Friday, June 6, 2008

Obama Mania

So Barack Obama is the “presumptive nominee for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America” aka John McCain’s other half in the royal rumble to fill W’s not so gigantic shoes. Everywhere in the Jewish community, Obama has been embraced with open arms as the nation’s savior, the man who has suffered just like us and understands our plight… the man who will talk the Iranians into submission… the man who will create a two state solution and be back on Air Force One in time for the complementary peanuts and feature film…

Not so fast. For there is another side to the Jewish community’s response to Obama, and this one paints a picture that is not so rosy. Barack Obama: the man with the Muslim sounding name… the man who is hiding his true allegiance to the Palestinians… the man who will empower the Iranians and sacrifice the one true democracy in the Middle East for an afternoon of golf with his Muslim friends…

It is clear that the Jewish community is quite conflicted over what to think of the latest craze to sweep the nation. Different than many disagreements within the faith, however, the answer here can not be live and let live. When electing the leader of the free world, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. So let’s break it down…

Before we do though, a word about myself, so that everything is on the table and you know just where I am coming from. I am probably like a lot of you who are reading this: A young Jewish professional trying to make his way in the not so vast, sprawling metropolis that is St. Louis. I have recently returned to St. Louis after a brief stint in the Northeast working on a campaign for one of Obama’s early rivals for the Democratic nomination. I am writing to share my thoughts on a variety of issues, sure, but most of all I want to see St. Louis live up to its potential, and I want to see us take it there, be that through intelligent conversation, hitting up the various cultural and entertainment venues in the city, or general debauchery. Yes, that’s right, there is room for all three.

But back to the issue at hand: Just what is the Jewish community to make of Barack Obama?

First, one ground rule, from my political experience. Do not judge someone simply on what YOU think their beliefs are. When it comes to a choice as important as we have in this election, let the candidates and those who are working for them do their jobs. They are there to inform you of what they think, so listen. Why that matters here is that too many people in the Jewish community seem to have written Obama off without a second glance. “His name’s Barack? He was born a Muslim? He wants to negotiate with our enemies in the Middle East? Screw him, I’m voting for McCain, at least he’ll nuke Tehran before giving up Israel”

This is the mindset taken on by a segment of the Jewish population towards Obama, and it is one that I admittedly did try on for size. If something is as popular in the mainstream as Obama, there has to be something for Jews to fear, right?

At the same time, however, there is the first group I mentioned, the group who sees him as a savior, not just for Israel, but the world. Now this is probably going a little too far. Remember the men who have come before who have not been able to make a dent in the peace process: John F. Kennedy,George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton all nice, personable people by many accounts, who got nowhere near the goal of peace.

Before fleshing out my opinion though, a word on these two camps. In one corner, you have the serial deniers, those who insist Obama is bad for Israel, despite the evidence to the contrary. More or less, this will be your older generations, those who have become more cynical and hardened with time. In the other corner, you have your optimists, the younger generations, the same ones you could hear chanting even a year ago from Iowa to New Hampshire, “Obama, 08, be a part of something great!” These young Jews are flocking to Obama like the rest of their generation. So are the young Jews overlooking Obama’s stance on Israel because they are so caught up in his aura, or are the older Jews ignoring the facts right in front of them?

The answer lies somewhere in the middle, and I will let Obama begin to tell the story himself. In a speech to the Jewish community in Florida, he reminded us all of the origins of his name Barack. It comes from the Hebrew, Baruch, meaning Blessed. Good start. Plus, Obama has committed time and again throughout his campaign to defend Israel to the best of his ability. Now, some critics suggest this language means he would not go far enough with the use of force. However, we have seen that movie before. Brute force, while allowing Israel to survive, has not gotten us any closer to the ultimate goal of peace. Sure, Obama must convince us all that he will be willing to use the force necessary to defend Israel. But he has already told us that he not only appreciates Israel’s strategic significance, but its spiritual and historical significance as well. If you listen, you will hear that this is not a man looking to make any changes in the status quo, at least on this issue.

The place he is different, and this doesn’t just apply to this issue, is at the margin. The man has done a good job, and forced the nation to associate his name with HOPE. And that’s what an Obama presidency will be all about. The hope that things can be different. Will he strike peace in the Middle East? I don’t know, and frankly I myself am a little skeptical about the Obama hope mantra. But one things is for certain: the man is willing to try.

So all you conspiracy theorists, come out of the basement and put away your canned goods. President Obama will not spell the end of the Jewish state as we know it. Or let me put that another way: If we are lucky, if what we hope he is he really is, then maybe, just maybe, he might. The end of the horror and terror that we know, and the beginning of an era of peace and hope.

So give him a chance, Jews of America and the world. When it comes right down to it, both McCain and Obama will defend and protect Israel. But there is only one who will do so while also looking towards peace. And besides, McCain has another 100 years in Iraq to deal with anyway, isn’t that right, Mr. Very Very Conservative Hiding in a Moderate’s Clothing? But that’s another story for another day.

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