Part of President Obama's learning curve has been that change is easier to enunciate than it is to produce.
This applies to weighty issues, such as foreign policy and the nation's health care program, as well as to lighter issues such as the traditional White House Chanukah celebrations that became a tradition under the Bush administration.
With the Festival of Lights fast approaching, and with prominent Jews awaiting their invitations, two schools of thought were circulating in Washington. One had Obama scaling back the annual celebration by whittling away at the invitation list, while the other surmised that since Democrats have far more Jewish supporters than the Republicans do, Obama might have a bigger crowd than Bush used to.
While all this may seem like matters of political protocol and diplomatic courtesies, Washington watchers are eyeing this year's White House Chanukah party to see what signals it might be sending toward the American Jewish community, after a rocky freshman year on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mishpacha turned to Tevi Troy, a visiting senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and President Bush's Jewish liaison from 2003 to 2004, to get a Washington insider's view on relations between the Jews and the Obama administration, and whether things are taking a turn for the better.
"It's hard to say. There are often no obvious metrics by which to determine relations," says Mr. Troy. "I think the recent Netanyahu-Obama meeting was a good sign, and there is some sense in the administration that pressure on the settlements didn't work and won't work. I still think their approach on these issues continues to be problematic, asking Israel to make concessions before going to the negotiating table, and I still worry about his instincts. So I think it's too early to say we've turned the corner."
Does Obama feel that he still has the Jewish vote in his hip pocket, or does he see a relationship in need of repair?
"For a whole bunch of historical reasons, Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, so Democratic presidential candidates don't have to try so hard on the Jewish vote. But some of the decisions he's made as president, I think, are challenging to the Jewish community and indicative of someone who doesn't want to woo that constituency."
Would Obama win 78 percent of the Jewish vote if the election were held today?
"His approval rating is still in the mid-sixties which is still strong. Experience shows that Jews vote Democratic, and I haven't seen any evidence that goes in the other direction. Even Bush, who bent over backwards to win the Jewish vote, only had a 5 percent bump in 2004 compared to 2000."
Let's discuss America's ultra-Orthodox community. It is a growing force, but is it overestimating its own demographic strength?
"The Orthodox vote is demographically on the move north. The Orthodox are more likely to marry Jewish and procreate in greater numbers, but watching it up close, it moves slowly. It's like watching grass grow, but over time, the Orthodox Jews overall will become a much higher percentage of the Jewish vote."
Do the Obama people take this into account?
"Within the time frame of the Obama presidency it's not really that relevant. I think Obama can safely assume he will get a large percentage of the Jewish vote in 2012.
For the Republicans to take advantage of Obama's perceived weakness among the Jews, they can focus on Jewish fundraisers, some of whom switched political sides between 2000 and 2004 because of some of the things Bush did for the Jews. The other thing Republicans can do, for short-term benefits, is to continue to work the Orthodox vote in states such as Florida and Ohio. In Ohio, the Telshe Yeshivah community voted overwhelmingly pro-Bush in 2004 and so did Lakewood, but it just didn't happen in 2008. There was an effort by Republicans to woo them [in 2004]."