Even more than after the first presidential debate, Tuesday’s town hall in New York crystallized the differences between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney for Jewish voters. And although Republicans strategists have been working overtime to court the American Jewish community, it is increasingly obvious that Romney’s agenda conflicts with core Jewish values.
Perhaps the most striking revelation from Tuesday’s debate involves Romney’s policies toward women. American Jews hold overwhelmingly progressive values on gender equality, so this issue is an important bellwether for understanding whether Romney can win the community’s support.
When asked by a young woman how he would rectify discrepancies between men and women in the workplace, pointing out how women routinely make less than men for doing the same work, Romney fumbled. Not only did his rambling response never address the question, his comments betrayed a basic insensitivity.
The closest thing he could offer to a coherent policy involved boasts that he once let a female employee have a flexible work schedule and that his administration in Massachusetts was given “binders full of women” from outside groups when they could not find enough notable female Republicans to serve in his cabinet.
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Clearly, he has never given serious thought to helping women in the work force, and his team’s position on a woman’s right to choose is also quite chilling. Although Romney pretended to be moderate on abortion during the debate, he has promised to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and his vice presidential candidate said just last week that “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.” Their party’s platform denies women even that right.
Jewish voters overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose, and they oppose Republican efforts throughout the nation to roll back this long-established principle. It will take far more than cheap talk if Romney wants to convince U.S. Jews that he will fight for women’s rights in the way that President Obama has already demonstrated.
Indeed, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law as his first bill upon coming to office, which gives women greater legal recourse for ensuring that they receive equal pay for equal work. He has also appointed two Supreme Court justices, both of them women, who oppose right-wing efforts to repeal Roe v. Wade.
Differences between the two candidates also came into clearer focus on senior citizen’s issues. The Jewish people are particularly attuned to honoring our forefathers and foremothers. Therefore, we tend to perceive Social Security as a covenant – a promise that if you put in a lifetime of hard work and pay your taxes, you should be able to retire without fear of not being able to put food on the table.
We also see Medicare as part of this covenant, and believe that gutting it in the manner that Paul Ryan has proposed is just plain wrong. That is why Jewish voters have reacted so negatively to Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate.
In Tuesday’s debate, President Obama did not shy away from drawing firm contrasts with his Republican opponent. When asked by an audience member how a Romney administration would compare to George W. Bush, President Obama pointed out that even “George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher.” He also noted that when Romney trashed 47% of Americans as moochers, he was lumping in “folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives.”
There is a reason why Jewish voters in Florida specifically prefer Democrats over Republicans on Social Security by about three to one. They just don’t trust the GOP.
Since he cannot win over Jewish voters on domestic issues, Governor Romney has wrongfully resorted to smearing the president on foreign policy. Romney was so desperate to bash the President’s strong record on Israel that he brought the issue up instead of using his full time to answer a very serious question on Libya. His comments were little more than a blatant attempt to make political points instead of offering serious solutions to genuine global challenges.
Despite Romney’s false claims about the President’s Israel record, President Obama has relentlessly strengthened Israel’s defenses against terrorist attacks. He has boosted Israel’s military aid higher than ever before, and Israel’s prime minister and defense minister have each called his support “unprecedented.”
In fact, in the fight against Iran’s nuclear program, the President has done something that Mitt Romney somehow tries to claim as his own policy idea. Instead of simply saber-rattling and resorting to name-calling, the President has diligently built an unprecedented global sanctions coalition that is devastating the Iranian economy. Iran’s currency has crashed by nearly 40% just in the last month, and this is largely because President Obama was able to convince Europe to copy our sanctions regime. I believe that most Jews understand that now is not the time to change horses, either on helping Israel or stopping Iran – especially when the Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military has made it abundantly clear that military force is a very real option for stopping Iran if diplomacy does not achieve a breakthrough.
When Jewish voters go to the polls next month, they will confront stark choices: empty rhetoric or proven leadership on the Middle East; a progressive social agenda that benefits all Americans or a war on women’s rights and abandoning our seniors. I think I know which choice Jewish voters will prefer.
Originally published in The Times of Israel.