Congress has power to produce change in Obama’s Mideast policy
The assumption that Israel is facing an imperial and an omnipotent American president, who supposedly benefits from a health reform-driven political tailwind, is refuted by the April 21-22, 2010 Quinnipiac University Polling Institute findings. The Institute is quoted often by the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and FOX.
The poll findings document an all time low approval rating of President Obama (45% compared with 65% in January, 2009), while support for Israel is very high, especially among secular and religious Christians. American voters view the Jewish State as a positive domestic – and not only international – issue, which is more popular than the president.
The poll results confirm that the political dividend from the healthcare reform dissipated. Voters do not trust Obama (40%:55%) in handling health and the economy. They accord Congress, which is controlled by Democrats, a 20%:70% disapproval rating.
Other polls indicate that independent and middle class voters – who were critical during the November 2008 Obama and Democratic victories – are deserting Obama. The strongly-supportive Obama voting bloc shrank to 30% from 40% in January 2009, while the strongly-opposing Obama voting bloc expanded to 40% from 14%. Charlie Cook, the leading Washington political consultant, joins most pollsters, projecting a devastating Democratic defeat in the November 2010 Congressional election.
Democratic legislators are aware that their life expectancy (running every 2 or 6 years) is different from the president’s own life expectancy (running every 4 years). They are not willing to sacrifice their own political future on the altar of President Obama’s agenda. They are concerned that the transformation of Obama from a “Coattail President” to an “Anchor Chained President” could demote them, in November 2010, from the majority to a minority status on Capitol Hill.
Therefore, some of them announced retirement, some contemplate retirement, some urge the president to refrain from visiting their districts and states and some express reservations about Obama’s legislative initiatives. Slackened Congressional support could transform Obama into a lame duck president.
Presidents don’t control Congress
In contrast to the Israeli and European political systems, US Presidents constitute only one third of the US government, alongside the other two thirds: the Legislature and the Judiciary. American presidents do not control Congress. In fact, they are severely constrained by an elaborate system of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” (which do not exist in other democracies), by a relatively short-term DC residency (4 or 8 years), compared with the relatively long-term DC residency of the 800 pound Congressional gorillas (20, 30 and 40 years) and by the “Power of the Purse,” which is vested in Congress.
According to the Quinnipiac April 22, 2010 poll, American voters support President Obama’s national security policy (although with a slim majority), but for one issue: Israel!
Overall foreign policy gets a 48%:42% support, the war in Afghanistan – 49%:39% support, counter-terrorism – 49%:41% support, nuclear disarmament – 48%:37% support and Iran – 44%:43% support.
However, 44%:35% oppose Obama’s policy on Israel and the Palestinians, 57%:13% support Israel over the Palestinians and 66%:19% expect the president to demonstrate strong support of Israel. The February 19, 2010 Gallup poll documents a higher level of support for Israel, in spite of White House policy, “elite” media critical coverage, university campuses’ hostility and the UN and European double standard and anti-Semitism.
Israel a role model
The foundations of American support for the Jewish State date back to the 17th century (there are more sites bearing Biblical names in the USA than in Israel!). This support is based on shared values, joint interests and mutual threats. Most Americans appreciate patriotism, tradition, Judeo-Christian values (the Bible), defiance of nature and human odds, counter-terrorism and democracy. The Jewish State is perceived as a role model of such values. Moreover, public support for the Jewish State constitutes one of the few consensus issues in the increasingly polarized American society.
US legislators are aware of the worldview and sentiments of their constituents, who constitute the major axis of US democracy. Therefore, House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, co-sponsored a letter that rebuked the president’s attitude toward Israel and earned signatures of 75% of House Members. Therefore, the senior Democratic senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, is urging President Obama, to improve his policy toward Israel, lest he be challenged by Senate Democrats. And, therefore, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Howard Berman, suggested that the president refrain from highlighting Jerusalem and the settlements.
The closer the November 2010 Congressional election, the lower the presidential approval rating, the harsher the public criticism of Obama, the more vulnerable the incumbents, the more independent (of the president and of their party) grow the legislators and the more defiant they will be of the president (while complying with their constituents), especially on the issue of the Jewish State. For most voters and legislators the Jewish State is a “Motherhood, apple pie and the flag” issue.
It was Congress – in defiance of the Administration – which terminated US military involvement in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola and Nicaragua and provided Israel with a generous package of mutually-beneficial cooperation following the 1991 First Gulf War. It is Congress which is capable of producing a change in the current Administration policy toward the Jewish State and force it to synch with the American people.
Does Jerusalem get it?