Ari Fleischer: A New Breed of Jewish Leader
As a Southern conservative woman, I've got to admit I have my share of biases. And, yes, I suppose it gets even worse as a Southern conservative Christian woman. No doubt about it, I have some preconceived ideas rolling around in "that thick little head of mine," as my parents used to say.Take, for instance, the concept of the existence of a group of people known as "Jewish Republicans."
If you'd mentioned such a notion to me with a straight face up until a few days ago, I'd have burst out laughing and said something original like, "You gotta be kidding. They don't exist, except maybe on Mars. The Jewish men and women I've known well over the years are wonderful people, but they're a little to the left of the Dalai Lama politically. So pleeeease, don't insult my intelligence."
End of conversation.
That is, until I received a call about a month ago from a conservative Republican friend named Mike Jones, inviting me to an event October 23 here in Nashville, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, featuring none other than Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary under President George Bush, from 2001 until 2003.
Fleischer was to be the honored speaker and guest at the home of Andree and James Blumstein. It would be a very interesting event, he assured me. And I needed to mark my calendar.
"How many people are going to be there, Mike?" I said a little sarcastically. "You, me, Ari, anyone else?"
"Just mark your calendar and be there," Mike reiterated. "This is going to be right up your alley, I promise."
OK, I muttered, hanging up, and promptly forgetting to write it down. But Mike called again weeks later to remind me.
"OK, OK. I'll go..... if you're sure Jewish Republicans really exist."
I would have to take his word for a few days.
Meanwhile, I started ruminating over what I could remember about Ari Fleischer.... I'd always liked him and the extremely professional way he handled himself at White House Press conferences. Was sad when he announced his resignation. Why had he left? Was it a health problem or had he just had enough? I just couldn't remember.
I knew he was now head of his own communications consulting firm, Fleischer Communications, in New York specializing in helping sports teams---- he's an avid baseball fan, occasionally playing catch with President Bush on the White House lawn---and other businesses improve their media relations.
Then last summer, I read he was instrumental in starting a new conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. called Freedom's Watch.
Other than that, I guessed Ari Fleischer had basically gone quietly into the night.
But that thick little head of mine, as usual, had another think coming.
Ari Fleischer strode into the room of 100+ guests at the Blumstein home in West Nashville last week and from the moment he arrived, there was no question he was imminently comfortable with and highly qualified for the role he was playing both with conservative Jews and the Republican Party in America.
He radiated authority, clarity and a palpable sense of purpose. I was about to experience the most vibrant political event I had ever attended. Introduced by local and national RJC members Matthew Brooks, Willie Stern, and members of Jack May's family of Nashville, Ari stood up and began to speak with a grin:
"It's great to be in Tennessee. I remember the excitment of that first Presidential election when your state went for Bush. Since I'm back in the South, I'd like to use one of my favorite greetings--- Shalom ya'll."
"I spent a lot of time in Texas with Mr. Bush when he was still governor and running for President. People thought my name was R.E. rather than Ari, so I just went along.....J.R., R.E. what's there not to like?"
But after R.E. it got worse: on the campaign trail, Bush nicknamed him "Ari Bob."
We all loved it. Then Fleischer turned to more serious matters.
"In my business, it's all about making inroads," he said " No doubt about it, getting the Jewish vote out of the Democratic party and into the Republicans is a slow steady inroad we're making every year, every election. And we've only just begun."
You could hear a pin drop.
"We're finally understanding the real threat that Islamic extremism represents to the United States, Israel and the rest of the free world. There's no such thing as peace without 100% strength."
Fleischer recalled the United States' first wars against Islamic fundamentalism, The Barbary Wars, in the early 1800's when then President Thomas Jefferson refused to continue paying bribes to Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean. Both the George Washington and John Adams Administrations had made bribery payments from the U.S. Treasury in hopes that our ships would not be attacked, robbed and destroyed off the coast of Tripoli. But to no avail.
"Jefferson said no more to Islamic bribery after repeated attacks on our ships and declared war, sent in the Marines and won that war, just like President Bush after 9-11."
It was at that moment I saw Ari Fleischer in a totally new light: He was a modern day Moses leading his people out of slavery, into freedom. But rather than leading them out of the land of Egypt, he was taking them out of the bondage of the Democratic party.
Freedom and The Promise Land for Ari and his growing conservative Jewish contingent was now found in 100% strength from a strong military and no nonsense foreign and domestic policies that would no longer tolerate appeasement on any front. And yes, many of the new Jewish Republicans were still more socially liberal, but as far as he was concerned, all other issues facing this country today paled in comparison to the War on Terror, the War in Iraq, and having strong Homeland Security.
