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Do Jews ‘Hate’ Sarah Palin? Debate Roils Jewish Conservatives

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Forget 2012, Sarah Palin must think she’s headed to the White House even sooner.

How better to explain the former Alaska governor and GOP vice-presidential candidate’s eyebrow-raising comments a few weeks back, when she defended Israeli settlements on the basis that “more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead”?

After all, it’s hard to think of anything else more likely to convince American Jews to pack their bags for Israel than Palin taking up residence in the White House.

And that’s just based on what Jewish conservatives are saying about Palin, who remains the focus of intense public interest as her autobiography tops the bestseller lists and she begins a new career as a FOX News commentator.

Jennifer Rubin, who generally blogs and writes for Commentary about the perceived dangers of the Obama administration, has a story in this month’s issue headlined “Why Jews Hate Sarah Palin.”

The piece drew a swift rejoinder from former Bush administration aide David Frum, who rejected Rubin’s sympathetic take on the GOP presidential hopeful and argued that Jews would hardly be alone in not liking Palin.

The debate echoes wider fights among Republicans and conservatives, not only about Palin but also the future of the GOP.

“If one were to invent a political leader designed to drive liberal, largely secular, urban, highly educated Jews to distraction, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more effective figure than Palin,” Rubin wrote in her Commentary article.

Jews more than any other group, she asserted, fall in the camp of liberals and conservatives who see Palin as “uncouth, unschooled, a hick, anti-science and anti-intellectual, an upstart, and a religious fanatic.”

Rubin also theorized that Palin’s personal life made her “alien to American Jews,” whether it’s her interest in hunting and guns or her decision to have five children and go through with her final pregnancy after learning that she was having a baby with Down syndrome.

In addition, Rubin argued, Palin’s being viewed as “more sexy and athletic” didn’t sit well with Jewish women, who have grown accustomed to admiring female politicians who are “modest to the point of frumpiness in appearance and professional style.”

Frum, who served as a White House speechwriter and had been widely credited for helping to coin the term “axis of evil,” responded with a blog post challenging Rubin on several fronts, starting with the premise that Jews stand out in their dislike for Palin.

“The sole evidence she cites on behalf of her assertion [that Jews hate Palin] is a September 2008 poll in which Jews disapproved of Palin by a 54-37 margin. That does not look like foaming hatred to me, and anyway those numbers are now 15 months out of date,” Frum wrote in a blog post on his website, Frum Forum.

“Besides: Lots of people dislike Sarah Palin. Palin excites intense support among a core group of conservative Republicans. Beyond that base, she is one of the most unpopular figures in modern American life. She polls poorly among the young, among women, among independents. A plurality even of Republican women regard her as unqualified for the presidency.”

Frum also noted that Jews have been fond of politicians with larger families than Palin’s (Bobby Kennedy) and ones from humbler beginnings (Bill Clinton). He did, however, say that a major problem for Palin among Jews is “that they – we – doubt her intellectual capacity for the job.”

But Palin’s biggest problem in winning Jewish support, Frum speculated, is that she divides “her fellow-Americans into first class and second class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans.”

“To do her justice, she has never said anything to suggest that Jews as Jews fall into the second, less-real, class,” Frum added. “But Jews do tend to have an intuition that when this sort of line-drawing is done, we are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side.”

Palin’s defenders, including Rubin, say that the Alaskan politician has only defended herself against unfair attacks from liberal and coastal elites.

Still, Rubin said in the conclusion of her article, Palin needs to take several steps if she hoped to expand her base and make inroads into the Jewish community.

Palin’s staunch support for Israel is a major plus but, Rubin wrote, she “must accept the obligation to speak with authority and command about pressing public-policy issues. She will have to make voters comfortable with the idea that she is neither ignorant nor lacking in intellectual agility.”

Rubin concluded that Palin must not only castigate her elitist critics, but “must also demonstrate that she can go toe-to-toe with them in articulating positions on the issues that all candidates are expected to address.” (JTA)

Polls: Obama Making Big Gains Among Jewish Voters

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama is making significant gains among Jewish voters, according to two polls released last week.


  The polls suggest that after months of hovering around 60 percent, Obama appears to be within striking distance of the 75-80 percent of the Jewish vote won by the three previous Democratic nominees for president.


  A Gallup tracking poll of 564 Jewish registered voters, taken over the first three weeks of October, found Obama leading Republican John McCain by a 74-22 percent margin. That was a 13-point increase in support for the Democratic nominee since Gallup’s July poll, which had Obama leading 61-34 percent.


