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The Surrogates Swing Away, and Questions Fly

October 23, 2008 By:
Michelle Mostovy-Eisenberg, JE Feature
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With the presidential election less than three weeks away, the antagonism between supporters of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain was evident during a local forum held Oct. 16, as representatives from both campaigns relayed their candidates' views -- only to be heckled by an increasingly rowdy crowd as the evening wore on.

About 100 people attended a "surrogates" forum at Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim in Wynnewood; the program was sponsored by the Sabra group of Hadassah of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the synagogue.

Advocating for Obama was U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is Jewish and chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. McCain was represented by former-Louisiana-governor-turned-businessman Charles "Buddy" Roemer, who serves as an advisor to the Republican's campaign.

Differences Between Candidates
After forum moderator David E. Straus, rabbi of Main Line Reform, introduced the surrogates, each representative then had about 15 minutes to speak.

Roemer, a friend of McCain's for 25 years, said that, when it comes to Israel, "there's a difference" between the candidates. He stated that there has been much "ambiguity from Obama" regarding Israel and especially whether Jerusalem will be divided as part of final status talks in the Middle East peace process. Under McCain, Roemer said, Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, "not separated by barbed wire."

Waxman began by addressing the Bush administration's missteps, saying that "we've seen the deterioration of government's ability to do something to protect the consumer," referring to health care, environmental issues and financial regulations. Waxman argued that, while the current economic situation is being blamed on people taking out mortgages and not paying them off, it was actually the fault of "predatory lenders" whose actions and "risky investments" were "completely unregulated."

He also said that voters need to ask themselves what kind of president McCain would be, considering his first decision as the Republican nominee was to pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Citing Palin's lack of experience, and given McCain's age and health history, Waxman challenged those present to "imagine how she will be as president of the United States. You can't see Israel from Alaska."

Questions and More Questions
The floor was then opened to members of the audience, who lined up to ask questions -- and there were multiple ones regarding Obama's "guilt-by-association" connections with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and '60s radical William Ayers.

Phillip Remstein of Lafayette Hill, who sported two McCain-Palin campaign buttons and came prepared with an armful of highlighted newspaper clippings, read from a recent New York Post article in which civil rights leader Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying that, although "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they will lose much of their clout if Obama wins the election.

"I'm not worried about No. 2 [on the Republican side]," he said. "I'm worried about No. 1 on the other. Where is his résumé?"

Another audience member then inquired of Roemer if McCain and Palin believe that Obama and Biden are Islamic or domestic terrorists.

"Who is this man -- Barack Obama?" asked an additional attendee, who voiced concern over not being allowed to question the people who helped Obama formulate his policies.

"You become who you hang with," answered Roemer. "Associations are important."

"If you are going to judge him by his associations," added Waxman, "judge him by his association with me," the Jewish community of Chicago and how Obama's voted -- and not on "false stuff," what Wright has said or a "flimsy affiliation" with Ayers.

Waxman pointed out that Obama has as much experience as John F. Kennedy had when he became president, and reiterated that voters need to put aside "guilt by association." 

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