Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said this is not the first time he’s been invited to defended GOP positions in front of Jewish audiences. “Not a pretty sight,” he said.
It made sense that, as Kristol debated Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in front of the 2012 American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum crowd, his positions on the Iran question—and not much else—elicited widespread applause from the crowd. Frank cleaned up everywhere else, if the applause said anything.
Kristol did what Kristol does best. An effective polemicist, his ammunition was the understanding that Israel—or the conception of Obama as less-than-friendly to Israel—is the only issue that might cleave Jews from their long-time Democratic Party loyalty.
Of what it would take for Jews to move rightward, Kristol said that it takes a while for Jews to learn; they are a stubborn people. “Jews need to shed old-fashioned ideas about the Republican Party of Bush and of the 30s and 40s,” he said.
If you’re a neocon like Kristol, the apocalyptic notions of Iranian nuclear war trump any domestic concerns. Kristol defended GOP economic policies, but his main point was about the Israel-friendly GOP record. (Pat Buchannan notwithstanding.)
Both debaters agreed on the liberal tendencies of American Jews. It is clear that Kristol is resigned to the fact that Jews and liberals are forever intertwined. He even called out Frank for not running against Obama’s “selling out of liberal policies.”
That crack formed the basis of Kristol’s argument, asserting that the current body politic consisted of a center-left party, the Dems and a center-right party, the GOP—a reality he hopes will appeal to Jews that historically vote left but may cross the aisle to a center-right GOP. Frank disagreed noting that the current GOP forced out Romney’s foreign policy advisor for being gay. No comeback from Kristol.
Frank said the idea that the Republican Party is full of “Reagan Republicans” is “laughable,” given that Romney attacked Rick Santorum for voting to raise the debt ceiling—a measure that Reagan used numerous times during his presidency.
That’s when the debate settled into Frank’s wheelhouse. Refuting the notion that Obama is anti-Israel, Frank flashed his wit recounting the story of Bush I’s tabling of Israeli loan guarantees in the House. Frank recalled former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s declaration that the West Bank will remain Israel “as far as the eye can see,” adding that Shamir was “old and short at the time and probably couldn’t see very far.”
Kristol’s response, that the current GOP “isn’t full of arabists and oilmen” anymore was odd to say the least, considering the amount of funding provided by the energy lobby. To his credit, Lawrence of Arabia isn’t a registered Republican, though both debaters agreed that American feelings of positivity toward Saudi Arabia have more to do with “Lawrence of Arabia” than anything else.
Frank also pressed the GOP for their anti-gay stance, a view that played well with the crowd. Kristol is no idiot and his sale of GOP positions was markedly absent of any social policies.
Both speakers were asked if they viewed the election as a referendum on Obama’s record on Israel for Jewish voters. They seem to agree that it wasn’t, citing polls showing the economy to be more important to Jewish voters than Israel, but it’s clear Kristol would like that to be the case.