Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic Platform

State Department Doesn’t Care About a Stinkin’ Voice Vote

At Thursday’s State Department press conference — the day after President Obama directed the Democratic Party to re-instate in its platform the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — a reporter asked acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel. Mr. Ventrell responded as follows:

Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.

That response produced several more tries by reporters (“I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?” “That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?” “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”) — each of which produced the same non-response from Ventrell. Another reporter tried a fifth time, and this time the colloquy was more pointed:

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At Thursday’s State Department press conference — the day after President Obama directed the Democratic Party to re-instate in its platform the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” — a reporter asked acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell which city the U.S. recognizes as the capital of Israel. Mr. Ventrell responded as follows:

Well, as you know, longstanding Administration policy, both in this Administration and in previous administrations across both parties, is that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s longstanding Administration policy and continues to be so.

That response produced several more tries by reporters (“I mean, no city is recognized as a capital by the U.S. Government?” “That means Jerusalem is not a part of Israel?” “Are there any other countries in the world where the U.S. doesn’t know what the capital is or won’t say what the capital of a country is?”) — each of which produced the same non-response from Ventrell. Another reporter tried a fifth time, and this time the colloquy was more pointed:

QUESTION: What does the U.S. think the capital of Israel is? What do you –

MR. VENTRELL: As I’ve just said, we believe that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status –

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that question. I’m asking you what you think the capital is.

MR. VENTRELL: And my response is that Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations.

QUESTION: She didn’t ask about Jerusalem, though.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is something we’ve been through at this podium. Toria has been through it before. We’ve repeated it many times. You know that the position is. It hasn’t changed for decades.

QUESTION: Wait, I know that. And I don’t want to play the verbal game, I’m just very curious if you actually have a position about a capital of that country. And if you don’t, if – I just would like to hear you say you don’t.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, right now, Nicole –

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: — the situation is that we have an Embassy in Tel Aviv that represents our interests with the Government of Israel but that the issue of Jerusalem is one that has to be resolved between the two parties. That’s all I can say on this. [Emphasis added].

As the above exchange demonstrates, President Obama’s statement that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” was meant only for purposes of his platform and not for purposes of his policy. It has no more meaning for him in 2012 than it did in 2008, when he delivered the line to an AIPAC conference, complete with his trademark “Let me be clear” preface — and then proceeded to disregard it as soon as he left the building.

If President Obama ever holds another formal press conference, perhaps a reporter will ask how he was able to get the line into the platform but cannot get the State Department (or his own press secretary) to endorse even the first part of the sentence.

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Shifting Blame for the Israel Debacle

Via the Washington Examiner, Obama advisor David Axelrod appeared on CBS today and blamed “others” for removing pro-Israel language from the Democratic platform while Obama was distracted with other obligations:

David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett played cleanup this morning on the Democratic platform mess, blaming ‘others’ for allowing ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God’ to drop out of the platform language.

“Honestly Charlie, he was counting on others, he had some other duties and responsibilities so when he learned that it had been taken out of the platform, he had it put back in,” Axelrod said, explaining that the President learned about the missing language yesterday.

Who are the “others” Axelrod is referring to? We actually don’t have to wonder, since it’s listed on the DNC website.

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Via the Washington Examiner, Obama advisor David Axelrod appeared on CBS today and blamed “others” for removing pro-Israel language from the Democratic platform while Obama was distracted with other obligations:

David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett played cleanup this morning on the Democratic platform mess, blaming ‘others’ for allowing ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘God’ to drop out of the platform language.

“Honestly Charlie, he was counting on others, he had some other duties and responsibilities so when he learned that it had been taken out of the platform, he had it put back in,” Axelrod said, explaining that the President learned about the missing language yesterday.

Who are the “others” Axelrod is referring to? We actually don’t have to wonder, since it’s listed on the DNC website.

The platform drafting committee was organized jointly by the Obama campaign and the DNC, and included the following members:

The Platform Drafting Committee will be chaired by former Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio. Named to serve as members on the committee are former U.S. Representative Tony Coelho, Tino Cuellar, U.S. Representative Barney Frank, Donna Harris-Aikens, Colin Kahl, Nancy Keenan, Heather Kendall Miller, Thea Lee, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, Susan Ness, Mayor Michael Nutter, Carlos Odio, former U.S. Representative Robert Wexler and Christen Young. Serving as ex-officio members are Governor Deval Patrick, DNC Secretary Alice Germond, and Tom Wheeler.

Not only was this group responsible for drafting the initial platform, but also all publicly proposed changes to the original draft had to be approved by a majority of the board members. If Axelrod wants us to believe Obama and/or his staff didn’t see the platform until yesterday (which is absurd), his only option is to shift the blame to the DNC.