  Gallup also released Jewish data from tracking polls in the two previous months showing a steady rise for Obama. The Illinois senator garnered 66 percent in August and 69 percent in September, with McCain at 25 percent for both months. The margin of error for the October survey is plus or minus 5 percent.


  Meanwhile, a Qunnipiac University poll taken Oct. 16-21 in Florida found Obama winning 77 percent of Jewish voters in that state to just 20 percent for McCain.


  While the Jewish statistic in the latter poll was based on a relatively small sample size of 87, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 10.5 percent, the finding is notable because some leading Jewish Democrats in the state had publicly worried this summer about resistance to Obama among South Florida Jews.


  Some Democratic operatives say concerns over Obama’s lack of experience seem to have been overtaken in some Jewish voters’ minds by worries over the inexperience of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, as well as the Alaska governor’s conservative political views on hot-button social issues such as abortion.


  An American Jewish Committee survey in early September found that just 34 percent of the Jewish community approved of McCain’s pick for running mate, with 57 percent disapproving.


  Jewish feelings appear to match those in the overall electorate toward Palin. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found 55 percent of voters believe Palin is not qualified to serve as president. Her lack of qualifications was seen in the poll as the biggest concern about a McCain presidency.


  Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, rejected the idea that Palin – who has voiced staunch support for Israel and a hard line on Iran – was a factor in the recent swing toward Obama among Jewish voters. “I don’t believe this has anything to do with Sarah Palin whatsoever,” he said. “Nobody I know is voting for vice president.”


  Brooks attributed McCain’s decline in the Jewish community to the “volatility” in the electorate during the recent economic crisis. He argued that as Obama gained ground in the country as a whole in recent weeks, he naturally also gained ground among Jews. Saying he expected the race to tighten nationally, Brooks predicted that McCain’s numbers in the Jewish community would bounce back as well.


  The Palin pick may have nullified McCain’s greatest strength in the Jewish community, Democratic observers said.


  Some suggested that earlier in the campaign, McCain was more appealing to Jews than other Republican presidential candidates because of his strained relations with the religious right over the years and his moderate record on a variety of issues, from embryonic stem-cell research to immigration.


  Palin, conversely, is more line with the thinking of religious conservatives and has been embraced by that group.       

(JTA)

Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar… Comedy and Presidential Politics

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

   For days after the Al Smith Memorial Dinner, held in mid-October at the Waldorf Astoria, the media buzzed with clips of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama delivering hilarious routines that put many professional comedians to shame.


  Obama dead panned: “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father Jor-El to save the planet Earth.”


  McCain’s monologue even had Hillary Clinton throwing back her head with laughter: “When Larry King asked President Clinton a couple weeks ago what was the delay and why wasn’t he out there on the trail for Barack, Bill said his hands were tied until the end of the Jewish high holidays.


  “I just know Bill would like to be out there now,” McCain continued. “Unfortunately, he is constrained by his respect for voters who might be observing the Zoroastrian new year.”


  Americans of all political stripes laughed along, then asked ruefully, “Why can’t the whole presidential campaign be like that?”


  Yet comedy does play a major role in every national campaign (it’s just that professional comedians are usually the ones cracking the jokes). And this year, comedy may play a deciding role as never before.


  My latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, chronicles how political comedy has replaced traditional news media as many voters’ main source of information about issues and candidates.


  As the rabbi at New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute, I can assure you that, for better or worse, countless young people look to “The Daily Show” as their main (and sometimes only) source of news.


  Given the program’s fourteen seasons of popularity, it’s no surprise that the line between entertainment and journalism is increasingly blurred in the mind of the average American. In a 2007 Pew Center report, people under 30 chose “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly as their favorite journalists.


  The problem is, neither one of them is a journalist. They’re commentators – one comedic, the other comically angry. Young people are turning off the Wolf Blitzers and Anderson Coopers in favor of jokes and righteous indignation masked as news.


  And in the ratings race, real news sources are losing. Radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose show features irreverent song parodies and comic impersonations, has more than 20 million daily listeners. That’s a larger audience than the Big Three network evening news broadcasts combined.


  It’s reached the point where cable news giant CNN just handed a young stand-up comedian his very own Saturday night show: “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News” will “include interviews with news makers and reporters,” as well as the host’s outspoken comic stylings.


  It’s all a vicious circle. Real news gets shallower, “The Daily Show” mocks that shallowness and earns great ratings, so real news desperately responds with… ever more slick, superficial “reportage.”


