McCain Teleconference: Give and Take, or Staged Campaign Event?

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

It was billed as a “tele-town hall with Jewish leaders nationwide,” but Sen. John McCain’s electronic meeting on Sunday sounded more like a staged campaign event than a give-and-take with community leaders.

The senator was joined by his friend and supporter Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who told the Jewish activists on the call that “at this moment of extraordinary crisis we need a leader,  a president, who has been tested in crisis and who has always passed that test. We need a leader who believes in the constructive role of government in in solving  problems for people that they cannot solve for themselves.”

Lieberman also offered a robust defense of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who he called a “typical, capable middle class woman who didn’t like what her government was doing, and instead of just complaining about it ran for the city council, got to be mayor, ran against the incumbent Republican governor and got to be governor.”

In his remarks McCain said he would support support an “undivided” Jerusalem and that he “will never pressure Israel into making concessions that endanger its security. As president I would move our embassy to Jerusalem.”

He also offered a robust defense of his support for the Iraq war, linking that to Israel’s security.

“Is there anybody on this line who believes a jihadist victory in Iraq would have anything but profound consequences as far as increasing the threat to the state of Israel is concerned?” he asked.

But if anybody was expecting a robust give and take with the candidate, they were disappointed.

All but one question came from strong supporters – many preambled with effusive expressions of admiration.

“I was at your rally in Miami; it was spectacular,” said the first questioner, who asked what McCain’s “number one thing that you would do to help protect us, as the Jewish people, both in the United States and in Israel.”

McCain reiterated his comments about supporting Israel and added “I would make sure we  continue our successful strategy in Iraq.”

The second questioner began this way: “I look forward to calling your our next president…I’m a registered independent and a sole proprietor, and I’m deeply worried about Sen. Obama on many levels.”  She went on to ask a question about Obama’s “farce” about tax cuts. She also repeated what has  become a new refrain from McCain in recent days about Obama’s “socialism.”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  said “It is a pleasure to be speaking to my two heroes in the American political establishment, Sen. McCain and Sen. Lieberman, and I have already had the great pleasure of casting my absentee ballot for you, Sen. McCain.”

Rabbi Riskin asked about why the McCain campaign wasn’t focusing more attention on Obama’s connection to his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Get the picture?

One prominent Jewish leader who asked that his name not be used said the call was hardly a give and take session.

“I got on this  call feeling it was a real opportunity for asking questions of Sen. McCain, but it was just a press-release kind of event,”  he said. “It was obvious they had pre-selected the questions. I wasn’t expecting a debate, but I was hoping for a real back and forth.  But I didn’t  hear a single question that came from anybody who wasn’t a very strong McCain supporter.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said that “I was struck by the fact that those who asked questions were self-identified as strong supporters. I’m not saying that with any sense of concern, but I wondered if there were others on the call who were nonpartisan, who were invited because of their organizational involvement.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.