Which raises additional problems for the Democrats. Remember, the DNC attacked the Romney campaign for segments of the GOP platform that Romney has publicly disagreed with. According to Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, “he had an opportunity during the drafting of that platform language to make sure that his own view, if that really is his view, is in that party’s platform language.”

“There is no way that a presidential candidate, a party’s nominee, can separate themselves from that party’s platform,” she told Anderson Cooper in August.

It’s difficult to see how DWS could stand by that comment at this point.

The fiasco has had an unintended benefit for the Romney campaign, beyond just highlighting Obama’s poor record on Israel and distracting from the convention. It’s also destroyed the biggest link Democrats had between Romney and “extremist” positions on abortion. Democrats had planned to contrast Romney and Obama on women’s issues, and they were going to do that (in part) by continuing to link Romney to segments of his party’s platform that he doesn’t support. After elevating the importance of the RNC platform, Democrats really have no excuse for dropping the ball on their own.

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What Are They Going to Do About Debbie?

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not having a good convention. The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein busted her yesterday. Klein reported that DWS falsely claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had told her that what Republicans were doing “was dangerous for Israel.” Oren flatly denied that he said it. DWS then went on Fox to claim that Klein was misquoting her and that she never quoted Oren in that manner. Of course she had and Klein had the audio to prove it.

That earned her a “pants on fire” truth rating from PoliticFact but unfortunately when she next appeared on national television she wasn’t asked about it. Yet CNN’s convention floor interview with DWS was not without some interest. Wasserman Schultz was asked about the embarrassing moment earlier that night when a majority of Democratic delegates seemed to vote no on changing their platform to include God and reaffirm support for Israel on Jerusalem. With a straight face Wasserman Schultz not only falsely claimed there had been a two-thirds majority for the change, she insisted that Jerusalem had actually never been taken out of the original draft! While politicians like DWS are used to lying with impunity and not being called on it, when CNN cut back to the commentators in the booth, her statements were met with incredulity and laughter.

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Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not having a good convention. The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein busted her yesterday. Klein reported that DWS falsely claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had told her that what Republicans were doing “was dangerous for Israel.” Oren flatly denied that he said it. DWS then went on Fox to claim that Klein was misquoting her and that she never quoted Oren in that manner. Of course she had and Klein had the audio to prove it.

That earned her a “pants on fire” truth rating from PoliticFact but unfortunately when she next appeared on national television she wasn’t asked about it. Yet CNN’s convention floor interview with DWS was not without some interest. Wasserman Schultz was asked about the embarrassing moment earlier that night when a majority of Democratic delegates seemed to vote no on changing their platform to include God and reaffirm support for Israel on Jerusalem. With a straight face Wasserman Schultz not only falsely claimed there had been a two-thirds majority for the change, she insisted that Jerusalem had actually never been taken out of the original draft! While politicians like DWS are used to lying with impunity and not being called on it, when CNN cut back to the commentators in the booth, her statements were met with incredulity and laughter.

Anderson Cooper quickly said she was clearly operating in “an alternate universe.” The rest of the crew laughed along and noted the brazen matter in which she misrepresented the issue and the truth.

As for her lie about Oren, Fox News, the network where she had falsely accused Phil Klein of distorting her words, did revisit the issue and played the audio of her quote in which she lied about the Israeli ambassador’s opinion of the GOP. They were not able to snag an interview with her but noted her spokesman was still trying to claim that she had been taken out of context even after the audiotape proved the contrary.

All of which leads us to ask what exactly are the Democrats to do about DWS? As the rumors out of Washington indicate, there’s little doubt President Obama’s inner circle is unhappy about her performance at the DNC. Some of their criticism of her whiny partisanship is unfair. As party chair, she’s supposed to be a whiny partisan. But getting caught in barefaced lies is something else.

We expect politicians to spin reality to conform to their political views. Indeed most of what we have heard from the two conventions is nothing but spin. It may be hard for Congress, the parties and the political system to sink any lower in the eyes of the public, but if it is at all possible, the spectacle of DWS lying to the cameras, and then being laughed at by a group of commentators on a network friendly to the Democrats, must do it.

Wasserman Shultz has a safe Democratic Congressional seat and is in no danger of losing it. But her record of public deceit is catching up with her. The day is coming when she will no longer be able to continue to traipse about the country pretending to represent her party and American Jews without being called out for these lies.

