The fight for the Jewish vote in the 2004 presidential election was one of the most hotly contested in memory. But four years later, it appears as if that dustup was nothing compared to the battle that is taking place this year.
In recent years, the Republican Party has sought to chip away at the Democrats' traditional stranglehold on the Jewish vote. But if the Republican approach got under the skin of Democrats in 2004, the campaign this year has driven them straight up the wall. This year, the Republican Jewish Coalition has run an extensive ad campaign which seeks to argue that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is unfit for the presidency because of what they say are unsavory associations, and questionable statements and judgment.
Though Democrats have responded with their own ads putting forth the case for Obama as a friend of Israel and right on issues of concern to the Jewish people, they are still angry enough about their foes' ads that they have decided to escalate the fight in other ways. As a result, the Obama campaign has signaled that its representatives will no longer debate against representatives of the RJC at community forums. In response, the Republicans have cried foul and say the Democrats are trying to repress the GOP point of view.
This might be a good moment to remind both sides that the ultimate judgment of the appropriateness and the cogency of either side's arguments and behavior belongs to the voters. Both should also remember that while these controversies are more about tactics than anything else, sometimes style becomes substance.
In the heat of political battle, it is difficult for partisans to remember that our common identity as Americans ought to supercede our party loyalties. Similarly, the differences between Republican and Democratic Jews must, even at moments like these, still be considered to be smaller than those things that unite us.
It would be a disaster if, even after the dust settles following the election, we still find ourselves a divided community, unwilling to listen to each other's arguments or to sit beside one another and discuss our differences. While election campaigns should be waged in a passionate manner, we hope both parties think long and hard about the consequences of their ever-broadening battle.