Sunday, October 12, 2008

Four more weeks

Four more weeks
Oct. 10, 2008


Not surprisingly, on a day when the New York stock market dropped more than 500 points, the second presidential debate on Tuesday between Republican nominee Sen. John McCain and his Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama in Nashville, Tennessee focused largely on the economy.

Obama tied the financial crisis to government deregulation and the Bush administration's lack of fiscal discipline, while McCain painted his opponent as a tax-and-spend liberal. He says he would have the federal government buy up bad mortgage debts to bring relief to regular Americans; the Obama campaign counters that such a plan is basically already in place.

On Tuesday, Obama declared: "A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we've got to re-regulate. And nothing happened. And Sen. McCain during that period said that we should keep on deregulating because that's how the free enterprise system works."

But McCain says he has all along been advocating tighter controls over the sub-prime housing market and that it was Obama who thought such loans were a good idea.

The race remains close; surveys show Obama leading McCain by roughly 49 to 44 points.

The campaign is also getting personal. McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," pointing to Obama's links with 1960s-era radical William Ayers. Palin says she's "just so fearful that this is a man who does not see America as you and I see it." McCain asks: "Who is the real Barack Obama?"

Anti-Obama bloggers continue to promote the ludicrous idea that he is a secret Muslim or - in the latest fantasy - a closet communist. Andy Martin, the blogger who first promoted the secret Muslim canard, has now been revealed to have had ties to a political action committee whose stated goal was "to exterminate Jew power in America..."

For its part, the Obama campaign is trying to undermine McCain's image as a maverick Washington outsider by reminding voters of his involvement in the 1989 Keating Five corruption scandal for which a Senate panel criticized his "poor judgment." Keating was convicted of securities fraud.

NOT MUCH foreign policy ground was covered in Tuesday's debate. McCain again took Obama to task for his willingness to "negotiate with [Iran] without preconditions," telling a questioner that "we can never allow a second Holocaust to take place."

Obama responded that it was "true... that I believe that we should have direct talks - not just with our friends, but also with our enemies - to deliver a tough, direct message to Iran that, if you don't change your behavior, then there will be dire consequences." He reiterated that he would "never take military options off the table," or give the UN veto power over US policy.

THIS AMERICAN election was always bound to hinge on domestic, not foreign policy, issues. A Pew Research Center survey found that US voters are taking an unprecedented interest in news about the economy. Barring some unforeseen calamity, the likely victor on November 4 will be the candidate who instills the most confidence among ordinary voters in his ability to rescue the ailing economy.

That said, it remains hugely important to all Israelis that the next American president be personally empathetic and diplomatically supportive to our cause. The Bush administration has requested $2.55 billion in security assistance for Israel - part of a new 10-year $30 billion security package. Whatever the issue - Iran, Hamas, or Hizbullah - Jerusalem needs a friend in the White House.

Fortunately, both candidates define themselves as pro-Israel. Frankly, we hope Obama clarifies his attitude toward borders and settlements to reassure us that an Obama administration would never pressure Israel back to the 1949 Armistice Lines. We'd also value hearing a similar message from John McCain.

Of course, we can't ask more of Obama or McCain than from our own government. The world knows where the Palestinian Authority stands - intransigently in our view - on the issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem. So the most constructive step the next Israeli government can take - once it is finally in place, and preferably before the next president is inaugurated - would be to announce where Israel draws its "red lines."

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