Did Democrats diss God and Jerusalem?

This is a revised version of the original post; see the note below.

Except for the editorial page of the New York Times, which gushed about its provisions and criticized President Obama for not giving louder voice to them, the 2012 Democratic platform hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

But suddenly “Moving America Forward” was big news, not because of what it contained but because of what was missing. The Republican ticket professed dismay about two omissions: the lack of any reference to God, and the disappearance of a provision from the 2008 Democratic platform declaring that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” On Wednesday, the Democrats scurried to restore language about God and Jerusalem.

As Democrats were celebrating Micehelle Obama’s Tuesday night speech, Paul D. Ryan told Fox News that “it’s rather peculiar” that the Democrats’ document didn’t mention the deity, adding: “It’s not in keeping with our founding documents, our founding vision.” Of course, as my colleague David Savage reminded me, “The Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not include the word ‘God.’ ” And though the Declaration of Independence does refer to a creator, it defines him as “Nature’s God,” which sounds more like a Deist watchmaker than the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

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Maybe Ryan was confusing the Constitution with this year’s GOP platform, which includes multiple references to God. (I was reminded of a character in Gore Vidal’s political play “The Best Man,” a former president who recalls that in his day “you had to pour God over everything, like ketchup.”) In any event, his complaint resulted in a last-minute addition to the Democratic platform referring to human potential as “God-given.”

The Jerusalem Omission (sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel) aroused the ire of the top man on the GOP ticket. “It is unfortunate,” Mitt Romney huffed, “that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” By contrast, Republicans point out, their 2012 platform says: “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine -- living in peace and security.”

Romney is a serial panderer on the subject of Israel -- he once said there wouldn’t be an “inch” of difference between a Romney administration and the Jewish state -- but even for him this is a cheap shot. In keeping the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv pending final status negotiations on Jerusalem, Obama is following in the footsteps of presidents of both parties, including George W. Bush, who was elected on an even more pro-Israel platform that said: “Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”

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The hollowness of campaign promises to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a commonplace of American political life. If Romney is elected, the U.S. embassy will stay put -- unless, of course, the elusive two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem finally materializes. In that event, Jerusalem, though it won’t be physically divided, is likely to be split politically between Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction. Israel’s capital would be in West Jerusalem, Palestine’s in East Jerusalem. Israel’s virtual annexation of East Jerusalem -- condemned by the U.N. Security Council in 1980 with the U.S. abstaining -- would become a dead letter.

Removing the Jerusalem language from the platform turned out to be a political blunder that the party now has tried to repair. But its presence or absence in the document has little to do with future U.S. policy toward Israel, regardless of who is elected in November. Nor are there policy implications in the Democrats’ last-minute decision to squirt a couple drops of “God” into the platform. But in an election this close, Obama apparently decided that he couldn’t afford to be seen dissing the deity or his traditional abode.

[Update, added 10:25 a.m., Sept. 5, 2012: The original post was written before the Democrats restored language about Jerusalem and God to their platfform.]


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