April 29, 2009
So Far, So Good With Obama Administration
The U.S. Jewish community has taken great comfort with the performance of President Obama in his first 100 days in office. He already has begun to develop a deep and substantive relationship with the community by, among other things, hosting the first presidential Passover seder, creating strong outreach and communications, and working on key domestic and international issues of interest to American Jews.
Impressively, in less than 3 1/2 months, the Obama administration has moved forward with progressive policies of interest to our community relating to the economy, Israel, the Middle East, reproductive rights, renewable energy and stem cell research.
In addition, the Jewish community has applauded the president for including in his administration individuals who have long-standing close relationships with us. These include David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president; Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state; Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff; George Mitchell, Middle East special envoy; Peter Orszag, director of Office Management and Budget; Dennis Ross, senior adviser to the secretary of state; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary-designate of Health and Human Services; Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council; and others. Several of them are members of our faith themselves.
The seder caused quite a buzz in our community. Not only was it the first presidential seder in our nation’s history, it has become symbolic of the intimate and deep relationship our president has with our community. (I must have received 50 photos of the seder from friends and family). More importantly, before the first matzah was cracked on the 77th day of Obama’s presidency, his administration already had engaged with the Jewish community on a frequent basis. This included many in-person meetings, conference calls and appointing leaders in the Jewish community to key advisory positions.
As a community, we are grateful that the president has spoken loudly against hate and intolerance. Last week, President Obama spoke at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol and called on Americans to “contemplate the obligations of the living” and fight against “those who insist the Holocaust never happened, who perpetrate every form of intolerance.”
Earlier this month, under his direction, the United States. boycotted the vehemently anti-Israel U.N. conference on racism known as Durban II.
As noted, the administration also should be commended for its efforts to communicate with and involve our community in major policy decisions. For example, the administration briefed Jewish leaders on regular high-level conference calls as the policy toward Durban II was formulated. Before then, the administration invited community leaders to participate in an hourlong conference call with Mitchell. The conversation was substantive, candid and meaningful. Those on the call were impressed both by Mitchell’s grasp of the issues and his attentiveness to the participants’ questions.
Being a leader in the Jewish community during the Obama administration means more than just being invited to Chanukah parties and events at the White House. In these first 100 days, the most senior members of his administration not only reached out to the Jewish community, they listened. Although Obama’s critics continue to search for ways to prove that he is anti-Israel, their message lacks substance and has little resonance within the wider Jewish community.
Obama’s foreign policy has immeasurably improved America’s image abroad. Both his foreign policy objectives and his domestic policy make Israel and the United States more secure. The president’s policies that move America toward renewable energy and off Middle East oil already have begun to be implemented. These policies and those whom Obama has appointed to serve in his administration subscribe to strategies that give the utmost importance to Israel’s peace and security.
On the domestic front, Obama has acted swiftly on critical issues and revised some of President George W. Bush’s damaging policies. On the economy, the president has shown bold leadership and smart policies to lead America’s economy out of this crisis that will create or save millions of American jobs, provide tax relief and invest in our long-term economic security. Obama also ensured that we will not fall behind other leading countries in an important area of research and development by lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Exploring this burgeoning field will make sure that the United States is expanding the scientific frontier and providing Americans with the most advanced medical treatments.
As with stem cells, the president chose good policy over partisan politics when he struck down the infamous Global Gag rule that prohibited U.S. money from funding international family-planning clinics. These provided life-saving health services to women while providing counseling or referrals about abortion services. And finally, after many years of politicization at the FDA, Obama is putting science over blind ideology, including allowing Plan B, the morning-after pill, to be available without a prescription to women 17 and older.
We should not overstate the importance of Obama’s first 100 days; after all, there are more than 1,300 days left in the president’s first term. We are gratified, however, that the first 15 weeks of his presidency have made us proud and fulfilled his promise of much-needed change for our country.
Marc R. Stanley is chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council