Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa… (Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images )
The euphoria over former President Clinton's address Wednesday night to the Democratic National Convention only partly erased the embarrassment created earlier in the day when the delegates made two last-minute additions to the party platform.
Or did they? With Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former speaker of the California Assembly, awkwardly wielding the gavel, the delegates had to be polled three times on a motion to ratify amendments declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and referring to the "God-given potential" of working people. Rather than risk a fourth voice vote, Villaraigosa declared: "In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative." Some delegates didn't agree.
Barring an acoustic analysis, we'll never be completely sure. What is clear is that the Democrats — and the White House, which apparently instigated the additions — succumbed to pressure to demonstrate their theist and pro-Israel bona fides. The irony is that the Republicans who pressured the party into doctoring a perfectly defensible document will continue to impugn the Democrats' commitment to God and (another) country. See, they will argue, those godless, throw-Israel-under-the-bus Obamaites changed course only because we called them on their faithlessness. (Some Democrats also pushed for the changes.)
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Especially absurd was the attack on the platform for not mentioning God. (Never mind that it already included this passage: "Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history.") Republican Paul Ryan, whose own party's platform invoked the deity several times, told Fox News that the absence of "God" in the Democratic platform was "not in keeping with our founding documents." One problem with Ryan's objection is that the Constitution never mentions God, although the Declaration of Independence refers to a creator and "Nature's God."
It wasn't just in connection with God that Obama and the Democrats allowed themselves to be stampeded. Although the original 2012 platform was full of pro-Israel language, it did not repeat a line from the 2008 platform saying that "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel." Mitt Romney, who repeatedly has pandered to pro-Israel voters, professed to be shocked that "the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital."
This is politics at its silliest. Obama is only the latest president to keep the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv pending the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the final status of Jerusalem. One of the others was George W. Bush, who was nominated by a Republican convention that promised that on Inauguration Day "the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem." The likelihood that a President Romney would do what Presidents Bush and Obama declined to do is next to nil, and everyone (including the leaders of Israel) knows it.
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Obama and his party should have responded to the Republican gibes about God and Jerusalem with a self-confident shrug and perhaps a Reagan-like observation that "there they go again." Instead, they panicked. (Proving that both parties can pander, Democrats are arguing that their patched-up platform is actually more pro-Israel than the GOP's because it now says Jerusalem "should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths" — a phrase that some will interpret as an endorsement of Israeli sovereignty over the whole city and not just as the absence of physical barriers.
In his speech, Clinton said that Obama, while he burned for America on the inside, was "cool on the outside." God knows the president should have kept his cool when the platform came under attack.