  The fact remains, however, that watching “The Daily Show” informs thousands of viewers who might otherwise remain ignorant of the day’s complex, pressing (not to mention depressing) issues. Indeed, another 2007 poll found that regular viewers of “The Daily Show” scored higher in tests of political knowledge than CNN watchers.


  Apparently, the program’s humor is the sugar that helps the current-affairs medicine go down.


  Along with the satirical newspaper The Onion, “The Daily Show” blurs the line between fact and fiction and offers analysis through satire. Favorite targets include the conventions of modern journalism, such as the faux seriousness of wall-to-wall reports about the death of some minor celebrity or the pointless coverage of each hurricane season, when hyperventilating reporters spew as much hot air as a tropical storm.


  Young people just as easily grab a free paper like The Onion instead of The New York Times to read during their commutes. Given the Times’s recent credibility problems, maybe readers figure there isn’t much of a difference.


  In other words, we now have a greater breadth of news media, but far less depth. Young people have little experience with the in-depth investigative reporting their parents once demanded from major networks and newspapers. To them, Watergate might as well be the Teapot Dome scandal. The investigative reporting glamorized in “All The President’s Men” is increasingly rare. Shrinking attention spans combined with a proliferation of viewing choices would make such reporting hard for younger viewers to digest anyway.


*******


  The wall between news and entertainment began to erode after President Ronald Reagan deregulated the media in the early 1980s and radio stations no longer had to maintain expensive news departments to retain their broadcasting licenses.


  Then came the demise of the unworkable Fairness Doctrine, and suddenly the dying AM band was reborn as the home of unabashedly biased conservative talk radio, whose hosts regaled listeners with outrageous takes on current events. Listeners became accustomed to being able to call in and talk back. Suddenly the nightly “one way lecture” from evening newscasters seemed old-fashioned, elitist and undemocratic.


  Meanwhile, newspapers and TV networks began shutting down expensive foreign bureaus. When it comes to securing precious advertising dollars, amusement generally beats information, so news started chasing entertainment to satisfy bottom-line shareholders. The first Gulf War began the trend, when CNN turned its coverage into a prime time drama/video game. The O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase of 1994 may have been the breaking point; news outlets found that O.J. was as good as the still-nascent reality television – the “story” wrote itself, no expensive talent required.


  If millions of viewers will happily watch a white van travelling the streets and freeways of Los Angeles for hours on end, producers figured, they’d sit through pretty much anything.


  While all this was going on, today’s college freshman was an impressionable child. No wonder only old timers blinked when Katie Couric was awarded the coveted evening anchor chair at CBS News. Only in our mixed-up media environment could the most prestigious news bureau in television history end up being fronted by a woman who just months earlier had been giggling during cooking segments on a morning show.


  Expect more of such overlap as the YouTube generation becomes the nation’s main demographic.


  We’ve come a long way from the 1960s, when stand up comic Mort Sahl carried a newspaper out on stage as a prop. Such low-tech conceits now seem quaint. Yet Jon Stewart belongs to that long tradition of Jewish political satirists that includes Sahl and Lenny Bruce. (The “Daily Show” host was born Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz but changed his name because – get this nod to the history of American Jewish comedy – “it sounded too Hollywood.”)


  Let’s face it: there is something very Jewish about grappling with the discrepancies of power, which is exactly what satire is all about. Jews have a history of wrestling with higher authorities. Ever since Jacob wrestled with the angel, battling with earthly and heavenly power has been at the core of Jewish identity. The Talmud itself is more an anthology of arguments than a handbook of answers, in which sages dissect every aspect of Jewish law, belief, philosophy and tradition.


  Many debates in the Talmud take strange, wonderful segues with a humor all their own – some of which is intentional. For example, we read that Rabba, the eminent sage of his generation, began his classes with humorous observations. His purpose was not just to entertain but to open his students’ minds and make them into eager receptacles for wisdom.


  It’s not as if Jon Stewart or his writers study Talmud between shows, but this tradition of intellectual inquiry has clearly filtered down to Jewish comedians, as has the habit of greeting adversity with bitter humor. Back in the “old country,” Jewish humor (surreptitiously) critiqued the shortcomings and absurdities of Russian rulers, first the czar and then the Soviet government. In “Fiddler On The Roof,” the rabbi jokingly prays, “May God bless and keep the czar… far away from us.”


  Perennial “outsiders,” Jews possessed a unique perspective that made them natural born comedians.


