Obama?McCain?Our panel chews it over
We asked a selection of US Jews living in Britain who they will be supporting in the election. They all agree that it’s a key vote — just not on their ideal outcome
YOU DO NOT need to be hooked on politics to take an interest in next week’s US presidential election. Not only will the winner be the planet’s most powerful man, but the personalities are compelling — the country could have the first-ever African-American president, the first female vice-president, or a 72-year-old grandfather taking the global lead. Of course, Jewish issues, particularly relating to Israel, are also occupying minds. So how do American Jews living in this country feel about the elections?
Budd Margolis, 52, is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but has been living in Britain for 21 years.
“This is the most important election in the United States for a very long time, due to the damage that president George Bush has done to America’s reputation in the world, as well as to standards of living within the country,” he says.
“I’m praying and hoping that Obama is successful. I feel so strongly about it that if he loses I might give up my American citizenship.”
And he is not the only one. Paula Lejbowicz, 25, who is studying law in London but is from Los Angeles, feels the result could cause a huge amount of embarrassment for her: “I would have a huge issue saying I was American if McCain won.
“The past eight years of Bush’s presidency have brought one horrible thing after another. Now it’s a time for change.”
Despite having lived in Britain for over 35 years, Judith Chernaik, novelist and founder of London’s Poems on the Underground programme, admits that she is “very emotionally involved” with the upcoming elections. The 73-year-old from New York, who moved to London in 1972, says: “The outcome of the election seems essential this time. If Obama loses, I shall just despair.”
Chernaik, a mother-of-three who lives in Gospel Oak, North London, explains: “Americans so want a change now and I feel very connected to that.”
But not all American Jews in the UK will be rooting for Obama next week. Journalist and commentator Charlie Wolf, a self-confessed “real partisan Republican”, is hoping McCain will win the presidential election.
“We don’t know anything about Obama, whereas McCain is a safe pair of hands. At least with him you know what you’re getting,” says the 49-year-old, originally from Boston but living in North Finchley.
“If Obama won, I would be very worried,” Wolf adds.
Some Americans, however, remain unconvinced by either candidate. Gavin Gross, 46, who has lived in the UK for 15 years, does not think of much of the choice he is being offered: “Part of me thinks nobody for president. I’m not thrilled by either candidate.”
Gross, who works as director of public affairs for the Zionist Federation but is going on aliyah at the end of the year, feels that both Obama and McCain have strong qualities but also weaknesses.
“I’m very impressed with Obama’s intelligence and charisma. He is dynamic and composed, but he is very inexperienced, particularly in foreign policy. And I worry that could lead to attacks on American targets.
“McCain does not have Obama’s personal charisma or star quality, but he is more experienced and has greater understanding of foreign policy.”
So what do candidates’ supporters admire in their men?
“Obama inspires confidence and is smart and well informed,” Chernaik says. “I think that’s what Americans are craving now. People are so sick of the last eight years of Bush. McCain just doesn’t come across as a man with imagination. He is folksy and old and doesn’t inspire confidence.” Budd Margolis, a father-of-two who lives in Richmond, Surrey, agrees. “I think very highly of Obama. It is now important to have a president who can restore America’s reputation in the world, after eight years of George Bush. I believe Obama can do that.”
Lejbowicz is scared at the prospect of McCain for president: “I believe he will follow Bush’s policies and won’t bring the change that we need. Obama on the other hand is all about change. He comes across as really honest, and I think people believe him.”
But Wolf argues that, on the contrary, America needs more of the Bush treatment: “My biggest complaint is that McCain is not enough like Bush.”
He adds that the Republican candidate is “a lot more in tune, from a defence standpoint, with what Israel is going through.
“I don’t think Obama is anti-Israel, but as a Jew I am worried. A lot of the people around Obama have some pretty wacky left-wing ideas and don’t have really good Israel credentials.”
His concerns are echoed by Gross. “For voters concerned about Israel, there are question marks about what an Obama win would mean. I do worry that some of the people Obama associates with remind me of the Jimmy Carter administration, which was not seen as being friendly to Israel.”
But Margolis strongly disagrees. “I think Obama is very supportive of Israel,” he says.
With the current global financial crisis hitting America hard, this election campaign seems to have been largely dominated by economic policies and the candidates’ reactions to the crisis. According to Gross, the election “will be decided on economics”.
Chernaik says: “People are truly worried about the economy and I don’t think that McCain has any credentials in that area.”
She admits that both Obama and McCain were unprepared for the crisis, but adds: “Obama managed to react and shift ground convincingly, whereas McCain didn’t.”
According to Margolis, the economic crisis increased Obama’s popularity. “McCain didn’t show up well during the crisis. He proved to be more of a hindrance than a help but Obama handled it very well.”
But Wolf says Obama would “tax people more, which I’ve always believed in not doing during a time of recession”.
Despite the debates surrounding Obama and McCain, they are not the only ones who have caused a stir during this election. When McCain announced 44year-old Alaskan governor and mother-of-five Sarah Palin as his running mate and vice-presidential candidate in August, the news sent shock-waves across the globe.
A virtual unknown until that point, her family life, and the ruling by an ethics committee that she abused her power in trying to get her sister’s ex-husband sacked, have made her a controversial figure.
At times, the self-described “pit bill” has divided opinion more than Obama and McCain themselves. Margolis says: “Her experience is zero. The role of vicepresident is to take over instantly if necessary. That scares the hell out of people.”
Wolf disagrees. “Sarah Palin should be the role model for a lot of women. She has energised the conservative base and is running one of the toughest states. She is highly experienced.”
Despite the controversy, Gross says: “No-one votes on the basis of vice-president.”
So how will America’s Jews vote? “Overwhelmingly Democrat, as they always historically have,” Gross says. Chernaik adds: “All my friends and family are voting for Obama.”
Even Wolf admits: “My family have all gone very liberal. They are all voting Obama.”
America goes to the polls next week to elect a president. But although most US Jews tend to vote Democrat, support here crosses party lines