Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) delivered controversial remarks on Iran, Obamacare, Israel, and J Street at a Jewish center last week.
Because these remarks are just now becoming public, the true impact of the opinions expressed is not known. Sherrod Brown is in a tight battle to hold his Senate seat against a resurgent Josh Mandel, Ohio’s state treasurer. The most recent poll shows Brown with the support of just 49% of likely voters, a troubling sign for an incumbent. As these remarks become public, the race could tighten even more.
At the time of writing, this journalist is the only one to have a complete audio copy of remarks delivered by Senator Sherrod Brown during the Q&A segment in New Albany, Ohio, on October 18. The Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center, in conjunction with the Herbert Weyl Jewish Business Network, featured the senator as speaker to a group of approximately 50 voters. Members of the public could attend pursuant to a $25 donation. At least one citizen present during the discussion decided to record the remarks, although the Brown campaign has a history of hostility towards such actions. Recently, a Jewish constituent was forced to leave a Sherrod Brown event after asking a pointed question about the senator’s policies towards Israel.
Although Senator Brown talks often about bipartisanship, he is ranked by the Heritage Foundation as further to the Left than Senator Bernie Sanders, an admitted socialist. Will Ohio, with a reputation for a moderate political temperament, send a senator with such an extreme ideological bent back to DC? The race between Brown and Mandel remains one of the most fascinating political plots this election cycle.
Brown’s veneer of moderation could not contain his liberal bona fides last week, beginning with his touting of E.J. Dionee as “the most reflective” journalist besides “perhaps Connie Schultz.” Dionee is one of most reliably leftist opinion leaders in the nation. For instance, although a recent Gallup poll shows there are nearly twice as many conservatives as liberals in the United States, E.J. Dionne “reflected” and boiled down the beliefs of more than 100 million Americans to this juvenile line:
“Forgive me for noting that conservatives seem to believe that the rich will work harder if we give them more, and the poor will work harder if we give them less.”
Brown’s difficulty with winning independent-minded voters truly became apparent during the Q&A session. Although voters favor repeal of Obamacare by a 10-point margin, Brown stubbornly pronounced there is “no chance it will be repealed even if Romney wins; too many of us in the Senate will fight too hard to stop it because it’s the right thing to do.” He furthermore proclaimed, “It’s the most important vote I’ve ever cast and it’s the best vote I’ve ever cast.”
Attempting to buttress the concerns many have over his soft stance on Iran, Brown stated he has “been part of this [group imposing Iran sanctions] on the committee.” Yet, if Senator Brown truly supports such a strong stance against Iran’s nuclear weapons proliferation, why has the Council for a Livable World funded the Brown campaign to the tune of more than $72,000? This organization actively opposes Iran sanctions — going so far as to suggest Iran may be 10 years away from developing nuclear weapons capabilities.
Then again, Senator Brown made a peculiar comment at the event on how to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stating “I think our START ratification helped at least to get the Russians to put pressure on Iran.” Maybe the senator should take a break from reading E.J. Dionne! Just last week, Russia reiterated its opposition to new Iran sanctions.
The senator added to his odd comments on Iran by stating, “foreign aid is generally very important to me. When I say foreign aid, I mean to Israel AND Egypt.” Of course, maybe the senator’s debate prep merely clouded his judgment during the Q&A session, but he also gave this brilliant foreign policy analysis, “Is Israel more important to us than Mexico? I don’t know.”
Given Sherrod Brown’s checkered past on foreign policy issues, many in the Jewish community are legitimately concerned about the senators lack of perceived support of Israel. Once again, the senator was questioned about his relationship with J Street. In the 2007-2012 election cycle, JStreetPAC has contributed more heavily to Sherrod Brown than any other organization, including even the Ohio State University. Many within Israel consider J Street hostile to Israeli security concerns. In fact, J Street Director Ben Ami went so far as to write an article in the Huffington Post opposing Iranian sanctions. Yet, Senator Brown boasted last week, “Whatever my relationship with J Street is, I’m proud of it.”
One attendee asked the senator the following:
“ is there anything that would make you reconsider  your initial opposition to the security barrier that has saved the lives of countless Israelis, both Jewish and Aras, from suicide bombers… [anything to make you reconsider] your signature on a letter…opposing Israel’s embargo of Gaza, an embargo that was in fact recognized by the UN to be lawful and  do you endorse the President’s insistence in defiance of Un Resolution 242 which calls for secure and recognizable borders, that Israel return to the indefensible armistice lines of 1949, erroneously sometimes called the 1967 borders, with only minor adjustments.”
Remarkably, the senator refused to affirm Jerusalem as capital of Israel, merely stating the following regarding Jerusalem:
“I understand the symbolism of it, I’ve been to Jerusalem a number of times. I understand the importance of it, I understand the volatility of it. The Dome of the Rock is the center in many ways of three religions, at least three religions say that. So I understand all that. I think that at the risk of sounding partisan, a number of Republicans are trying to divide [on the Israel issue]”
Even more shocking was the senator’s decision to ignore both the concerns over his opposition to the security fence, his opposition to the Gaza embargo, and his viewpoint on the “pre-1967” lines. Senator Brown simplistically stated, “I think are relations, between our intelligence forces and Israel’s are stronger than they’ve ever been. I think the cooperation between our military and the IDF are stronger than they’ve ever been.” Does reality match his conclusions?
Senator Brown claims his biggest mistake in his career representing Ohio was taking “a while to learn the difference between the two Houses” and failing to adapt “more quickly to the different set of rules.” The senator’s actual mistake seems to be advancing an agenda far to the left of his Ohio constituency.