*******


  As the 2008 election approached, media watchers, politicos and cultural theorists wondered if the influence of “The Daily Show” would remain as great as it supposedly was in 2004 – when, for all the program’s widely hyped popularity with a younger demographic, a Republican incumbent was nevertheless reelected by a much larger and older voting block. Then again, study after study shows that most young people would rather watch a show about electoral politics (or do just about anything else) than actually vote.


  Sure enough, as the 2008 presidential race entered its final month, ratings for “The Daily Show” shot up. Its October 1 program drew 2.4 million viewers, making it the most watched night in the history of the show, which has averaged 1.8 million viewers per episode all this year. That’s up almost 30% over 2007.


  (For some perspective, the vice-presidential debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden drew an astonishing 70 million viewers. It seems grown ups prefer the real news to the fake stuff.)


  Inevitably, “The Daily Show” spawned a popular spin-off, hosted by the show’s faux conservative commentator Stephen Colbert, a bombastic, self-assured pundit in the Bill O’Reilly mode. Colbert and his on-screen persona are nominally Catholic, so Jewish jokes (written by a staff of mostly Jewish writers, naturally) often play up the character’s earnest ignorance. During Yom Kippur, Colbert unveiled his special “Atonement Hotline,” a white rotary phone with a Star of David on it, through which he granted forgiveness to callers – an awfully “Catholic” interpretation of the day’s true meaning.


  Both programs assume viewers will “get” all the Yiddishisms and Jewish jokes, which give the shows a distinctive “Borscht Belt Meets Ivy League” sensibility that accounts in large part for their originality.


  Colbert’s character launched a short-lived make-believe campaign for president early in the 2008 election cycle, but the fake candidate was soon outdone by reality. This year, a very real liberal commentator is staging an honest-to-goodness campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Minnesota and he’s made some inroads (and plenty of enemies).


  Former “Saturday Night Live” writer turned Democratic candidate Al Franken has been dogged by controversy regarding his personal finances and his explosive temper. Some of his most tasteless old SNL skits are being used by opponents to call his character into question. At a particular low point that sounds like a sketch he might have written, only one voter showed up for Franken’s roundtable on veterans’ issues. (To his credit, Franken gamely sat down for a one-on-one chat with the fellow.) Polls show the unlikely candidate now running neck and neck with the Republican incumbent.


  Speaking of “Saturday Night Live,” that show, now in its 34th season, is enjoying its best ratings in years thanks to Tina Fey’s eerily accurate impersonations of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Fey simply parlayed a natural resemblance to Palin and an easy to imitate Fargo-type accent into a role that’s made the young actress (and the woman she’s mocking) a household name. (A Montreal newspaper even ran a serious story about Palin accompanied by a photo of Fey in full makeup, without realizing its mistake.)


  The result of all the buzz? SNL’s ratings are up almost 50% over this time last year.


  It will be difficult for the show’s writers and producers to top Sarah Palin’s appearance as herself on SNL’s October 18 episode. Few incidents demonstrate the non-existent line between news and entertainment as did those very post-modern ninety minutes. At one point, actor Alec Baldwin called Palin “that horrible woman” without “realizing” (wink, wink) that it was actually Palin, rather than Tina Fey, who was standing beside him. Palin responded that her “favorite Baldwin brother” was Alec’s conservative Christian sibling, Stephen.


  Even the rabidly partisan Baldwin (Alec, that is) praised Palin after the show as a gracious good sport (“unlike many of the so-called professional actors we get on here sometimes.”)


  “Saturday Night Live” discovered the power of the Internet this year, making the popular Tina Fey/Sarah Palin routines available on YouTube, where they quickly went viral and boosted the show’s ratings.


  The great thing about the web is that you don’t have to be a billion-dollar corporation like NBC to make your own popular videos. Making full use of all the advantages the web has to offer, Obama activists launched a funny online support site for Jewish Obama backers – complete with logo-covered merchandise – called The Great Schlep. According to the website:


  “The Great Schlep aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor. Don’t have grandparents in Florida? Not Jewish? No problem! You can still become a schlepper and make change happen in 2008, simply by talking to your relatives about Obama.”


  In no time, a Facebook “Great Schlep” group chalked up more than 23,000 members.


  Not everyone was amused. McCain supporter and veteran stand-up comic Jackie Mason countered with an angry video of his own in response to the “Schlep” campaign.


  Mason, of all people, didn’t seem to “get” the idea that “The Great Schlep” is a mockery of Jewish voting habits and familial relations, not just an amateur ad for the Democratic candidate. Mason also didn’t seem to see the irony of a man his age scolding youngsters for telling their grandparents how to vote.


