In the shaping of his perspective as a conservative political commentator, Stanley Kurtz credits his Jewish upbringing and studies of Jewish history and the Tanakh in college. Kurtz engaged historical sources directly as he researched the controversial book he published this fall, “Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism” (Threshold Editions), which spent a week at No. 33 on The New York Times extended bestseller list.
“I’m non-practicing, but of course I’m proud of my Jewish upbringing and heritage,” wrote in an e-mail interview. “Judaism interests you in history. When I was in college, I took a number of courses on Jewish history and the Bible. I discovered there that you could write a surprisingly sophisticated paper by choosing a very small passage from the Bible, and then reading what ten Biblical commentaries had to say about it. By comparing, and contrasting, you could reach a semi-scholarly level, even as an undergraduate. My teachers loved it, and I was hooked.”
Kurtz completed a doctorate in the anthropology of religion at Harvard University, following undergraduate studies at Haverford College. Now he’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington D.C., which also is home to Catholic theologian George Weigel and other conservative writers as well as former elected officials and political appointees.
“As political correctness took over the American academy, I rebelled and became a critic of the new wave,” Kurtz told MitzVote. “I was inspired in that by Allan Bloom’s book, ‘The Closing of the American Mind.’ That led me to a career as a journalist and commentator. When I began to research my book on Obama, I used my scholarly techniques.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is wrapping up his U.S. tour, which began with Jewish leftists heckling him this week at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, and went on to a nasty exchange of statements with the Obama administration over Israel’s building plans in East Jerusalem.
But it was also Bibi’s first chance to test the new political waters in the U.S following the midterm elections, and the Israeli PM, who is the immediate suspect when it comes to meddling in internal American politics, tried to keep it safe.
After a long fall filled with mudslinging ads, record spending, masturbation double-standards, glamorous Hollywood endorsements that don’t work, digs about hair styles, kosher salami and kosher pastrami, we’ve almost made it. Stay tuned throughout the day for MitzVote’s coverage of Jewish voters at polls across the country. Here are some morning-of bits to tide you over.
The Big Question: As Politico puts it, “how big is the wave?” Polls, including one conducted by Politico/George Washington University, show 64% of likely voters in late October who believe the country is headed the wrong way, while yesterday we brought you Gallup’s GOP-favoring generic ballot results. Which is to say: we know that Republicans are poised to win, but by how much? (Politico)
By the Numbers: Senatorial polls have been looking dismal for Democrats as they’ve slid downwards. But, as Nate Silver writes, recent numbers show a slight uptick. For example: In Illinois, “a Rasmussen Reports poll now shows the Democrat, Alexi Giannoulias, with a 1-point lead; he had trailed by 4 points in their previous survey of the race.” On the other hand, Wisconsin is trending Republican, with Ron Johnson’s eight-point lead over incumbent Russ Feingold. (FiveThirtyEight on the New York Times)
These Days, Is Anything Safe?: With three weeks left to this campaign season, it’s looking like seats considered safe by Democrats are getting risky: “As Republicans made new investments in at least 10 races across the country, including two Democratic seats here in eastern Ohio, Democratic leaders took steps to pull out of some races entirely or significantly cut their financial commitment in several districts that the party won in the last two election cycles,” the Times reports. (The New York Times)
POTUS, Hammering Away: While on the campaign trail, Barack Obama chided the GOP’s private donations, suggesting that some of the cash came from abroad. “Groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from,” he said. (The New York Times)
A Story You Can Bank On: Illinois senatorial candidate Alexi Giannoulias, a former official at his family’s Chicago area bank, is “consistently vague” about just what he did there, the Chicago Tribune finds. In the words of his opponent Mark Kirk, “First he said he was the senior loan officer and ran much of the bank in order to be elected state treasurer. Then, when it was revealed that the Tony Rezko loans were made, he said, ‘Well, I left in 2005.’ Then when it was revealed that he took a $2.7 million tax deduction that required him to justify 500 hours of work (in 2006), he said that he actually was there in 2006.” (Chicago Tribune)
Extremely Extreme: Florida’s 8th congressional district is home to one of the country’s more distinctive contests, as we’ve reported here: liberal Jewish Democrat Alan Grayson vying against conservative Christian Republican Daniel Webster. To Webster’s already solid conservative Christian bona fides — he works to restrict abortion, fought for the state to force-feed Terry Schiavo and homeschooled his own children — Alternet reports that Alan Grayson’s FL Republican Opponent Tied To “Biblical Stoning” Movement, AKA Christian Reconstructionism. The district already seems to be leaning Webster’s way, but maybe now he’ll capture the elusive biblical stoner vote as well.
