The Tea Party Test:
Talk about negative, let's take a look at the California senate race.
What are Jews to make of the Tea Party in this maddening election cycle? The raw anger directed at Democratic incumbency is understandable but highly disconcerting, since that anger promises to be far more destructive than constructive. The longing for a return to a constitutional nirvana is also understandable, but too often displays an appalling ignorance of what actually happened in American history.
And every day, it seems, there is fresh evidence of a candidate saying things that would have gotten him or her thrown out of high school civics.
“That’s in the First Amendment?” GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell asked, twice, in a debate with her opponent in Delaware, appearing to either disagree with the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion, or to be unaware of it. That was October 19. The week before, O’Donnell could not name a single Supreme Court case with which she disagreed.
It may be too easy to pick on a relative neophyte like O’Donnell, considered among the weakest of the Tea Party insurgents. We’re in a deeply anti-intellectual moment, when candidates for high office feel no shame about what they don’t know. Sarah Palin couldn’t answer the Supreme Court question, either.
Yet it’s a mistake for liberals to arrogantly dismiss this powerful insurgency, and not just because it may earn the winner’s crown on November 2. The Tea Party-affiliated GOP candidate for New York governor, Carl Paladino, is also another clearly unqualified candidate in background and temperament, but his ascension is a reaction to the inexcusable incompetence of the powers that be in Albany. Reason lies behind this madness.
Progressives can’t ignore the legitimate causes of this anger, but neither can they fail to speak out against its excesses and dangers. Concern about the ballooning federal deficit, disagreement on tax policy — all fair game in a robust discussion about the limits and effectiveness of federal power.
Russ Feingold is in the race for his life.
But for California’s Jews, perhaps the oddest part of the race has been the waves of ads directed at them that allege Boxer is weak on Israel. “Barbara Boxer remained silent as the Obama administration pressured Israel and supported Israel’s enemies,” say the ads, printed in local Jewish papers by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
So far, there is scant evidence that the ads are influencing their intended audience. “It’s like attacking Henry Waxman on that issue,” said Raphael Sonenshein, chairman of the political science department at California State University, Fullerton. His reference was to the electorally unbeatable liberal House committee chairman from Los Angeles strongly favored by Jews. Though not a leader on Israel legislation, Waxman votes regularly with the pro-Israel congressional consensus. “Nobody really questions her [Boxer] as a supporter of Israel,” Sonenshein said.
Sonenshein termed the RJC campaign “puzzling.” But it’s possible the group had other goals in mind. “Because we are highlighting these issues, membership in the Republican Jewish Coalition is growing,” the ad notes in small print near the bottom, urging those reading it to join and contribute to the organization.
In California, a lot more hangs in the balance of this race than the fortunes of the RJC. Seeking a fourth senatorial term after 28 years in Congress, Boxer, at 69, holds a key Democratic seat. Nineteen Senate seats are in play. Seven of those seats are tipped toward the red, 10 are tossups and two — including Boxer’s — are polling bluish. But Boxer faces a backlash against Washington, against Obama and the sluggish economy he can’t seem to kick-start, and the general anger that is many a testy voter’s cup of tea these days. Not to mention California’s 12.4% unemployment rate and devastated state coffers. It is only recently that she has managed to pull ahead in the polls.
That wave of dissatisfaction still could sweep Fiorina, the 56-year-old former chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, to Capitol Hill on a rising tide of conservative Republicans, many of them political newcomers like herself. She’s got Sarah Palin’s endorsement. But in an environment in which the economy and fear of unemployment trump all, she’s got other problems.
One is how to explain the more than 30,000 layoffs that took place at HP under Fiorina’s command, followed by her own golden parachute of more than $40 million in severance pay and stock buybacks when she was famously fired by HP’s board in 2005.
For the past 18 years, Wisconsin, where Jews constitute 0.5% of the population, has sent two Jews to fill its Senate seats. But as Election Day nears, one of those two is now fighting for his political life.
Over the course of three terms, Democrat Russ Feingold has earned a reputation as one of the Senate’s most independent members — a kind of Democratic counterpart to Arizona Republican John McCain, with whom he has partnered at times. He’s known as a liberal who refuses to toe his party’s line. Now, he is facing an uphill battle against Republican challenger Ron Johnson.
Despite polls showing him consistently behind, Feingold remains convinced that he will win. But if he does not, it will not just mark the end of Feingold’s political career. It will mark the disappearance in Congress of a recognizable political type: the independent Jewish liberal. It’s a profile that Feingold shared with Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash in 2002.[...]
Feingold’s selling point to Wisconsin voters is his independence. Even after 18 years in Washington, Feingold is difficult to pigeonhole. On the one hand, he has proved his progressive credentials not only by supporting health care reform, but also by being the sole vote in the Senate against the post-9/11 Patriot Act and by leading the battle against capital punishment. On the other hand, he voted against President Obama’s Wall Street reform bill, claiming that it was not sufficiently sweeping, and in 1999 he was the only Democrat to oppose dropping the impeachment process against President Clinton. Feingold is also a strong supporter of gun rights, a stance that has put him at odds with most of his liberal colleagues.
To most, the Wisconsin senator is known for his landmark legislation, which bears his own name and that of Republican John McCain. The McCain-Feingold bill sought to regulate campaign finance, an act described as declaring war against Washington lobbyists.
“I am the most independent member of the Senate, based on every analysis,” Feingold said in an October 18 interview with the Forward. “I simply call it as I see it, which is what Wisconsin people certainly in the past have liked and I think they still do now.”