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Re: Democratic Delegates Boo “Jerusalem”

The Democratic platform once again acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the reinstitution of the language in question (and the reinstituted reference to God) was more alarming than the initial change. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for Yeas and Nays on the decision he found a roughly even split among delegates. After repeating the process two more times, a befuddled Villaraigosa was visited on stage by a party official who seemingly advised him to declare the needed two-thirds in favor of the change regardless of what the delegates actually conveyed. This he promptly did, eliciting a wave of boos.

Let the paranoia begin. For the professional alarmists who see an all-powerful Israel lobby lurking behind every bush, rock, and cloud, today’s debacle is a goldmine. What could be a greater demonstration of the Israel Lobby’s dangerous subversion of American democracy than the sham vote at the Democratic National Convention that saw pro-Israel language shoved into the party platform over the heads of party delegates?

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The Democratic platform once again acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the reinstitution of the language in question (and the reinstituted reference to God) was more alarming than the initial change. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for Yeas and Nays on the decision he found a roughly even split among delegates. After repeating the process two more times, a befuddled Villaraigosa was visited on stage by a party official who seemingly advised him to declare the needed two-thirds in favor of the change regardless of what the delegates actually conveyed. This he promptly did, eliciting a wave of boos.

Let the paranoia begin. For the professional alarmists who see an all-powerful Israel lobby lurking behind every bush, rock, and cloud, today’s debacle is a goldmine. What could be a greater demonstration of the Israel Lobby’s dangerous subversion of American democracy than the sham vote at the Democratic National Convention that saw pro-Israel language shoved into the party platform over the heads of party delegates?

The reality of the situation, however, is both more interesting and more frightening than intrepid Zionist-spotters would have you believe. Today, America got an unvarnished look at the Democratic Party’s internal conflict on Israel. Half of the Party represents the pro-Israel consensus in America. The other half? Not so much. For all the talk about the unrecognizably extreme new Republican Party, it’s the Democrats whose fringe has quietly made deep inroads into the center—especially when it concerns Israel—and fundamentally altered the nature of the Party.

When Villaraigosa heard the split vote he looked like a performer suddenly forced to work off-script—because that’s exactly what he was. The Democratic script is composed of declarations about America’s special relationship with Israel, the continued U.S. commitment to Israeli security, and the unbreakable bonds that unite Israelis and Americans against common foes. Democratic politicians can rattle off those proclamations in their sleep. What the Israel-Lobby paranoids ignore is that it’s all meant to satisfy the majority American opinion of support for Israel, not appease some shifty cabal of wealthy bigots.

Today’s fiasco might do tremendous damage to Jewish support for Democrats but it will certainly open a new chapter in anti-Israel paranoia. The Democrats, including Barack Obama, will take hits coming and going: from Israel supporters whose eyes have been opened to the nature of the Democratic Party and from Israel bashers who see the Zionist hand behind the convention chaos. Such is the price paid for a party divided.

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Dems Turn to Explain a Troubling Platform

Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

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Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

Democrats spent the day backpedaling and, taking a page from the book of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fibbing furiously about getting AIPAC to sanction the platform. Nobody believed these assertions, leaving pro-Israel Democrats like Alan Dershowitz saying the decision was “deeply troubling” since “I don’t think it is a good thing that the Republican platform seems to be more pro-Israel than the Democratic platform.”

The divide between the two parties on social issues is well established and it is hardly surprising that Republicans would mollify conservatives in their document while Democrats turned their convention’s first night into a celebration of abortion as well as other liberal positions on social issues.

Dershowitz’s conscience may be eased by the reported decision of the party to reinstate the more pro-Israel text that had been in the 2008 platform. But the willingness of the Democrats to deliver a symbolic slight to the pro-Israel community at the very moment when they are trying so hard to stop Jewish voters from deserting President Obama was still telling. If the dropping of language supporting Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital and the designation of the country as America’s most important ally in the region was done at the behest of the White House that gives cold comfort to those who worry about what a second Obama administration will mean for Israel. More important, at this point such a move is a blow to the credibility of the election-year Jewish charm offensive the administration has been pursuing.

It is true that no Republican president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital any more than Obama has done. But the current administration has also done more to undermine Israel’s claim to the city than any predecessor. It has made an issue about the right of Jews to live in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods and considered housing starts there as an insult to Vice President Biden. Under Obama, Jerusalem has been treated as being no different from the most remote West Bank hilltop settlement. That gives extra importance to the platform language of the president’s party.

Even if we put this down as mere symbolism or believe the Democrats backtracking will silence their critics, it will provide some serious food for thought for undecided voters as we head down the homestretch of the presidential campaign. While the stands of the parties on social issues was never in doubt, the Democrats have just given wavering pro-Israel Jews one more reason to think about not voting for President Obama.

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