Boxing Back: Despite the wide interest in Carly Fiorina’s challenge to longtime California Senator Barbara Boxer, polling throughout September consistently showed Boxer ahead. According to Real Clear Politics, though, it’s more a sign that Fiorina’s numbers are falling than that the incumbent is gaining more support.
Rahm Emanuel is leaving, David Axelrod might be on his way out, Larry Summers will be gone by the fall, and Peter Orszag has already moved on.
Are there any Jews left in the White House?
The latest wave of departures of senior White House advisers seems to have taken its toll on the Jewish presence in top administration positions.
The most visible Jewish official, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, decided to part with President Obama and seek election as the mayor of his hometown of Chicago next year. David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president who’s been with Obama since their Chicago days, is reportedly also planning to leave this fall, although he will not be going far. Axelrod will focus on preparing Obama’s strategy for the 2012 presidential elections.
Florida Heat: According to Politico’s Alexander Burns, Gov. Charlie Crist, running in Florida’s senatorial contest as an independent, is about to get “the full Arlen Specter treatment” as the state’s Democratic party supports an ad from Democratic opponent Kendrick Meek that points to Crist’s Republican — no less, his “Jeb Bush Republican” — past. It includes footage of Crist praising Sen. John McCain for choosing Sarah Palin as his 2008 running mate. (Politico)
-The Jewish Wife Gambit: Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent in the three-way race for Florida’s senate seat, is gunning for the Jewish vote. In front of a crowd of 600 mostly Jewish retirees, he called his wife, Carole, a “nice Jewish girl who grew up on Long Island.” (Sun-Sentinel)
-Rahmbo’s Running … Fast: Politico reports that Rahm Emanuel is expected to leave the White House ASAP — perhaps this Friday, even — to jumpstart his stab at Chicago’s City Hall, where he would be the Windy City’s first Jewish mayor. The New York Times holds out for the possibility of a more decorous exit, saying merely that Emanuel could “make an announcement as early as Friday.” Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo finds the first possibility “unseemly and almost bizarre.” “Chief of Staff is usually considered a pinnacle job rather than a stepping stone,” he writes. “You do it until the president is done with you or you burn out, neither of which usually takes very long. And five weeks before an election? On very short notice? It just doesn’t seem right.” (Politico)
The rise to power of Barack Obama has been a vexing issue for many Republicans in the past two years. How did he ever get elected?
Well, it turns out the answer is simple: by hypnotizing the Jews.
Or at least that is what one group of conservative doctors thinks. The group, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is based in Arizona, opposes Obama’s healthcare plan and is strongly against abortions. It also published an article in 2008 wondering if Obama is “a brilliant orator, or a hypnotist?” The answer, according to the paper published on the group’s website, is that Obama has used in his speeches “covert hypnosis intended only for licensed therapists on consenting patients.” And those most affected by Obama’s covert hypnosis were Jewish voters. Or else, the paper asks, how could you explain the fact that “many Jews are supporting a candidate who is endorsed by Hamas, Farrakhan, Khalidi and Iran”?
-Less Competition in the Windy City: Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has been eyeing a run for mayor of Chicago — the first Jewish one, at that. Yesterday, former city inspector David Hoffman, also Jewish, announced he isn’t running — a decision the Sun-Times expects will help Rahm’s candidacy. (Chicago Sun-Times)
-The Not So Wild West?: The San Francisco Chronicle is unimpressed with the race between Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate — so the paper isn’t endorsing either of them. Boxer, the Democratic incumbent, the editorial says, “has failed to distinguish herself” during her 18 years in the seat; and Republican challenger Fiorina “has an agenda that would undermine the nation’s need to move forward” on issues such as climate change, health care, and immigration. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, wasn’t President Obama’s first choice for the job. The White House and Democratic leadership backed Arlen Specter for another term, in appreciation of his decision last year to cross party lines and join the Democratic side. But things didn’t work out that way. Sestak went on to win the Democratic nomination, and now he’s facing a tough race against Republican, Tea Party-endorsed Pat Toomey.
On Tuesday, President Obama demonstrated his full support for Specter’s usurper when he appeared at a Sestak fundraiser in Philadelphia that included a surprising dash of yiddishkeit.