As the Republican National Committee convenes in Tampa, Florida the RNC is seeking support from both Jewish voters by touting unconditional support for Israel and from the National Rifle Association membership by supporting the alleged right of individuals to bear arms that is at the center of the NRA’s raison d’être. The NRA continues to bask in the glory of having taken the topic of gun violence off the table among Republican supporters despite the random killings in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a murderous attack at a Sikh Temple and the latest shootout in front of the Empire State Building, just to name a few. These attacks highlight how gun laws are misinterpreted in the U.S. to allow even the most psychologically unstable people to legally obtain weapons to use in a most illegal fashion. They also underline how politics and politicians function.
Political conventions are a political industry that takes place every two to four years in the U.S and they highlight the disparate ideas used to garner backing from voters. There are so many complex psychological themes attached to political conventions and these themes are not limited to Republicans in particular or to American politics in general. Take for example the hyperbole of the now ubiquitous phrase “There will be no light between the United States and Israel.” Both parties have used variations of this new slogan. How can we judge whether there is a meaningful difference? The answer lies in part with an assessment of behavior.
On the issue of Iran a review of how the U.S. has dealt with that country reveals a complete avoidance of confrontation, from President Carter a Democrat, who would have been more than justified to take action for Iran’s hostage taking to President Reagan a Republican who, despite all of the tough talk made an arms deal with the Ayatollahs. The algorithm to analyze this similarity between past policy and present is – the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. In this case, behaviors remained the same over time and across political parties. There is no reason to believe that a Republican administration would act any differently than a Democratic one in the future because there has been no evidence for it in the past. Words are used, analyzed, reinterpreted, reworked, and restated and not much happens. Actions are what count. Actions against Persia by the U.S. have always been contained and limited.
At this moment, the evidence suggests that going forward there is little difference between the political parties on support for Israel despite their differing rhetoric. This is not to say that there are not more registered Republicans who claim to be strong supporters of Israel – in word and sometimes in terms of deed, there very well may be. Policy, however, is not based on feelings, statements, or financial support. This is a strong statement on my part. Just to be clear – I am saying that there is little difference when it comes to policy toward Israel between the two major American political parties. The best evidence for this is the uncanny parallels between Republicans and Democrats on gun control issues. The Republicans insist that the right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment. Democrats interpret this Amendment in a significantly more limited manner. Still, despite the rhetoric and the theoretical distance between the parties on this issue neither political party has been able to affect the fact that guns, even high caliber attack weapons which are justified only for warfare, can be purchased legally in many States, notwithstanding the fact that some states have made them illegal to own.
All the talk about who may be the better President for Israel is, to my mind a smoke screen. I believe that a better analysis lies with the algorithm I stated above. Future behavior will likely remain the same. There is the exceptional individual, a President or Secretary of State who will bypass policy in time of crisis but general procedures will remain generally unchanged. What that means is that we must look at the history of policy toward Israel in times of crisis. Here too, the history remains virtually the same regardless of which political party was in power.
For a true change to take place a grassroots revolution must occur. Politicians will not address gun control issues unless enough people have been impacted by the ever-escalating gun violence. These people will put pressure on their government representatives to force a change. Only then, will there be some movement. The implication for this in terms of the U.S. commitment to Israel is, to my mind, frightening. There are simply fewer and fewer Americans who care about the Middle East. Most Americans are ensconced in lethargy, tired of drawn out wars that have no clear victories and they no longer care to spend money or send their young to fight another losing battle. If something is to change, it must be in the form of an appeal to justice and safety. It is too bad that until bombs begin to fall on major U.S cities the lethargy of the American electorate is not likely to change.