For the next hour, Ari covered a wide range of subjects which delighted and fascinated all 100+ of us in his audience. Highlights of his talk are summarized below:
On his upbringing in a liberal Democratic family:
"I was raised in a liberal democratic middle class family. My parents were aghast when I left the fold to become a conservative in college.
After I announced my resignation as White House Press Secretary in 2003, my mother gave a short interview to her local community newspaper in New York and said , "We think Ari is still going through a phase in becoming a Republican and we have hopes he'll come back to our side one day."
His father termed Ari's becoming a Republican "a rebellion." But he guessed that he'd rather see Ari end up as a Republican than a drug dealer.
On attending Middlebury College in Vermont:
"I'm the only person I know who went to Vermont a Democrat and left a conservative Republican."
On his job as White House Press Secretary:
"It was the most wonderful, most challenging job I could ever image. The Oval Office was 30' to the left of my office, and the podium where we had the White House Press Conferences was 30' to the right....Over and over again, I was an eye witness to history and the people who were making it... I was at every Summit Meeting, every audience with the Pope and all the world leaders."
The events of 9-11:
"I was with President Bush all day on September 11, and three days later we stood together at Ground Zero in New York. A few hours later we gathered at the Jacob Javitts Center with the families of hundreds of lost relatives. At that time, each family really believed their loved ones would be found alive. But not one of them ever was. It was soon after that, that I came to realize we had to get tougher, stronger against this Islamic terrorist threat. I had never seen such suffering and destruction."
"Strength is the only thing the terrorists will ever understand."
The cliff- hanger Presidential election of 2000:
"The night of the election when it looked like he had won, Bush asked me to be W.H. Press Secretary. We all waited in Texas for several weeks. Then finally I was sent back to Washington to begin the transition plan even though we didn't know for sure it would be implemented. For weeks back in D.C. I averted my eyes everytime I passed the White House. I couldn't look at it and didn't, until the Supreme Court made its decision, and Iknew I would be going to the White House after all with the new Bush Administration."
On Hillary's position on the War on Terror:
"Her position is like a weather vane blowing in the wind. I'll do everything in my power to see that defeatist, wishy washy Democrats are not elected next year."
"On September 13, 2001, MoveOn opposed any use of force against the terrorists who attacked the United States two days earlier. America is not the cause of these attacks and these defeatists are a disgrace to our country and we much not let them prevail."
On the Bush decision to go to war in Iraq:
"One of the most profound moments I remember in the White House was when President Bush asked Eli Wiesel if he thought America should remove Saddam Hussein from Iraq. Mr. Wiesel was adamant that the West could have averted World War II and saved millions of lives, if only it had taken Hitler seriously early on, rather than trying to appease him."
"I strongly believe our country and the world is a great deal better off because Saddam and his sons are now gone. We didn't find WMDs as we had expected, but that in no way diminishes the importance of what we've done and will continue to do in Iraq. The world is a safer place because America and Israel have acted."
On President Bush:
When asked to tell the crowd what he really, really thought of President Bush, Ari lowered his eyes and softened his voice, "I'll tell you the honest truth. George Bush is without a doubt the best friend Israel and the Jews have ever had."
"Many people think Bush is partial to Israel because of the evangelical connection, but I've never thought that was true. When Gov. Bush went to Israel in the late 90s, he took a helicopter ride with Ariel Sharon. He saw with his own eyes how narrow Israel was at its narrowest point----only 11 miles. After seeing this, Bush turned to Sharon and said there were driveways in Texas wider than that."
"Bush saw then and therethat Israel was surrounded by enemies and had a right to be strong and defend itself."
It was getting late and I was fading fast. But before I left, I decided to get on an e-mail list of the Republican Jewish Coalition and attend future events. But I doubt anything could be quite as impressive as listening to Ari. I thanked Mike Jones for thinking of me and encouraging me in spite of my doubts.
And in the end, I left with only one big nagging question on my mind regarding the election next year: Can "Old Testament Republicans" co-exist in the same political party with "New Testament Republicans" and pull it off against, say, a Hillary Clinton candidacy? I hoped so, but in the end, only time will tell.
Shalom, Ari and Ya'll.
Webutante is a Nashville blogger, former newspaper reporter, fishing guide in Wyoming and avid outdoors woman.