President Barack Obama recently told a synagogue audience that he was “the first Jewish President.” The remark was more than a joke: apparently Obama actually believes it. His former adviser David Axelrod told an Israeli television station this week that Obama had boasted privately: “You know, I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office.” Aside from the astonishing narcissism–and defensiveness–of that remark, what is striking is just how utterly wrong it is.
Obama’s connections to the Jewish community date to his days in Hyde Park, that rarified elite enclave on Chicago’s South Side. The Obama family moved in across the road from a prominent Reform synagogue, whose rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf, shared Obama’s radical politics and was an early supporter. Obama’s community organizing introduced him to other left-wing Jews. In the Illinois State Senate office he shared an office with Ira Silverstein, a rare Orthodox Jewish Democrat.
In sum, Obama’s “Jewishness,” such as it is, is of a liberal political nature. He does not understand the Jewish connection to Israel: the story he told the Jewish congregation about his youthful admiration for Israel’s socialist pioneers is likely a fabrication, having no basis in either of the memoirs that he wrote about himself or the biographies written about him. And his own thin religious convictions provide no real basis for connecting to the rich spiritual legacy of traditional Judaism.
Obama is able to convince himself that is “the closest thing to a Jew” to be president because, as Ben Shapiro has noted, he sees himself, and his virtue, reflected in everything. This is a man, after all, who said: “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” More Jewish than the Jews, too.
He is also a man with little interest in history. Indeed, an ignorance of, and impatience with, the facts and lessons of history seems to be the consistent character flaw running throughout his administration, which is determined to pursue failed left-wing policies as if they have never been tried before, here or elsewhere. In this case, Obama seems totally oblivious to the fact that there were several presidents more “Jewish” than he, in ways more authentic than solidarity with the Jewish left.
As John Podhoretz (via Kevin Williamson) noted last time Obama made a similar claim:
James Madison and John Adams, who both read Hebrew, certainly knew more about Judaism than does Barack Obama. In fact, most educated Americans in the early days of our country probably knew more about Judaism….President Wilson, a nasty but well-educated man, appreciated as much when he spoke of the Hebrew commonwealth as a model for the American commonwealth.
Chief among these was Madison, who studied, spoke and read the Hebrew language. Madison not only showed great religious tolerance towards America’s Jews, but also applied the lessons of ancient Jewish history–along with many other civilizations–when he devised a constitutional model that dispersed power among different branches of government, as the best Israelite kings did in circumscribing their own power, leaving religious affairs to independent priestly authorities.
Obama resists the separation of powers, as well as the fundamental Judeo-Christian idea that there are good and evil in the world and that it is not only possible, but necessary, to choose between them. He steadfastly refuses to do so, and believes he has restored America’s stature by yielding to the expansive ambitions of the world’s most evil regimes. On the Iranian front, that appeasement risks the future of Israel itself. Hardly what one might expect from the “first Jewish president.”