I'll Hold My Nose With One Hand and Vote For Clinton With the Other

By Former Sen. James G. Abourezk

People have tried to convince me that, as president, Bob Dole would be better on the Middle East issue. I know that Dole has demonstrated more than once that he doesn't like what Israel is doing. And I know that Bill Clinton has demonstrated that he has an open request line for Israel's wants and needs. With him, it's no holds barred so far as Israel is concerned. Whatever Israel wants, Israel gets, with no argument and no delay. Clinton has only one principle – get elected, no matter who it hurts or who it helps.

But, despite Dole's private views on Israel, with him, that's as far as it goes. No matter how much lip service he might pay in criticizing Israel's actions, he inevitably caves in at the end to give Israel what it wants. As president, he would be even more vulnerable to Israeli lobby pressure, because then he would have not only his entire political party, but also the Republicans (and Democrats) in the Congress leaning on him to do Israel's bidding. Not since Eisenhower has a president had the courage to face down the Israeli lobby. That was in 1956 and that was Ike. Today the lobby is much more sophisticated and much more organized than it was in those days. In the words of Lloyd Bentsen, "I know Bob Dole, and he's no Dwight Eisenhower."

I actually did know Dole when I served in the U.S. Senate with him. He was always up-front and straightforward. He had no hidden agenda. He was not the Republican leader back then, but he was a respected conservative senator whose word was always good. I will never forget when the Senate Republicans were on the verge of destroying the food stamp program. Dole convinced enough of them to support it, and indeed it was saved. He's been backsliding a bit lately, what with the fealty he's been forced to pay to the tobacco lobby, however. Clinton, on the other hand, has demonstrated his ability to buckle under any kind of political pressure. As someone once said, he's like a huge cushion. He bears the impression of whomever sat on him last. While Dole might be able to withstand pressure until the end, only to eventually cave in, Clinton comes into a fight looking around for someone to surrender to. Witness the health care campaign when he was first elected. His opening – keeping health insurance companies in the game – was a compromise, when the problem all along with health care has been the health insurance companies. There is nothing wrong with our medical technology, or the competence of doctors and hospitals. There is something wrong, however, in how health care is financed, and his compromise would not have changed that at all. But as you might suspect, when you come to the bargaining table with a compromise already in place, the game is over before it starts.

Moreover, Clinton has backed away from his friends, such as Lani Guinier, and Jocelyn Elders, the former surgeon general, and other appointments he's made, or that he's not made, as the case may be. At the first hint of controversy, he's gone, disappearing into the darkness, leaving those who supported him to be devoured by the political wolves. Watching him campaign this year, one wonders if he ever had a firm belief in anything. The Republicans are furious as they watch him, every day, steal their issues.

As a Democrat, I like comedian Jackie Mason's philosophy. If I wanted to vote for a Republican, I can do so directly. I don't need a middle man. Someone else has commented that there's no need to elect a Republican president this year, because we already have one in the White House. And Clinton can't wait to do things for Israel, even appointing a working Zionist – Martin Indyk – first as his White House Middle East specialist, then as ambassador to Israel. And his virtual endorsement of the Israeli shelling of Qana was shameful.

But on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I'm confident that there will not be one speck of difference between Clinton and Dole. I believe that both always will do what Israel wants. They both will provide whatever money Israel needs to continue its war against the Arabs – at least those Arabs who haven't yet surrendered – and both will continue uninterrupted the flow of weapons to Israel to prevent it from being forced by reality to make any kind of fair deal with its Arab neighbors.

If I thought there would be a hope of a change of policy from Bob Dole, I honestly would reconsider my position tomorrow. But I've watched too many presidents come into power with the initial desire to rein in Israel, only to end up serving Israel.

Every presidential election year, I hear from my friends that a Republican president would be tough on Israel. What about such a dream? Well, Republican Ronald Reagan did more for Israel than any president before him. (Clinton is competing hard.) But even George Bush the oil man, and the fabled Jim Baker, did almost no damage to Israel's objectives while they were running things. I admit to having a lot of things wrong with me, but amnesia is not one of them. No, Virginia, there is not one speck of difference in the political party of the president when it comes to the Middle East, and perhaps in many other areas as well.

What is wrong with the political parties vis-a-vis the Arab Israeli conflict is more a reflection on the Arab-American community, however, than on the politicians. How did it come about that both Democrats and Republicans bow and scrape to Israel? It is because the Zionists years ago were able to unite all their many factions and act as one when it came to getting support for Israel. There is no shortage of money for candidates who support Israel, because Israel's supporters, mostly American Jews, open their pocketbooks when pro-Israeli organizations come around raising money. What happens when pro-Arab organizations, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and American Educational Trust, ask for money? It's easier to pull teeth. Those who do have money to give would rather spend it on something else – anything else – rather than form a common cause against the Zionists. I know. I spent 15 years trying to raise something more than a drop of money for ADC in order to organize the Arab-American community. Uniting – that's just something the community apparently doesn't want done.

