A. George is an editorial page writer
t began with Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell's initial comments over the weekend that Lieberman would be a "slam dunk" vice-presidential pick if he were Episcopalian. Rendell added, "I'm not sure that the people who would vote against us because Joe is Jewish aren't going to vote against us anyway." Spreading with a speed that seemed like it was put together by Democratic talking points, this theme was picked up by the Sunday talk shows as Steve Roberts (who is Jewish) said the same thing on CNN's Late Edition. George Stephanopoulos, on ABC's This Week, concurred.
On Monday, Alan Elsner of Reuters quoted Washington Jewish Week columnist Douglas Bloomfield: "It's a fascinating decision. There are no doubt those who would not vote for a Jew for vice president but they were already all committed to opposing Gore in any case.''
These observations speak to the basic bias talking heads have against Republicans. It doesn't enter their thought process that there might very well be otherwise loyal Democrats who might have serious problems with someone Jewish on the presidential ticket. Instead, the insinuation is that someone anti-Semitic is likely to vote for George W. Bush. In other words, anti-Jewish bigotry has a home in the Republican party, and not amongst Democrats.
Which presidential candidate running in 1984 referred to New York City as "Hymietown" while accepting protection from Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam members? Hint: It wasn't Republican Ronald Reagan. Which current candidate for the Senate in New York state allegedly called an aide a "f**ing Jew b*****d" many years ago? Hint: It wasn't Republican Rick Lazio. Now, no one is saying that because Jesse Jackson said certain comments or Hillary Clinton possibly uttered a slur, that they are therefore anti-Semitic. But the question could certainly be noted.
Besides, who are we supposed to look at in the Republican party that is likely to be anti-Semitic? The one who might come closest to fitting that description is Pat Buchanan and he's not a Republican anymore. Now, it is true that, as the probable Reform party candidate, Pat's not going to be voting for Al Gore, but he certainly looked like he was adopting Gore's wardrobe when he did his Sunday talk-show blitzkrieg (uh, possibly an unfortunate choice of words) wearing a killer earth-tone suit (insert favorite brown-shirt joke here).
Further, it goes without saying that Jesse and Hillary are likely going to be voting for Al Gore, regardless. Let's go back to 1988 (Democrats love citing 1988, noting that Vice President Bush overcame a 17-point deficit to beat Michael Dukakis): Then-mayor Ed Koch endorsed Al Gore in the Democratic primary and told Jews that they would have to be "crazy" to vote for Jesse Jackson after the "Hymietown" comment of four years ago. As it happened, Jackson came in second and Gore third.
The acrimony between the two candidates allowed Dukakis to take the primary. But more than that, it pushed to the fore tensions that had been bubbling under the surface of the black and Jewish communities for years. Those tensions have erupted at various times in New York in the time since then, most horribly during the Crown Heights riots of 1991 and the Freddy's Fashion Mart protests and subsequent fire of 1995. The person in the middle of both of those incidents was the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton, as Jay Nordlinger reported in National Review Offline, has labeled Hasidim "diamond dealers" and called the Jewish owner of Freddy's "a white interloper" as he led protesters who yelled about "bloodsucking Jews."
Let's be clear, this is not to say that the Democrats are the party of anti-Semitism, but it is a fact that there have been many anti-Semitic remarks coming from the only voting bloc more loyal to Democrats than Jews: African-Americans. Is putting Lieberman on the ticket likely to turn black voters away from Gore? Probably not. But considering the serious courting of minority voters that Bush has initiated, who can say for sure?
Meanwhile, there's another wild card in this for the more politically correct Democrats to keep in mind. The liberal TomPaine.com has been running a series lately exposing the "racism" and "bigotry" of shock-jock Don Imus's morning radio show. The racism is debatable, but the puerile below-the-belt humor can't be denied. Lieberman is a regular caller to the show which is somewhat surprising, considering how much he has worked with Bill Bennett to condemn the "polluting" of the culture. Tom Paine.com quotes Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank as being offended by the "degrading" comments: "I'm disappointed that the people who go on the show treat Imus like a friend. They're wrong not to confront him." Will Barney Frank confront Lieberman about not confronting Imus? Black columnist Clarence Page had been a semi-regular on the show, but has held back in recent months over the racism controversy.
Black voters have other options. Many could feel Lieberman's religion aside that a choice between a "New" Republican ticket (subtext: not as blatantly racist as in the past) and a "New" Democrat ticket (subtext: almost indistinguishable from Republicans) is not a choice worth making. They could sit out the election.
Which would likely rebound to the good fortune of Mr. Bush.