Roger L. Simon

Seeing Obama Live for the First Time at AIPAC

Before Sunday morning, I had never seen Barack Obama in person. Of course, I had seen him on television roughly as often as Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse combined, but the man himself had eluded my eyes.

Not that seeing him with approximately 13,000 other AIPAC attendees and press (not sure exactly how many were there, but most) in the Washington Convention Center constitutes anybody’s version of “up close and personal.” But I am forced to admit — and you can put this down to the power of preconceptions, if you wish — that catching our president in the flesh only confirmed what I had long thought of him from afar.

This is one strange dude — part narcissist, part Chicago ward heeler, part neo-Alinskyite marxist, part talk show host smoothie, part nowhere man. The ideas might be there, traceable back to Ayers, Dohrn, and Reverend Wright, but he has pushed them far away, almost as if he were trying to forget them. They were no longer functional and had to go, but he is left with… what?

It’s hard to tell what he really thinks now because I suspect even he doesn’t know what that is. He is a kind of moving target, not just to us, but to himself. You expect to hate him, then you start to like him, then you start to hate him again. At the end, you don’t really know what you think, although in my case you revert to your previous view — extreme distaste.

I think this odd personality of the president’s accentuated the ambivalent manner in which his speech on Israel was received by the AIPAC audience. (Several interviews I did for PJTV, to appear later, reflected this.) At times there was copious applause, but then silence for long stretches, as if the audience was nodding off, waiting to be awakened by yet another guarantee — sotto voce — that Iran will not be allowed to get nuclear weapons.

How this was to be done, was never explained beyond the amorphous sanctions. (One of the breakout sessions later that afternoon — on internal Iranian politics with the estimable Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Ali Alfoneh of the American Enterprise Institute — made clear just how ridiculous that approach is. The Iranians, playing their own power games of despot vs. despot, Khamenei vs. Ahamdinejad vs. Rafsanjani, could be less interested in our blandishments or lack thereof.)

So even when Obama mouths the right words, you’re not convinced he actually believes them. The president seems to recognize this dissonance — and it makes him angry. That was clearly on display in the Israel speech when I and those around me detected a self-righteous edge when Obama recited the litany of things he had done for Israel, how he, Barack, was the most pro-Israel president of all (oh, mirror, mirror, on the wall) even if he had not deigned to visit the country since assuming his office, preferring Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, or just about anywhere else.

Unspoken in all this — and probably bringing an extra je ne sais quoi to the anger — was the unspoken goal of his speech, retrieval of the Jewish vote that, according to a recent Pew poll, was starting to drift toward the Republicans for the first time in decades. (Imagine that — after all he had done for Israel!) Of course, all this came down to one seven-letter word — Florida — since other heavily Jewish states — New York and California — would not vote for a Republican if Thomas Jefferson were the GOP nominee. And Illinois was OPZ (an Obama Protected Zone).

So Florida, Florida was the prize. Did Obama succeed? Would the alte kockers of West Palm and Boca return to the fold, tipping that giant swing state once more in the Democratic fold? It’s too early to tell, but I am not optimistic for the Republicans. Listening to Obama’s speech with the ears of my deceased mother, herself for a time a West Palm resident, I think there was enough to console the anxious hearts of lifelong Jewish Democrats, particularly those who thought they would be committing a sin against their ancestors for pulling the lever for a Republican for the first time in sixty years!

Of course, if the Los Angeles Times were to release the Khalidi tape, it might be another matter. But as we all know, that publication has long ago forsworn even a modicum of journalistic responsibility, let alone mere curiosity.