So what about other issues? For me, it comes down to whom the respective candidates will bring with them to the government if elected. For all his wishy-washy vacillating and his finger-in-the-wind posturing, Clinton has and will continue to appoint a few people in his administration who will have some semblance of humanity about them.

The big difference to American Indians here in South Dakota are the federal judges Clinton has appointed. Actually, they are judges recommended by our Democratic senator, Tom Daschle, but named by Clinton. The two he has appointed so far are humane, fair, scholarly, and able to make courageous decisions against the grain if they believe they are right. Already they have made a world of difference for Indian tribes in South Dakota, who for years have been getting the short end of the stick from Reagan and Bush appointees. I suspect that if someone did a study of the quality of federal judges appointed by Clinton around the country, the result would not be much different.

Make no mistake. I have absolutely no use for what has passed for the Democratic Party in the past few years. Democratic members of Congress have grown fat and sassy, and, in fact, have been acting just like Republicans – cozying up to the big money interests and forgetting about their less fortunate constituents. They deserved to be swept out of office in 1994. And unless they've learned their lesson, they'll be swept out again. The only thing that saves them now is the unmitigated greed of the class of Republican freshmen, and their leaders, who seem to want to serve everyone but the public.

I've been urged by friends to support Ralph Nader's protest run for the presidency this year. The theory is that Ralph will pull Clinton over to his point of view politically. It's a protest against Clinton's rightward shift, against him running as a Republican, but from the Democratic Party. My view is that Ralph Nader is one of America's greatest citizens. He's someone I've admired from the beginning of his career. In fact, if Ralph ever ran a campaign for the presidency that is something more than just a protest campaign, I would give up my law practice and work for him full time.

He is perhaps the most honest, gifted, and intelligent person in or out of politics in America. But such a protest vote for any third party candidate would only ensure that even more Republican hordes would descend on Washington to finish the work Newt Gingrich started – the work of dismantling America's social programs – programs that keep poor people alive, that keep the poor from rioting in the streets, and that keep children from openly begging on the streets.

I feel downright angry about the Clinton White House calling the FBI in every time they want to do something to some of their political enemies. There's no question in my mind that the recent brouhaha about the FBI files in the White House was the Clinton campaign's preparation for an enemies list. That makes Clinton himself even more distasteful to me. Clinton and his people have proved they can be mean and heavy-handed.

But when I look at who will come into prominence and influence should Dole be elected, I really fear for the country. Look what the Republican crazies in power have done in the past two years without a Republican president in office. What will they do if there is one of their own party in the White House signing their mean-spirited legislation? Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey. These will all be running the country if a Republican comes to the White House.

The Republicans who want to slowly strangle Medicare and Medicaid; those who want to gut the environmental programs laboriously put in place in the last 25 years; those who want to make certain the rich are taken care of; and those who, at the same time, want to throw millions of children off welfare, and close down the Women, Infants and Children's program; they will have the whip hand, and there would not be anyone to stop them. There is not one iota of humanity in any of them. They are there to serve the wealthy and that's that.

Bob Dole would not only go along with Israel's objectives, but he would swallow the pills being fed to him by Gingrich and Company. Rich Americans should never vote for anyone but a Republican president. But the rest of us would be crazy to bring into total power the Rush Limbaughs, the Newt Gingriches, and the others who believe in economic royalism. Have we so quickly forgotten how the Republican Congress wants to treat immigrants, both legal and illegal? Can we forget that most of us in the Arab-American community either are immigrants or the children of immigrants?

And, not least, I'm absolutely disgusted at the way the Republicans have tried to destroy Hillary Clinton. Apparently, because nothing sticks to Clinton himself, they have aimed their fire at his wife. I'm convinced they believe that a woman who is intelligent and independent is a threat to all manhood, and the Republican attacks on her are designed to appeal to that segment of our society – those who fear that women might do some thinking on their own. But to me it is a disgusting way to practice politics.

Perhaps I'm thinking back to when I was in office. Try as they might back then, the Zionists could find no dirt on me, so they resorted to attacking my children in order to get at me. What Alphonse D'Amato and Newt Gingrich and the rest of the hatchet men in the Republican Party are doing with their smear campaign is attempting to help themselves, but they're not helping America. That kind of studied meanness goes hand in hand with the stupid ham-handedness exhibited by some of the heavies in the Clinton White House – those who called the FBI in on the travel office business, and those who collected the FBI files on political opponents.

If it is a choice between Clinton's opportunism and Dole's cronyism – a distasteful choice – I must opt for the more humane group of people being in power, as we more and more often are forced to say, "the lesser of the two evils."

This election year, for the reasons I've cited, I will hold my nose with one hand and vote for Clinton with the other.


Sen. James G. Abourezk, who served in both the House and the Senate as a Democrat from South Dakota, was a founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1980. He practices law in Sioux Falls, SD.


Reprinted by permission from Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/Sept. 1996.

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