Obama's "Jewish Problem" (?)

There is no evidence that Barack Obama has a "Jewish" problem.

The problem with guilt by association arguments is that they tend to render insignificant the degree or quality of the association that allegedly tarnishes one participant.

Tony McPeak is an adviser to the Obama campaign, and he is verbose and colorful enough that Obama's press team likes to use him as a surrogate. McPeak happens to have some very strong opinions, one of them being the clumsily coded belief that New York Jews are responsible for the United States's locked-in alliance with Israel, which McPeak seems to believe is damaging. To hold Barack Obama personally responsible for McPeak's views -- which is the consequence of an argument that uses McPeak along to make the case that Obama has a Jewish problem -- is simply not logical. (Does Howard Dean have a Jewish problem? McPeak endorsed him too, in 2003.)

In the same way, John McCain does not have a Catholic problem because his campaign made the dumb mistake of publicly seeking and touting the endorsement of John Hagee. McCain's campaign has the problem, and McCain is implicated indirectly, only, in the sense that he was eager to associate himself with Hagee without checking to see what Hagee believes or has said.

Those Obama staffers who use McPeak as a surrogate are the ones who, if there is a problem at all, have to deal with it. Here's betting that McPeak will not find himself asked to do many surrogate interviews from now on.

Why would I defend Obama from McPeak's views, which reasonable people certainly can find offensive, and defend McCain from Hagee's views, which reasonable people certainly have found to be offensive?

Because there are indeed cases where the guilt by association argument is not out of bounds, where the choice of an association has political relevance.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright had long been one of Obama's closest personal advisers. Obama chose to associate with Wright and chose to continue his association with Wright even as his own views diverged from Wright's. Obama's association with Wright is a real one. His association with McPeak is an artifact of the campaign. If there's blame to be had, blame the Obama campaign staffer responsible for vetting potential endorsements.

To close off this post with some substance, Gallup finds that Obama and Clinton are splitting the Jewish vote, hardly evidence that Obama currently has a "problem" with Jews.