The presidential election is just a week away. All three debates are in the books, and polls say that most voters have made up their minds.
But none of that, not even a colossal East Coast hurricane, stopped Aish Campus Pittsburgh from piggybacking on the seasonal popularity of argumentative vitriol.
The Jewish campus organization hosted a mock presidential debate Monday night at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, with conservative radio talk show host and occasional film critic Michael Medved standing in for the Republicans, and State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) representing the Democrats.
Frankel was a last-minute substitution for David Luchins, chairman of the department of political science at New York’s Touro College, who was precluded from attending because of flight cancelations and airport closures related to Hurricane Sandy.
Medved and Frankel sparred, mostly politely, for about an hour, touching on domestic topics such as health care and the economy, to foreign policy issues, such as tumult in Libya and America’s relationship with Israel.
“Take a look at where we’ve been,” Frankel said. “Our president and his administration have orchestrated, in my view, a fairly remarkable turnaround from an absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented economic crisis that we were in when he was elected.”
“At the Democratic convention, the slogan again and again was ‘Four more years!’ The proper question is ‘Four more years of what?’ ” Medved asked. “What is it that we want to replicate that’s happened in the past four years? Killing [Osama] bin Laden? We can’t kill him again! The problem is that the nation yearns for, needs, requires a new direction. And they’re going to get that new direction eight days from today.”
Frankel held his own despite facing a tough room. On top of having relatively little time to prepare, his responses — most of which simply towed the Democratic line — drew several outbursts from a decidedly right-leaning crowd, despite moderator Lou Weiss’ repeated pleas for quiet. One audience member asked Frankel, “How can anybody who believes in G-d vote for a Democrat?”
The sharpest exchange of the evening came during a discussion of American foreign policy with regard to Israel.
“To have the president of the United States dictate where the borders should be … to show that he is more concerned about someone building an apartment in Jerusalem than he is about [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad building a bomb in Tehran, that is a very real problem,” Medved said.
“This issue about President Obama dictating to Israel just doesn’t exist,” Frankel replied, adding that every prior U.S. president, including Obama’s immediate predecessor, acknowledged a settlement on the Middle East starts with the 1967 borders.
“Absolutely not true,” Medved interrupted.
“Absolutely true,” Frankel said.
During Frankel’s rebuttal, one unidentified woman began shouting in disagreement at Frankel, and did so until a bulk of the crowd shushed her and Weiss asked her to leave, which she did of her own volition.
“Now it’s an official debate,” Medved quipped.
Summing up their respective positions, Medved admonished the president while Frankel admonished congressional Republicans.
“There has been no meaningful attempt to bridge the gap, the polarization, the bitterness, the partisanship,” he said. “The disaster is looming, and it’s serious. And there’s only one way to deal with it, and that’s with fresh leadership.”
Frankel insisted that Republicans’ refusal to negotiate or compromise on any revenue enhancements has made the entire process of legislating on a federal level more difficult than ever before.
“[In Harrisburg] we don’t deal with an opposition that digs its heels in and says ‘No.’ It’s why we’ve got this fiscal cliff hanging out there, and it’s why we need to re-elect this president,” said Frankel. “Because he, at least, will make a compromise.”
(Matthew Wein can be reached at email@example.com.)