What follows is more a lesson in politics than a campaign for Bibi. If it also contributes to Bibi's campaign, that is not its principal purpose.
First, let's leave aside the candidates' personalities, and the character of their wives, children, and parents. We're not selecting a friend, or a person to enjoy an evening with or an invitation to a family barbecue or Bar Mitzvah.
We should also recognize that other politicians and national leaders, with whom our Prime Minister must work, are likely to operate according to their political and national interests, not primarily like personalities looking for companionship at a cocktail party.
We're looking for someone who offers the best chance of accomplishing what we think are prime national concerns.
As I look at Israel's present needs and possibilities, I see national security above anything else. Sure, the society is not perfect. There is poverty, and a level of inequality second only to that of the US among western democracies. However, that is at least partly on account of a spurt of wealth-creating innovations that have benefited young families working in the burgeoning high tech field. Tel Aviv along with suburban Herzeliya has become an international locale, home to numerous start-ups and investors from overseas. Insiders report that one of the world's most prominent electronics firms, based in the Far East, relies on Israeli laboratories for a major portion of its new patents.
Also contributing to inequality is the absence of the ultra-Orthodox from the workforce, and their disinclination to educate their children for anything useful. The Arab minority contributes to the national measure of inequality, in part due to the limited participation of Arab women in the workforce. However, the Arab minority does not fall below the Black minority in the US on measures of family income relative to those of the majority, and scores far above the US Black minority (and even above the US white majority) on a key measure of health.
There is poverty among older immigrants from the Soviet Union, who came without significant wealth or pensions, immigrants from Ethiopia, and the descendants of immigrants from North Africa in the 1950s who have not made it out of the poor towns and neighborhoods to share in the opportunities that Israel offers.
There is a housing problem. Apartment are expensive, especially in the better neighborhoods of the more desirable cities in the center of the country. Young couples are hard pressed to buy what they want where they prefer to live.
Yet all of the desirable economic changes are expensive, and concerted treatment would involve risk to the fiscal health of a small country always on the edge of nastiness from outside. Among the most recent nastiness are threats of boycotts and sanctions from individuals who feel entitled to judge Israel as one of the great criminals currently active. This is a campaign largely waged by Palestinians and their friends, ignoring 60 years of Palestinians refusing Israeli efforts at compromise.
As in other developed countries, there is not a lot of uncommitted resources that politicians can tap to make people happier. Political choice is made difficult due to the various activists demanding different things. More income for the poor, cheaper housing for the middle class, more resources for education, which is itself divided into more for the lesser endowed schools for Arabs or the neighborhoods of poor Jews, as opposed to more for higher education, more for hospitals to deal with overcrowding during the winter flu season, more for building light rail lines in the cities and fast rail lines between cities, plus better protection for the environment.
What remains is national security, and here Bibi outshines the opposition.
His advantages are experience and a track record that show forcefulness along with self-restraint.
His sole rivals for governing are Yitzhak (Buji) Herzog and Tsipi Livni.
Of the three, Buji appears to be the nicest person, who has shown loyalty to a political party and climbed within its ranks to the top slot. He comes from one of Israel's aristocratic families, but his wife and children have never been featured in the media or made the subject of political cartoons.
To his misfortune, Buji has the charisma of a used tissue. Colleagues who study charisma argue that the concept is vacuous and of limited demonstrated utility. However, Buji on the platform sounds like a bored student delivering a seminar paper to equally tired listeners. It's hard to imagine him standing up to opposition and hammering away at a national purpose like Bibi, who is pushing ahead toward a Washington speech despite widespread opposition and well expressed doubts.
Tsipi has had a couple of major chances to make Israel's foreign policy. The agreement she engineered to end the Lebanon War of 2006 was not well crafted to prevent the inflow of thousands of rockets, despite Israel's military advantage of having destroyed a fair portion of Hezbollah's home territory in Beirut and having forced its leader to spend most of his time from then until now underground. She may have been constrained by Bibi in last year's negotiations, but did not manage to craft the process in a way to avoid Martin Indyk's assignment of failure primarily to the Israeli side.
Bibi's campaign against Iran nuclear weaponry is the best reason for returning him to office.
To be sure, his speech is not likely to turn around the White House. It won't help Congress override a Presidential veto of whatever the Republicans vote to enact against Iran. Yet it is the most an Israeli can do to work against the mad mullahs of Iran getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which they might use to accomplish their often heard rants about destroying Israel.
Policymaking is a complex process. It's not likely to provide an opportunity for "bang and we're finished." Bibi's speech, plus whatever he has already contributed and will contribute further by way of argument may not have their impact until after the US led alliance signs a concession-filled agreement of appeasement with Iran. However, that will not be the end of the process. The threat of Bibi's speech may already have been responsible for John Kerry's warning that Iran must convince the world that it has no intention to create nuclear weapons, or the US and others will get to a place where they do not want to go. If Iran continues to squirm through its agreements, then Congress, Obama, or the next Congress and President may be more willing to listen to Bibi and increase sanctions. President Obama should be reluctant to ignore Bibi and the Congressional majority, due to that majority's capacity to pressure him on a host of other issues, starting with the national budget.
Bibi's force and moderation under pressure was apparent most recently in Gaza, when he acted against missiles directed against Israeli citizens, and stood against government colleagues who demanded (in public if not in private) a more thoroughgoing destruction. What Bibi approved fits the model of previous actions in Gaza and the 2006 war in Lebanon, i.e., substantial destruction, short of what was possible, meant to convince religious fanatics to desist. It may not be perfect, but few things are in politics or public policy. Greater destruction and more deaths would have upped the condemnations always focused on Israel, without assuring renewed violence. Good enough is a decent standard.
Bibi is not a moderate in rhetoric. Among is several faults is a bombast that grates on the ears of us cultured folk. But again, the point is not to select a person who soothes or entertains. In the absence of ideal options, we're likely to be stuck with good enough.
I haven't decided finally, or without reservations. Bibi's been Prime Minister for a total of nine years. I'm inclined to give someone else a chance, but all the above is the way I think about the options presented.