The VP Debate: Change the Subject, Please

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Jewish voters hoping to get a better idea how John McCain and Barack Obama might approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got precious little in Thursday’s vice presidential candidate debate.

Both Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden, the Republican and Democratic nominees, said their administrations would support a  “two state solution” in the region – in other words, they basically like the goals set forth by the Bush administration.

Beyond that, there were some minor differences in emphasis — and a great desire to get involved in sticky details like what to do about Hamas, who to negotiate with, what kind of role U.S. negotiators should play and so on.

Palin said a “two-state solution” will be a “top of the agenda item” in a John McCain administration.

But asked for more detail, she retreated into generalities: “We will support Israel; a two-state solution,  building our embassy also in Jerusalem, those things that we look forward to being able to accomplish with this peace-seeking nation,” she said. “And they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements. “

And  it didn’t take long before she changed the subject to “government reform,” which isn’t exactly a big issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Biden was more specific in his criticisms but no more detailed in explaining exactly how the goal of a two-state solution might come about.

He called Bush administration policy an “abject failure,” citing the U.S. insistence on elections in the Palestinian areas that resulted in the Hamas victory.

And repeating a common Democratic refrain, he argued that Israel is less safe today because “ the only thing on the march today is Iran.  It’s  closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.”

He complained that Palin didn’t explain “how different …John McCain’s policy (is) going to be than George Bush’s,” but his own answer wasn’t exactly a beacon of clarity.  “We will make significant change so once again we’re the most respected nation in the world,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

How’s that again?

It didn’t help that moderator Gwen Ifill seemed just as eager as the candidates to change the subject.

You shouldn’t need a translator to know what both candidates were really saying, but just in case you’re not clear, here it is: “We both love Israel, we think a two-state solution is a cool idea, change is on the horizon, but don’t worry about too much change on questions involving Israel.”

Oh yes, and “please, let’s move on to a safer subject.”

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.