I have not voted in the United States since I came to Israel 33 years ago. Participating in one country's politics is enough for me. On the other hand, I used to teach about American politics, and retain an interest in what happens there.
I cannot claim insight on many of the issues that concern Americans. Much of what I see has to deal with national security. That means the candidates' postures and experience, and what they may mean for Israel and other clients of the United States.
A television moment helps to define what is important to us and Americans. Varda and I were watching one of Israel's channels in the living room, where the principal item was the war in Georgia. Mattan told us that John Edwards' sex life was the only story on Fox news.
Both McCain and Obama have substantial negatives. I do not like McCain's inclination to solve knotty problems with the American military. I think he is wrong on Georgia, viewing it as a line to be drawn in the sand against an expansionist Russia. I admire his refusal to define an end date for Iraq, but I cringe when he talks about staying until victory. A re-ignited Cold War hardly seems the best way to deal with Iraq, when one of the source problems is Iran, a client of Russia.
The key element in Barak Obama's campaign is himself, his thrilling life story, and what it means for a promise of change. This year may provide him enough material for publishing a third autobiography, all before the age of 50.
His childhood and career could make a good movie. I do not see its relevance for the White House. One has to go back to Wendell Wilkie to find a candidate for the presidency with less of a track record in elective office. Wilkie's experience was richer than Obama's, since he headed a major electric utility with frequent involvement in the important policy issues of the time.
Among the problems in knowing what Obama would do as president is the large number of people who claim access to him. He has the largest number of paid staffers of any previous candidate. The 900 or 1,400 people on his still expanding payroll are twice the number in Bush's campaign of 2004, and three times the number of McCain's current staff. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/07/20/obamas_paid_staff_dwarfing_mccains/?page=1
Most of these are bush beaters in key states. However, enough names have surfaced with campaign titles to express the candidate's position as to leave me thinking of an organization gearing up for its opportunity to expand the Imperial Presidency. Along with Obama's lack of a track record, it adds to my wondering about where is the real Obama in all the noise, or what positions noted by a staffer reflect his own considered views.
I am not alone in my doubts. One article after another focuses on the weakness apparent among those inclined to vote for him, even according to polls that show him marginally ahead. One cannot overlook the lingering issue of race. For many people who have expressed themselves, what is important is not his impressive skills as a campaigner, but a lack of certainty about his substance.
Were I voting in this election, I would not choose the candidate I favor, because there is none. There remains the well know device of picking the least undesirable, or the better of the bad.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325