  So in the future, presidential and vice-presidential candidates will be expected to take their turn on SNL, just as they are now obliged to show up on staid Sunday political talk shows like “Meet The Press.”


  And prepare yourself for more “duelling videos,” mainstream news reports on those videos, and other post-modern media permutations we can’t even begin to imagine.


  All these developments may seem like satire come to life, but that’s 21st century comedy – and politics – for you.

  Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the Chabad emissary to Pratt Institute, where he chairs the Religious Affairs Committee. His latest book is “Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century” (Barricade Books). He is available for speaking and media engagements and can be reached at www.rabbisimcha.com.

The Times’s New Anti-Palin Template

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Perhaps sensing that the liberal media’s attack template of Sarah Palin as lightweight rube had not made a discernible difference in the campaign polling numbers – and may in fact have driven swing voters to the McCain-Palin ticket – The New York Times appeared to be trying a different tack last weekend.

In Sunday’s edition the paper featured a seemingly interminable (better than 3,100 words) front-page piece, titled “Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends, Lashed Foes,” by a trio of reporters designed to present Palin as a Machiavellian schemer of Nixonian proportions – a master manipulator of the tools of her office who rewards friends, punishes foes, and does it all in a cocoon of near-impenetrable secrecy.

The writers made a perfunctory early attempt at even-handedness, acknowledging in their 10th paragraph that “Ms. Palin has many supporters….In Wasilla, many residents display unflagging affection, cheering “our Sarah” and hissing at her critics,” but then spent the next several dozen paragraphs painting her as a steely and determined pol with a penchant for operating under the radar.

Hardy readers who made their way (and how many did?) to the 67th paragraph of the piece finally came upon a break in the clouds, a brief acknowledgment that Palin is a highly popular governor with some impressive achievements:

“To her supporters – and with an 80 percent approval rating, she has plenty – Ms. Palin has lifted Alaska out of a mire of corruption. She gained the passage of a bill that tightens the rules covering lobbyists. And she rewrote the tax code to capture a greater share of oil and gas sale proceeds.”

But, predictably, the article quickly reverted to type, complaining that the bloom is off the reformer’s rose thanks to the “troopergate” scandal and accusations that she “improperly cull[ed] thousands of e-mail addresses from a state database for a mass mailing to rally support for a policy initiative.”

In a spot-on dissection of the article on Commentary’s Contentions blog, Jennifer Rubin wrote:

In just the first few paragraphs you have testimony that she was “effective and accessible.” So where are we going here? Well, despite the testimony that she was “accessible,” others find her “secretive” and inclined to put a premium on “loyalty.” The evidence? The Governor’s office declined a request for e-mails that would have cost over $400,000. Proof positive. Oh, and the records sought (about polar bears and such) were in fact obtained.Then there is the “she blurs personal and public behavior” charge. The evidence? A phone call from Todd Palin to a state legislator about the latter’s chief of staff, which Palin denies was mentioned. Pretty thin gruel.

Next we have her tenure as mayor, where again all heck breaks loose because – are ya sitting down? – she brought in her own team. No! Unheard of…. Next she’ll be firing the town museum director. Oh no– it’s true! Palin says (“Oh yeah, she says,” you can hear the Times reporters hrrumphing) she was cutting the budget.

This is pathetic, really. Is there something illegal here? Is there something nefarious? What is the point?

The next offense: while she was mayor city employees were told not to talk to the press. The horror! Might there have been a procedure, a public affairs or press person for that? We don’t know and the Times doesn’t tell us….

Then on page four of this eye-popping account, we learn as Governor she had the temerity to have ”surrounded herself with people she has known since grade school and members of her church.” No! She hired people she knew? And people she trusted because she had just run against a hostile machine of her own party? The Lieutenant Governor offers up that they were “competent, qualified, top-notch people,” but are you going to believe him?

Rubin had more, but you get the point. The Times article was a classic case of a hit piece gone awry – the paper had designated a huge chunk of space to fill with what the editors obviously hoped would be a treasure trove of Palin’s misdeeds or worse, and in the end all the writers could come up with were the typical if often jejune machinations of local government.

It’s hard to see this line of attack resonating with voters who aren’t already anti-Palin, but it’s remarkable that after attacking her for days on end in its news pages and editorial columns as a Dan Quayle in pumps, The New York Times would now have you believe Sarah Palin is in fact a cross between G. Gordon Liddy and Dick Cheney.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/the-timess-new-anti-palin-template/2008/09/17/

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