On Tuesday, millions of voters in 21 states made their choice for president. Super Tuesday marked the end of the preliminary stage of “The Making of the President 2008” and will move us very close to the main event. From a roster of more than a dozen potential presidents, we are now down to just Senators Clinton and Obama on the Democratic side and Senator McCain and Governors Romney and Huckabee for the Republicans.
This early deciding is relatively new. In 1960, Lyndon Johnson’s campaign for president did not start until days before the July convention. Robert Kennedy launched his 1968 bid on St. Patrick’s Day.
But here we are in February 2008 and, in both parties, the winnowing down to the two finalists is well underway. Thus far, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has barely been mentioned by any of the candidates. If past history is any guide, it won’t be mentioned much and, when it is, only in front of Jewish audiences where effusive declarations of support for Israel will be offered.
We all know why. Candidates fear to speak with any candor about Israel because they suspect, and not without cause, that the only people paying attention to what they say will be zealots.
Candidates are not dumb. They have seen the polls, which show that the overwhelming majority of pro-Israel Jews support the two-state solution and the peace process. But they also know that, overwhelming as that majority may be, it is a soft majority. Pro-Israel voters who favor negotiations do not vote solely on the basis of a candidate’s position on the Middle East. They vote, like most Americans, on a host of issues that affect all Americans. Zealots don’t vote that way. They vote (and make political contributions) based on one issue. Like all single-issue blocs they have a disproportionate influence on the way a candidate addresses their sole concern.
The zealous single-issue voter does not require all that much to gain his support. All he wants is for a candidate to mouth hawkish pieties and never ever to indicate any sympathy for Palestinians.
Then there is the truly ugly part of the political game played by the ideological zealots and bigots. The smearing of candidates as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic by invoking utterly meaningless past actions (Clinton’s kissing Suha Arafat) or flat-out lies (devout Christian Obama is a secret Muslim). The Internet has revolutionized the delivering of information but, even more, the delivery of disinformation, lies, and smears.
The smear campaigns could do serious damage to long-standing strong relationships between America’s various minority groups.
The idea that these attacks are emanating from the lunatic-fringe of the Jewish community is as ironic as it is troubling. Even more troubling is that supposedly intelligent people believe racist libels simply because they show up in their in-box. (MORE)