Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why Jews Should Vote for Barack Obama

Some good arguments on why Jews should vote for Obama:

Why Jews Should Vote for Barack Obama

By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

If you care about the well-being of Jews and Israel, by now the incessant Republican attacks on Barack Obama may have persuaded you to be wary of the Democratic candidate. Parse the poison, however, and you will see that it is nouvelle racism grafted to pure unadulterated right-wing bunk.

This election’s top Swiftboating trick (the Jews for Obama Newsletter calls it “schvitz-boating”) is to make you believe Senator Obama is both a secret Muslim and in the thrall of loudmouthed Christian minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Right-wing operatives make snide references to black-Jewish conflicts of the past—Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” statement, the Crown Heights riots—in a transparent attempt to associate Obama—merely because of his race—with hostile African-Americans, and to imply that he sympathizes with the enemies of the Jewish people. Scurrilous emails link Obama to the leader of the Nation of Islam, despite the senator having expressly stated: “I decry racism and anti-Semitism and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.”

Slash-and-burn opposition forces—including, shamefully, Senator Joseph Lieberman—want you to believe Barack Obama is “anti-Israel,” when, in fact, his record of support for the Jewish state has been attested to by such “pro-Israel” lawmakers as Senators Carl Levin, Ben Cardin, Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, Barbara Boxer and Frank Lautenberg, and by no less a conservative voice than the New York Sun. The attackers also hope you’ll swallow their claim that the candidate is soft on Iran, though he has declared emphatically, “I will do everything in my power—everything—to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon.”

Having so often been the target of rumors and disinformation, Jews ought to be suspicious of crazy and loaded accusations. But some in our community—reportedly many senior citizens, and Jews for whom Israel is a political litmus test—have fallen for the smear and scare tactics.

During the summer, as both candidates migrated to the center, I sometimes found it hard to discern their differences on issues like gun control, privacy rights, church-state separation, campaign finance reform and the Middle East, though the divergences that do exist are telling, and their positions on health care, social security and Iraq offer distinct alternatives.

However, the key issue dividing the candidates that has received surprisingly little ink and not enough voter passion is their position on choice. A woman’s right to choose to bear or not have a child, a couple’s freedom to decide when to start or expand a family, and the composition of the Supreme Court for years to come—all hinge on which candidate wins. In this instance, the difference between the two is vast and demanding of serious attention by wavering Democrats, disappointed Hillary-supporters and open-minded Republicans, for the consequences of a McCain victory would be disastrous.

Issues involving the body—torture policies, discrimination based on genetics, stem cell research, end-of-life decisions and reproductive rights—strike me as Jewish issues in that they are morally based but have a profound impact on one’s physical status. Polls show that our community is overwhelmingly pro-choice—84 percent of American Jews say abortion should remain legal in most or all cases (Pew Forum Survey, June 2008)—which is not surprising since we understand that freedom begins at the borders of one’s body. History has taught us that as long as the government is able to limit our physical autonomy, we are not really free, and if the state can abridge freedom in one sphere it can do so in another. Most of us know someone who has had an abortion (or we have had one ourselves), or we know a man who is responsible for insisting a woman have one. Yet we don’t always vote as if freedom of choice can be taken away. This year, because of the tenuous calculus of the Supreme Court, it is profoundly important to support the candidate who will best protect that freedom.

When a reporter once asked John McCain what he would do if his daughter needed an abortion, the senator scowled, “I hope you’ll give me the respect that I give you and not bring my daughter into it. It’s a family decision.” Most of us agree with that, yet McCain seems to trust only his family to make that choice. By his Senate votes—to repeal Roe v. Wade, send doctors who perform abortions to prison, deprive reproductive health care providers of federal grants if they perform abortions and deny funds for education and contraception to reduce teen pregnancy—he has shown disrespect for all but the ultra-right pooh-bahs who call the shots in the Republican party. The members of the National Right to Life Committee gave him a grade of 75 percent.

Barack Obama is not perfect (who is?) but he’s definitely pro-choice. He voted to fund the teen pregnancy program that McCain opposed. Though he says he isn’t sure whether life begins at conception, Obama is not trying to stop others from using a condom, coil or pill to control their fertility. He sponsored a bill providing contraception to low-income women. He voted to restrict late-term abortions but not to ban them. NARAL Pro-Choice America has given him a 100 percent rating.

There is no way to know which candidate will be “better for Israel,” but we can be pretty sure that the next occupant of the Oval Office will be naming justices to a court that will decide the most crucial legal and social questions and whose impact will be felt for generations to come, including the fate of Roe v. Wade. If for no other reason than to preserve reproductive freedom, I will be campaigning hard this fall for Barack Obama.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is at work on her 10th book, a novel entitled The Man in the Playground.


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