Without question the 2012 presidential election will be a referendum on the progress and efficacy of President Obama’s policies, versus his challenger’s promises and rhetoric. As well it should be. The election will, to a great extent, turn on how voters answer several critical questions, chief among them being:
- Which candidate – and party – seems to have the best handle on how to create jobs in the short-run while retooling the American economy for the future?
- Which candidate -- and party – appears to best understand and relate to the needs and aspirations of America’s vast middle class?
- Which candidate – and party – will be best able to keep America safe from external threats, support our allies and keep our enemies in check?
The questions are posed in a conditional sense, for one simply never knows which campaign promises will become policy. In the world of bare-knuckled political partisanship, there are far too many variables at play; translating rhetoric into reality is a Herculean task. For the challenger in a presidential race, there is a canvas of words; for the incumbent, there is a portrait of action. While campaigning is, generally speaking, akin to playing a game of "Texas Hold-Um," governing is far more intricate -- like a game of chess. As the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once sagely noted, “We campaign in poetry but govern in prose.” Or to put it a bit more prosaically, “actions speak louder than words.”
President Obama’s well-received speech before the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference a week ago Sunday was a unique convergence of poetry and prose – of words describing actions. In his soaring 33-minute address, he noted that “. . . over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But,” he continued, “As you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds.”
Indeed, actions do speak louder than words. The close relationship between the Obama Administration and Israel is far more than a canvas of words; it is a portrait of action. Since entering office in January 2009, President Obama has increased security funding for Israel three times; it is now at its highest level in history. He has provided critical funds for the “Iron Dome” missile defense system which, he told Policy Conference attendees, “has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools . . .” The president further detailed how “When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.”
The president reminded the gathering how in September 2011, he “. . . stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. No American President,” he noted “has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one -- not before the General Assembly.” The president drew laughter when he noted, “And I must say, there was not a lot of applause.”
And yet, despite a welter of actions that mark this president and his administration as true and unhesitating friends of Israel – of “having Israel’s back” -- there are many who continue accusing him of having “Thrown Israel under the bus,” and wondering aloud “If he’s such a great friend of Israel, why hasn’t he been there yet?” (It should be noted that President George W. Bush, did not make his first visit to Israel until January 9. 2008 – near the end of his second term, and the 39th of his 46 presidential trips abroad. Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush never visited the Jewish State. President Bill Clinton, who visited Israel on four separate occasions, paid his first official visit on October 26, 1994, 21 months after taking office.)
There are so many statements and claims made by the president’s opponents which fly in the face of reality. And while it may be true that “all’s fair in love and war,” America’s relationship with Israel, the president noted in his AIPAC address, “is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.”
The one area where President Obama and his surrogates may well be faulted is in not detailing both clearly and precisely just how many positive actions they have undertaken on behalf of our friend and ally. “If you want to know where my heart lies,” the president told AIPAC, “look no further than what I have done – to stand up for Israel.”
The president’s opponents may have claim to a canvas of words, but he has a portrait – a portrait of tangible deeds.
©2012 Kurt F. Stone