BY MARCIA JAFFE / AJT //
Ari Fleischer, CNN Correspondent and former Press Secretary to George W. Bush, addressed a group of 175 at the Sandy Springs Heritage Center late last month.
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Along with Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the National RJC, who flew in from Washington, D.C., strengths and challenges were outlined, focusing on the theme: “Can we convince voters that a more Conservative path is also a caring one”?
We were asked to raise our hands if we wear a wrist watch. Rolexes, Seiko’s, and rubber jogging watches flapped in the air, driving home the implication that we might be “out of touch” with younger views and technology.
I’m guilty. How you not have a watch!
But the questions linger: How to overcome the staid, stereotypical view that Republicans are evangelical, monolithic, and uncompassionate?
Get into a discussion with a Liberal, and barbs fly:
“You want wacky Sarah Palin as President?” How to overcome the base fear of appearing racist because you didn’t vote for Obama; or you want to take undeserving people off disability benefits? Can you advocate for a more balanced budget without being accused of ripping Social Security out of the pockets of seniors?
Chuck Berk, along with his wife Bonnie, co-chair of the local RJC, feels that Republicans must do a better job of explaining how a Conservative platform can be founded in social justice, treatment of seniors, and Tikkun Olam.
Chuck stated that “it’s much simpler to explain the Democratic platform consisting of ‘we’re gonna give you what you need’ versus a complex view of why lower taxes help businesses expand, which in turn helps people get out of poverty.”
Further he reminded us, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”
Fleischer, known for his poise under pressure (considering he served during 9/11 and the presidential recount vote), honesty and clear thinking, was very warm and “middle of the roadish” on some important issues.
He grew up with liberal Hungarian immigrant parents and was drawn to Ronald Regan’s ideals of “peace through strength.”
Fleisher felt that, “Romney went off track with such political gaffs as suggesting Hispanics should self deport, implying a lack of caring. This is in contrast to Reagan who had a comfort level with himself and connected to people of all classes – an enduring lesson that Republicans need to learn.”
Ari noted that the trends in politics are:
— Race … especially the unique circumstances and emotionalism of the last election
— Marital status … Republicans skew “married”
— Religion … 42 percent of Republicans attend religious services on a weekly basis versus Dems at 17 percent
— Hispanic voters … 44 percent of Latinos selected Bush versus 27 percent for Romney. Latinos also in theory align closely to Republican values: strong families, religious, industrious. “Their everyday life is Republican in value orientation,” said Fleischer.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Jews are trending away from liberalism. “What,” you say?
A review of the last few Presidential Elections shows the percentage of Jews who voted Republican: Clinton, 11 percent; McCain, 22 percent; Romney, 32 percent.
On Syria, Fleischer said he supported Obama’s response to chemical warfare given that the “red line” was announced.
“It’s important that our allies respect us, and that our enemies fear us. Let both sides drain each other, as long as it does not spillover. All bad choices,” he muses.
Fleischer did not support the government shutdown or “the Republican’s behavior in that regard.”
Being in Georgia, he said, “No tears are shed because Cynthia McKinney and Jimmy Carter are out of the picture”. The audience cheered. He also felt that we have far too many Presidential debates. “21 are too high, and 8 are about right,” he said.
I get more than a little squeamish with Fleisher’s statistics on the solidity of America’s relationship with Israel.
If “push came to shove”, Republicans, by a large percentage say they would pressure Palestine over Israel; Independents favor Israel also; but Liberals flip the ratio: 34 percent would pressure Palestine versus 38 percent who would pressure Israel.
He felt that grassroots Democrats following Obama’s lead would “deep down prefer just to be neutral” in place of continuing this “special relationship.”
Cory Ruth, a former candidate for the U.S. Congress, felt that Republicans would “benefit from a more focused message, robust fundraising effort, and growth strategy to increase the African-American vote.”
“Ari Fleisher, who is always insightful and measured, celebrated the consistent electoral gains Republicans have made among Jewish voters,” he said. “I believe there is room for similar gains among African-American voters as more black Republicans, who are preeminently qualified, are elected and appointed. Our governor, Nathan Deal, has established an outstanding record of promoting diversity and working across the aisle.”
Ruth is an independent IT Mergers and Acquisitions expert who, coincidentally, had just returned from Israel.
Hope for the Republicans? Yes, according to Bernie Marcus. He wasn’t at this meeting, but at the last forum he attended Marcus was indeed hopeful that Jewish voters would continue to come over in greater numbers.
Hope is also among the younger generation.
Just prior to this meeting, Orit Sklar, chairperson of the Young Jewish Republicans, hosted her own group who met privately with Brooks and Fleischer.
“We were able to pose questions and get an exclusive preview of their remarks,” she said.
Sklar, a Georgia Tech graduate, is a political blogger and guest panelist on Fox 5’s Georgia Gang, as well as a provider of election analysis for the CNN Newsroom.
She is Developmental Director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a grassroots public policy organization, and a nationwide spokesperson for the advancement of First Amendment Rights and academic freedom on campus, especially on issues relating to culture, Israelis, and millennials (people born after 1980).
“We will continue to provide opportunities like this, she said, “in order to provide young Jewish professionals the opportunity to discuss civic leadership, public policy, and politics with their peers and leading figures from business, politics and media.”
Among Americans in general there seems to be a preference for the middle ground. Thirty-five percent identify themselves as “right of center”, only 25 percent as liberal. Voters over 40 and, especially, seniors, are a fast growing Republican demographic.”
Fifty-seven percent of Orthodox Jews are now or “lean towards” Republican issues.
“It was great to be in a room with so many like-minded Jewish people,” said newcomer Fred katz. “The energy was palpable. Ari Fleischer’s insights were ‘right on.’ This was my first RJC event; but it will not be my last.”
I was disappointed that no one addressed the social issues that alienate many potential conservative (and female) voters: Abortion and same sex marriage. Really, if Republicans backed off this extreme ideology, where would the far right go?
Would they just not vote and hand it over to the Democrats on a platter; or would they suck it up and get behind common sense revisions for the good of the party?
Dr. Alan Weinstein was happy to see the event so well attended.
“We couldn’t get a minyan (a decade ago),” he said. He feels that Republicans need to modernize; reach the youth by better use of social media; mute the arrogance and not get mired in quicksand over social issues.
“Whoever the presidential candidate is, he/she better not be a patrician,” he said. Weinstein warned to “watch out for a wild card, like Gov. (Chris) Christy switching over to the Dems and bumping Hillary Clinton off the ticket.”
Whoa! Hold your horses; or in that case, hold your elephants and donkeys!