Teaneck—Recently, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and the Jewish Republican Coalition (RJC). Director, Matt Brooks, were guests at a symposium in Bnai Yeshurn, sponsored by the local RJC chapter. Approximately 200 people attended the event moderated by Rabbi Steven
The discussion was lively and wide-ranging one, as participants took questions from the audience. Rabbi Pruzansky, a committed Republican, set the tone with a series of pointed questions for Fleischer and Brooks.
He began by asking what went wrong for the Republican party in the last presidential election and wanted to know where the Republican Party is headed. He also asked about growing Jewish support for Republicans, the role of the RJC within the party and within the Jewish community, and of course, he talked about the shutdown, which at the time of this writing has still not been resolved.
Fleischer and Brooks criticized the current Republican leadership and the tendency of Republicans to “talk too often about policy, not enough about people” as Fleischer put it.
Both sounded the alarm for the party as it struggles to win the hearts and minds of the growing Hispanic community. Fleischer noted that his former boss, President George W. Bush, was able to connect with Hispanic community in a way current Republicans cannot. “Romney sent a signal that we don’t want that (immigrants/immigration) here. That’s in contrast to my old boss who said, ‘Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.’ When Bush said that, Fleisher noted, Hispanics would “listen to the next sentence.”
However, both noted that although the last few years have been difficult for Republicans generally, the last presidential election was a breakthrough for the RJC and the Jewish Republican vote with the Jewish vote hitting 32 percent voting for Romney—up from 22 percent in 2008 with McCain.
Rabbi Pruzansky questioned why the Tea Party Republicans were being criticized so strongly both from within and without the Republican Party. “It’s very hard to compete with the party of the free stuff,” Pruzansky asked. “How do you compete against the free stuff?”
Fleischer responded by questioning the premise of Rabbi Pruzansky’s question. He explained the Tea Party is controversial because “it’s not just people who are getting free stuff, the poor or low income,” he said. “It’s people from all walks of life. It’s corporations who are getting tax benefits they don’t need anymore. It’s wealthy people who get tax cuts they don’t need anymore. I don’t limit my criticism of people who get free stuff to just one group of people.”
Fleischer also talked emotionally about his experiences as White House press secretary and described the events of the Sept. 11th, 2001 which he spent at the President’s side. He commented wistfully about President Bush’s ability to reach across party lines and work together with the Democrats to govern a united America through wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A highlight of the evening was Fleischer’s quip to Rabbi Pruzansky, “Rabbi, you’d make a great press secretary” in response to the question of why Republican leaders and spokesman are not more forceful in their responses to criticism from the media and Democrats.
On that point, many in the audience certainly agreed.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer