It must be something in the water.
Once every four years, rational, right-thinking Americans get crazy. Election ads clearly hype up an already polarized electorate. And right about now, on the hot-button issues of the day -- debt, deficit, who's leading from behind in foreign policy and who's not -- many Americans seem to lose the capacity to think for themselves.
Instead of weighing issues deliberately, coolly and logically, they (we?) freak out. Indeed, to borrow a phrase from poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (though this is really not what he actually meant), Americans tend to willingly suspend their disbelief and accept uncritically the wackiest notions on domestic and foreign policy.
And the more Americans seem to care about an issue, the greater that wackiness becomes.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Israel issue, where very smart and politically engaged members of the American Jewish community persist in turning the election into a dramatic battle over which candidate is better for the Jews. Indeed, lost somewhere in this very foggy and politicized Bermuda Triangle, Jewish Republicans and Democrats trade dueling cosmic oy veys about what may happen to Israel if their guy isn't elected or the other guy wins.
There's nothing terribly remarkable or new about any of this. American Jews care deeply about Israel and are always worried about its security and concerned about the level of American support. And they're constantly creating litmus tests to judge the candidates' fealty to Israel. Whether there's more hysteria this time around is hard to say. The dynamic in 1980 between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and again in 1992 between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton got pretty intense.
But sure enough, here we go again.
Too many Democrats want to pretend that Barack Obama is the most pro-Israel president in American history (see Joe Biden's paean to Obama). And too many Republicans want to believe that Mitt Romney is Israel's salvation and will rescue the Jews from the clutches of a sitting president they somehow think is a cross between Carter and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
None of these morality plays, of course, bear the slightest resemblance to reality. There are indeed significant differences in the way Obama and Romney relate to the Israel issue. Regardless of who wins, however, it's just not going to make much of a difference in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Here's why.