Lingle and Boxer Spar for McCain and Obama

Hawaiian Governor Linda Lingle and Californian Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) debated each other this past evening while representing John McCain and Barack Obama respectively at A Presidential Candidates Forum: America in the World – Friends, Foes, and the Future. The debate between the two Jewish politicians was organized by The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and took place in the Amberley Room auditorium of the recently opened Mayerson JCC. According to JCRC, over 500 people came out to hear these two leaders speak, mostly an older 50+ crowd. The first two rows were reserved for senior citizens arriving from the Cedar Village assisted living community.

In order to see these great women butt heads I had to skip out on seeing Natalie Portman downtown at Fountain Square. Sure my heart beats a little faster hearing her call to vote early, but alas, I already got that done last week. But for all of those who went to see Portman and hear The Nationals perform, no worries, I have you covered. I recorded the entire debate which you can listen to here [m3u streaming link] or download (Part I, Part II), whichever you prefer.

The debate was emceed by Arna Poupko Fisher, JCRC President and moderated by Brian Jaffee, JCRC Director. The stage was set with three living room style comfy chairs; Lingle and Boxer sat at a 60° angle from each other, and Jaffee sat in the center. The first half hour was given over to opening remarks that each delivered from the podium. Afterward, Jaffee took the podium and presented questions delivered from the audience that had been written out on index cards handed out with pencils at the door. Disregarding the introductions and acknowledgments made by Fisher and Jaffee, the debate lasted around an hour and 15 minutes. Part I of the debate (linked above) contains the opening remarks of Lingle and Boxer and Part II contains their responses to the questions posed by the audience and to each other.

In Lingle’s opening remarks, I was struck by a tone that seemed to resonate with foreboding. To be fair, the perfectly measured pace of her statements adds a certain gravitas regardless of the point she makes. But I was still unnerved when she invoked the traditional response to the Holocaust, “Never Again,” raising the specter of a nuclear holocaust in Israel if Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power isn’t met with unqualified opposition.

My Jewish education only recognized the usage of the phrase “Never Again” as a declaration to all of humanity, i.e., never again would genocide be tolerated as a solution in human conflict. In this universal context, “Never again” justifies the intervention of the United Nation’s security council in actions that might prevent a genocide — anywhere.

But Lingle, and McCain, use the phrase “Never Again” in justification of an argument for U.S. military action against Iran (ostensibly in defense of Israel’s regional military hegemony). To hear the phrase used by a politician this way seems to be a fairly transparent manipulation of Holocaust fears. Even with the failures of the world to respond adequately or capably to the genocides of Rwanda and Darfur, I’m not willing to trade in the universal and moral appeal of “Never Again” for the justification of neocon foreign policy objectives. McCain and his surrogate obviously have no problem with taking advantage of the term so long as it holds currency for manipulating Jewish voters.

(To be absolutely clear, in no way am I arguing that the experience of the Holocaust does not partly justify the importance and historic necessity of the State of Israel as a sovereign refuge for the Jewish people. I am only saying that the simple phrase “Never Again” is a strong universal appeal against genocide. I’m opposed to seeing it appropriated for use in stoking Holocaust fears in precipitating a war with Iran.)

In contrast, Boxer made her points without any references to the Holocaust or a future Holocaust. Among bona fides that included Obama’s high ranking pro-Israel scorefrom AIPAC, Boxer described the foreign policy sanctions against Iran that Obama authored in the Senate to prevent their acquisition of nuclear power.

Both Lingle and Boxer could teach McCain a thing or two about keeping his cool during a hot debate. Their parrying back and forth, clarifying the responsibility of the executive and legislative branches of for the last eight years of financial mismanagement, was intense. Listen for yourself and hear just how sharp a debater Barbara Boxer is. Lingle didn’t pull any punches either. As a liberal partisan, I’m pleased that Boxer got the last word though. Before I provide any more commentary I’m going to have to listen to it again myself.

In general, the “Presidential Forum” was special for having brought so many segments of the Jewish community together at a crucial moment. The last time I saw this togetherness was at the Israel at 60 gathering at Fountain Square in late April when the Idan Raichel Project performed. I’m really pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful and relevant activities being organized here in Cincinnati under the auspices of the Jewish Federation. On the fourth night of the holiday of Sukkot, I couldn’t be happier to see this diverse community gathered under one roof. Events like this help generate respect for our diversity and tolerance for our differences. Call me hopeful, but this can only lead to a more mature and attractive Jewish community in southwest Ohio.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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