Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2001/ 27 Teves, 5761
Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
That's how some of my small friends pronounce the name of our new president, drawing out that
squishy final consonant. It's a lot more fun to say "Bushhhhhhh'' than "Clinton'' or "Gore.''
"Bush'' has definite Seusslike possibilities: "Do you think Dubya will always lubya?''
Laura Bush, the new librarian-teacher in residence at the White House, told the New York Times
she has "a lifelong passion for introducing children to the magic of words.'' She can start indulging
that passion with the family surname. The kids can learn about two Presidents Bushhhhhhhh, as Bill
Clinton might have said, for the price of one.
The new first lady is noted for her love of literature, so there were some grumbles among our
aesthetes that no poet was invited to read his poesy at this inauguration. But only two presidents,
John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, invited poets to read their works and the results were decidedly
On Jan. 20, 1961, with the reflection of the sun on a foot of newly fallen snow so bright that he
couldn't see his poem for the glare, Robert Frost instead recited "The Gift Outright,'' a lyric he had
written and memorized in the 1930s. As it turned out, it was considerably better than the poem he
had written for the occasion.
Maya Angelou, Bill Clinton's choice to read her poetry at his inauguration in 1993, got a little
carried away with fashionable multiculturalism. In cataloguing the diversity of the men and women
who built America, she listed Asian, Hispanic, Jew, African, Native American, Sioux, Catholic,
Muslim, French, Greek, Irish, rabbi, priest, sheikh, gay, straight, preacher ... and so on through
Pawnee Apache, Seneca, Cherokee, Turk, Arab, Swede, German, Eskimo, Scot, Ashanti,
Yoruba, Kru. She overlooked only the Anglo-Saxon Protestants, men like the Founding Fathers
and even the new president.
Robert Frost celebrated "Washington, John Adams, Jefferson and Madison'' as "consecrated
seers.'' He might not get away with that today. Forty years ago there was no academic fashion of
dissing as politically incorrect all the Dead White Men.
But now "merit'' is making a comeback. Martin Luther King would be pleased that George W. has
chosen men and women for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin in
assembling his cabinet. Some of them happen to be black, Hispanic, Asian, and even
Lebanese-American. Several of them are female.
Nevertheless, as has been duly noted, the new president appears to have chosen the men and
women he wants without counting beans. He has even felt free to overlook a prominent category.
There's no Jew in the Cabinet. (Ari Fleisher, as press secretary, doesn't count.) Franklin D.
Roosevelt's brain trust was so loaded with men of the Hebrew persuasion that he was accused by
mean-spirited people of creating "the Jew Deal,'' and Bill Clinton's Cabinet read like a list of
contributors to B'nai B'rith, which in fact it might have been. Mr. Clinton didn't mind so long as they
were contributors to his campaigns as well. So what happened?
"Just as men don't count men in the Cabinet or white people don't count whites, so Jews have
become so secure in America that they no longer seek the assurance of a representative who can
get the president's ear,'' writes columnist Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. True enough, but
that's only half the story.
Measured by the harsh arithmetic of politics, Jews hold no IOUs drawn on a conservative
Republican president. Most Jews, like most blacks, are liberal Democrats and always vote that
way. There are exceptions: Orthodox and some Conservative Jews are conservative on social
issues. But it's hardly a stretch to say that a majority of American Jews are more likely to practice
their liberal ideology than the traditions of their religion. During the High Holy Days, a rabbi is far
more likely to take his text for a sermon from the New York Times or The Washington Post than
from the Bible or the Talmud.
As a Jew, I observe this in sorrow and fatigue. I'm weary of being asked, "What's a nice Jewish girl
like you doing hanging out with conservatives?'' Conservative politics, as my Orthodox grandmother
would have told me, rattles the Richter scale of Jewish outrage with the force of drinking a glass of
milk with a ham sandwich.
Jewish political opinions ranges from the safe to the predictable. What was refreshing about Joe
Lieberman the senator was that he wasn't afraid to take unpredictable positions -- on school
vouchers, Hollywood sex and violence, immoral behavior in the Oval Office. Once he became a
candidate for vice president, his being an observant Jew was less important to Jewish pride than his
credentials as a card-carrying liberal. Jews have to believe that despite all of the above, Dubya will lubya,
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink
©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate