The Philadelphian is a high-rise condominium overlooking the classical columns of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with picturesque views of the Schuylkill River and the verdant Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Many of the Philadelphian's residents are retired and a considerable number of them are Jewish. On October 4, Tony Lake, foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama and National Security Adviser in the Clinton Administration, addressed a gathering of 200 Jewish voters at the condominium. Ted Mann, a nationally revered leader in the Jewish community, introduced Lake. Mann's distinctions include serving as co-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Jewish Organizations, President of the American Jewish Congress, and Chair of the National Conference of Soviet Jewry, among other leadership roles. Mann has endorsed Obama and spoke directly to the rumors and smears about the Democratic Presidential nominee being targeted to Jewish voters.
"There have never been as many falsehoods about a candidate's religion being perpetuated by the Republicans as there have been this year," Mann said, explaining that, because of the mendacious rumors, he felt the need to name Obama advisers who are Jewish including such well known figures as David Axelrod, Robert Rubin and the guest speaker, Tony Lake.
Before he began his presentation, Lake asked for a show of hands to determine how many undecided voters were in the audience. To his pleasant surprise, there was only one undecided; everyone else in the audience was an Obama supporter. Lake has been working for Obama since 2002 and he explained that, although he has been a "foreign policy nerd" for decades, this is the first time he has actively campaigned for a candidate. "This campaign" he said, "has excited me like no campaign since 1960 and I'm enthusiastically working for Barack." Early in his career, Lake was an assistant to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration, but left after disagreeing with Nixon's Cambodia policy. Since then he has had a first-row seat in evaluating the foreign policy approaches of several administrations. Describing himself as non-partisan, Lake said he has voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates and believes Obama has the qualities necessary to be a great leader on foreign policy and a friend to Israel.
"As a Jew," Lake said, "I'm certain that Obama is good for our community," and he outlined the qualities required of a great leader, qualities he believe Obama possesses: authenticity, change (he believes Obama embodies change), experience, and vision (not of where America is in the world, but a vision of America itself).
To illustrate Obama's authenticity, Lake said, "On national security issues, people want to know that they can believe what our leaders say. When Obama says he is absolutely committed to Israel's security, his word is sacrosanct; when he says he is committed to a peace agreement in which Israel has secure, internationally recognized and defended borders, he means it; and when he says he will continue to be a strong supporter of American assistance to Israel, we can believe he means it." Obama's commitment to peace in the Middle-East, Lake said, means he will be encouraging, not forcing Israel. Any peace agreement will preserve Israel's status as an independent nation. Obama, he said, is firmly committed, to preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons and to fighting against Hezbollah. "If I weren't convinced that he's authentic," Lake said, "I wouldn't support him."
In regard to change, Lake asked, "Is the world safer than it was eight years ago? Is Israel safer?" He went on to say, "We need to change what is going on in the world and we need to change our foreign policy." After the past eight years, Lake commented, "Our position in the region is a bad as it has ever been in my lifetime." Foreign policy, he explained, is not a popularity contest, and it is not effective if countries do not respect one another. Under the Bush administration, our international reputation has been severely damaged. "When respect is lost," Lake explained, "other nations don't have to listen to us.
"There is fascination around the world with Barack," said Lake, "that will open doors to other countries around the world. This will help our allies to support us." To demonstrate what he was referring to, Lake described a piece in the Economist that gave the results of international voting on the US election. The worldwide results were Obama: 2000, McCain: 0; in Israel, the results were Obama over McCain 2:1.
Lake addressed climate change and energy as part of the high priority initiatives that are a part of the changes Obama will bring. Our ability to work together with other nations on climate change initiatives is a crucial part of our foreign policy looking forward.
On the must-discussed subject of Obama's experience, Lake was emphatic, "He [Obama] really knows foreign policy; he is on top of it and is as smart a foreign policy analyst as I've ever worked with." Comparing him to past Presidents when they entered the White House, Lake said, "Obama knows more than Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton when they were elected." He added that Obama's experience as a child in Indonesia and later travels to Pakistan, Africa and Europe, experiencing firsthand how people live in cultures different from ours, has given him invaluable insights. Obama, Lake explained, understands of the realities of the world and that what happens to people in countries beyond our borders has an impact on us because of globalization. "Experience gives judgment," said Lake, "and Obama has good judgment." Pointing out that Obama opposed the Iraq War for "the right reasons," Lake said Obama's call for diplomacy and his willingness to talk with our adversaries without preconditions--as Kennedy, Reagan and Nixon did--are also examples of his good judgment.
Another example of judgment is how a leader responds to a crisis, Lake asked, "Have you ever seen a leader calmer than Obama?" As a close adviser, he has witnessed the operations of the Obama campaign up close. "We stay focused," Lake said, "we call it, 'no drama Obama.' The campaign reflects the temperament of the man." Referring to a question that is often posed by the opposition as an accusation, "Can Obama run anything," Lake described Obama as the most organized politician he's worked for, that he is strategic, focused and knows how to use resources, which a President will have to do.
In discussing the fourth leadership quality on his list--vision--Lake described his response to Obama's 2004 DNC keynote address. "I was blown away, not by his eloquence, but by his vision of America and his call for unity," Lake said. "Our diversity is to be cherished--it is not to be used as the hunting ground for politicians to divide us." In a statement reminiscent of Lincoln's "A house divided against itself cannot stand," Lake said, "We need to come together. A more unified America is a stronger America."
I spoke with a few people in the audience about the election. Harold Meyer, one of the residents, told me, "I think Obama is the most logical, intelligent person who is running in this election. He is the only choice." Naomi Sav, who is originally from Philadelphia, lived in Chicago for 25 years before returning to the City of Brotherly Love, and is familiar with Obama's political career. "I voted for Obama in Chicago," she told me, "because he did wonderful things for the people."
Frieda Graves expressed her surprise and apprehension about her peers who say they won't vote for Obama because he is African American. "People of a certain age--mostly over 65--have a latent prejudice and this election has brought it to the front," she said, "I haven't observed it in any other circumstance--not until this election." Her friend, Flora Klein, like many women voters I've spoken with, expressed her dismay about Sarah Palin. "I'm really scared that they will get in," she said, "particularly because of Sarah Palin's lack of knowledge and what will happen to the Supreme Court if McCain appoints the next justices."
After taking questions, Tony Lake ended his presentation by encouraging everyone present to talk to their family, friends and neighborhoods about Obama.