these debates is the basic, visceral impression they offer of the candidates and less the words coming out of their mouths, Romney just looked more jazzed. And that counts for a lot.

2) Talking In Two Different Languages: If you were listening to what they were saying there was a repeated refrain coming from the president. He kept asking for details. Romney kept avoiding offering them, speaking instead at a higher rhetorical level. Obama would ask again, trying to punch holes by asking for more information about how exactly Romney was going to achieve these lofty objectives (like how he was going to pay for anything without raising any revenue). Depending on your perspective, you found the rhetoric uplifting or the reality checks refreshing. I have a feeling I know what might have appealed to the undecideds.

3) No Social Issues: The debate was very wonky and really dealt mostly with economic issues like taxes and the deficit. There was no talk of immigration or gun control or gay marriage, for example. If this was the only domestic-themed debate, that’s really too bad. A lot of distinction between these two could be drawn on these issues, and for those supporting the president it might have helped stop Romney from reclaiming the mantle of the center (clearly an objective of the governor’s tonight).

4) Does any of it matter?: Frank Rich had an interesting tweet at one point late in the evening. “What are going to be the replayed sound bites tomorrow? If none, it’s a non-event except for the junkies & partisans,” he wrote. Is he right? I don’t know. Maybe if I turn on the volume again I’ll have a better idea about whether or not this debate will have traction. But the level of impact of past debates did tend to hinge on whether they produced a moment, and I’m not sure that in all that wonkishness there was some crystallizing difference that was established between the two men (besides that one of them needs more sleep). Then again, there was that reference by Romney to offing Big Bird. That should at least keep the Twitterverse busy for days.

What did you think of the debate? Tell us in the comments.

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Sheldon's Latke Envy

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

What’s a few million among friends? Sheldon Adelson says he doesn’t remember the size of the first check he cut this election cycle.

“I gave 5 million or 10 million – I forget – to Newt Gingrich,” the Jewish mega-donor told Politico in a rare interview published last night.

(A reminder, Mr. Adelson: It was $5 million, though your wife gave another $5 million a few weeks later).

Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul, has made $70 million in political donations so far this cycle, according to the Politico story. That number, which includes undisclosed donations to political groups that aren’t required to reveal the names of their supporters, brings Adelson close to the $100 million he has said he will be willing to spend during the race.

Adelson also told Politco why he had been spending so much money on the race. The casino magnate said that he fears retribution from President Obama in a second term for his support of Republican candidates. Politico also reported that Adelson is driven by a particular dislike for Obama, and by a desire for an administration that aligns with his anti-union and hawkish pro-Israel views.

The interview didn’t really break much ground. But it did reveal the possible real reason for Adelson’s animosity towards the White House: Latke envy.

“[If] I’m fortunate enough to be invited to another [White House] Hanukkah party, I want two potato pancakes,” he said. “Because last time I was there, they ran out of them.”

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Mitt's Big Fat Jewish Wedding Snafu

By Nathan Guttman

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Mitt Romney

Sometimes a candidate doesn’t have to chase after the Jewish vote. It chases him. That could be Mitt Romney’s conclusion from an unusual set of events he experienced in New Jersey today.

Speeding from Newark Airport to Lake Terrace, N.J., Romney’s motorcade crossed paths with a Jewish Orthodox wedding party, posing for photos with the bride and groom.

The ride was already harrowing for all concerned, according to a pool reporters account.

“Hitting speeds of up to 90 mph at times, the motorcade made what had been scheduled as a 61-minute drive in roughly 45 minutes on a route that took us along the Jersey Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway and prompted your pooler to wonder many times if she would live to cover Romney’s remarks at the fundraiser tonight.”

Things were going to get even curioser. In the words of the pool reporter: “some unusual things happened.”

“First, the motorcade passed a man dressed in American flag shorts running down the street toward the venue here while waving an American flag.

“Whooooo!” he exclaimed, as your pooler’s van passed.

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Mitt Romney Attacks....the Kibbutz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Who Knew? Mitt Romney, who posed with a statue of Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, is no fan of the kibbutz.

Maybe Mitt Romney didn’t know what he was talking about when he praised Israeli culture.

The Republican presidential hopeful controversially explained during a trip to Israel last week that the country’s economic success was due to its culture.

Now it turns out he’s no fan of the kibbutz.

“America is not a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity, instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises,” Romney said at a Chicago fundraiser today.

In the quote, Romney contrasts the pursuit of dreams and the building of successful business with the kibbutz, the collective farming model that was central to the early economic and political life of Israel.

It’s hard to separate Israel’s economic culture from the country’s kibbutznik roots, so today’s comment seems to make the culture statement look even more like a gaffe.

That said, it’s hard to imagine uber-capitalist Romney supporter Sheldon Adelson taking offense at a slight against the socialist kibbutzim.

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'Fred Who' Takes Shot at GOP Race

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Fred Karger

Never heard of Fred Karger? He doesn’t mind. Most people haven’t — so few, in fact, that the slogan of his unlikely Republican presidential campaign, and the title of his campaign biography, is, “Fred Who?”

As a GOP presidential candidate, Karger is an anomaly. Not only does he have zero name recognition, Karger is Jewish. Plus, he says he is the first openly gay person to ever run for president as a Republican.

“The younger people are complete social moderates and resent Rick Santorum and that type of politics,” Karger said, referring to the former Pennsylvania senator who is known for his social conservatism, particularly on issues of homosexuality.

Karger, who calls himself a Rockefeller Republican, is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and wants American troops out of Afghanistan. His family has roots in Chicago, where his great grandfather founded the local Jewish federation. Karger lives in Laguna Beach, Calif. and is a member of a Reform synagogue there called Kol Ami.

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