Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
It’ gaudy, it’s over the top, some say it’s tasteless, but it sure as heck is effective. AIPAC’s legendary “roll call,” a decades-old tradition at the annual policy conference banquet, is a graphic indication of the group’s continuing Capitol Hill clout.
You can bet politicians in both parties, at every level of the political game, hear the message loud and clear.
Every year reporters and delegates alike play the numbers game: were the totals up or down? Was every lawmaker whose name was read really in the hall? (Here’s a tip: some aren’t, most are, or at least were in the building sometime during the three day conference.) Who got the strongest applause? Who was mostly ignored by the audience (this year’s big loser was Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).
So it’s numbers you want? This is a highly unofficial count, but about as good as any others. On Tuesday there were about 46 Senators and 203 members of the House recognized in rapid-fire fashion by three AIPAC leaders, along with handfuls of administration officials, Israeli bigwigs, foreign dignitaries – you get the idea.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the featured banquet speaker. His appearance in the midst of his deepening legal difficulties prompted some less-than-tasteful jokes (do you think he’s here to request political asylum, several in the audience asked?), but it was also a poignant moment; Olmert is well known to the AIPAC crowd, and there was an awareness this could well be his last appearance in an official capacity.
Also poignant: the frequent references to the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a regular fixture at AIPAC policy conferences for as long as anybody can remember.