Friday, September 05, 2008

The race begins

John McCain accepted the presidential nomination of the Republican Party last night in St. Paul, Minnesota. But it was Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who came out of nowhere to become his vice presidential running mate, whose galvanizing speech was received on Wednesday with the kind of euphoria once reserved for Ronald Reagan.

Meticulously crafted, Palin's oration enchanted the delegates and reinvigorated the campaign. McCain might not be able to outtalk Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, but he now has someone on his team who has that potential.

Without overtly running against the incumbent of his own party, McCain wants voters to know he's no George W. Bush; that he'll rebrand the GOP and bring change - the catchphrase of the 2008 campaign - to Washington.

Party conventions were created to broaden political participation, even though traditionally the nominees were chosen by bosses in smoke-filled rooms. A series of reforms democratized the way in which delegates, committed to particular candidates, were selected. These days the nominee is known even before the convention. Still, to unite the party faithful and promote their candidate before the rest of America, the spectacle remains essential.

With both conventions over, there are now just eight weeks before Election Day. Strikingly, only 44 percent of Americans say they have been following news about the campaign - in what is shaping up to be a close race.

IT WOULD be sensible for Israelis to bear in mind that foreign policy does not drive American electoral politics. The big issue is the economy and jobs, with the war in Iraq a distant second. On that, Americans are evenly divided over who is "winning."

It is a salutary fact that the US-Israel relationship is rock-hard and bipartisan; that both Barack Obama and John McCain describe themselves as friends of Israel. Both party platforms are committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge; both take cognizance of the danger a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, and both favor stronger diplomatic and financial sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Democrats and Republicans also agree that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel.

But where the rubber hits the road is how these generalities are to be transformed operationally. It is worth reiterating that every Israeli government and every US administration have had disagreements. The interests of the Jewish state and those of the United States are not always in harmony.

Still, by urging Barack Obama and John McCain to move from sweeping statements to specifics, the pro-Israel community needs to assess which of the candidates is the better deal.

Iran: Which man best understands that this is not Israel's problem alone; that the mullahs threaten regional stability and even have imperial ambitions beyond the Mideast? Which one can best restore America's standing in the world and spearhead an accelerated drive to get Europe behind biting sanctions against Teheran? And which - if push came to shove - would be more likely to lead the free world against Iran, rather than wait for Israel to do the dirty work?

Peace: Which man best understands that Israel does not need to be "catalyzed" into peace-making, that it is Palestinian intransigence that has left the negotiations stalemated? Which one is likely to stand by Israel as it resists pressure to withdraw to the 1949 Armistice Lines? Support "1967-plus" - meaning the inclusion of strategic settlement blocs in any final peace deal? Call on Palestinian leaders to abandon demands for millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to "return" Israel proper? Which one will tell Syria to negotiate directly with Israel, without preconditions?

Islamism: Which man would defuse, where possible - but face down, where necessary - the Islamist threat to Western civilization? Which one best comprehends that Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaida are embarked on a winner-take-all jihad against freedom and tolerance - and that they must be routed?

For America, foremost, but also for all of us whose reality America so significantly influences, it would be well if, on November 3, Barack Obama and John McCain echoed the sentiments of Adlai Stevenson on the eve of Election Day, 1952: "Looking back, I am content. Win or lose, I have told you the truth as I see it. I have said what I meant, and meant what I said."

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