When Barack Obama appeared before the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) last week, his 31-minute speech was interrupted by applause 69 times. Obama was speaking to the same group that invited 1,000 rabbis to hear him on a “High Holy Day conference call” in 2009 to -- in the words of the URJ invitation -- “urge your congregants to contact their elected officials in support of health care reform this year.”
Last week at the URJ, Obama could have ended his speech as soon as he started, because he had them at shalom:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Please, please have a seat. You’re making me blush. (Laughter.) Thank you, [Rabbi] Eric [Yoffie], for that extraordinary introduction and for your many years of leadership in the Reform movement. And even though it is a few hours early, I’d like to wish all of you Shabbat shalom. (Applause.)
When you get laughter and applause simply by asking everyone to sit down so you can wish them Shabbat Shalom, you know you’re speaking to the faithful.
Back in 2009, Obama asked the rabbis to help pass his health care legislation; this year, he needs help because of that legislative effort. His re-election has been jeopardized by Obamacare -- hyper-partisan legislation adopted in a hyper-partisan manner, with disingenuous promises that everyone could keep their plans and that a massive new government entitlement would save money -- ignoring warnings that Obamacare could harm the entire medical care system.
At the URJ last week, Obama suggested Obamacare reflected the Torah portion. His speech was a classic sermon from what Norman Podhoretz has called the “Torah of Liberalism,” converting the Torah portion into support for his political agenda, arguing the issues were moral ones, when they are actually political disputes about how best to reduce the cost of health insurance and extend coverage.
There is a moral hazard associated with the Torah of Liberalism, reflected in the mini-sermon of the rabbi who issued a Biblical condemnation (described in this post) of the opponents of Obamacare. It can lead to the demonization of opponents, and to the elevation of a politician into sort-of-God.
From the rapturous response Obama received from the URJ last week, it is obvious he has the URJ fired up and ready to go, just like last time. But why Jews continue to fall for this stuff is a bit of a mystery. It would take an extraordinary book to explain it.