By Alon Melamed
The Jewish Community Center of Squirrel Hill hosted a presidential forum debate on Sunday, Oct. 5, in a mission to engage the Jewish community through public affairs.
Speaking on behalf of the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign was Richard Heideman, founder of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Heideman, Nudelman and Kalik and former president of B’nai B’rith International. He also serves as a legal analyst for the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.
Representing the Barack Obama-Joseph Biden campaign was U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., who is currently serving his 13th term in the House of Representatives. He is chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
Both are members of the Democratic Party.
A key component for both candidates was experience. Heideman and Ackerman agreed that experience is what could decide the presidential election outcome.
“Four years in the U.S. Senate does not match even the outstanding
record of Congressman Ackerman,”
Heideman said, acknowledging his rival speaker being a longtime member of Congress.
The war on terrorism evoked strong comments from the the participants.
“Senator McCain has made it clear — we do not negotiate with terrorists,” Heideman said, noting that Obama had said he would “meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions.”
“We are in fact living in dangerous times,” Heideman said.
“When Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, says the Holocaust is almost a myth and Israel will not exist, I want to see the most experiential hand in the White House with the Ahmadinejads of the world.”
Ackerman opened his statements with a strong attack on Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. He called McCain’s choice of the Alaska governor “absolutely reckless.”
He said this election is not just about experience but also about how the way the candidates think.
“Smart is more important than strong,” Ackerman said. “It’s important to be strong but it’s also important to be smart and to use your intelligence to figure out how to use the strength that you have.”
Palin became one of many issues members of the audience raised in its questions. Some wondered whether her selection was based on her popular appeal or if she is really fit to lead were she elected.
They also posed questions about single issue voting. Such issues discussed were privatization of social security, oil policies and Iraq.
One member of the audience Mordecai Treblow of Squirrel Hill, a retired chemist, said the government should seek additional energy sources.
“One of the most vital issues is energy and security,” he said. “We cannot achieve energy independence if it’s not for bipartisan support.”
Treblow said that oil can still be drilled.
“We’ve got to have more efficient cars but for the present we need oil and gas, and we need a lot of it,” he said. “We need more energy sources and simplify regulations to limit lawsuits.”
Jeff Pollock, a Squirrel Hill attorney, questioned Heideman’s comments about Palin.
“I recognize his [Heideman] persuasiveness, and he could keep a straight face, when he was talking about Sarah Palin’s credentials is humourous to me because I don’t think he believes that.”
Ackerman argued for choosing Obama based on his “experience through judgment.” He said the Illinois Democrat would nominate worthy Supreme Court justices and keep church and state separated.
But Heideman said McCain would use the American scale of justice in making decisions. “Experience through evidence,” he said, referring to McCain’s longer tenure involved with U.S. polices.
(Alon Melamed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)