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Jewish World Review July 8, 1999 /24 Tamuz 5759

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Ben Wattenberg


Philo-Semitic politics -- THE PROTAGONIST OF Leon Uris' new novel "A God in Ruins" is named Quinn Patrick O'Connell. He is running for president. And a few days before the election he discovers he's Jewish. Therein hangs the tale.

Which brings us to an old question, with a contemporary twist: "Could a Jew be elected president in the United States?"

Catholics make up 26 percent of the American population. But of 42 presidents only one has been Catholic (John F. Kennedy). Jews today make up about 2 percent of the population. The 1964 Republican candidate Barry Goldwater was born of a Jewish father, but not raised as a Jew, prompting the late Harry Golden to remark, "I always knew the first Jewish president would be an Episcopalian." Anyway, Goldwater lost.

In 1974 Stephen Isaacs, then with the Washington Post, now a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism wrote "Jews and American Politics." His point was that while Jews were heavily involved as appointed officials, political staff, and in fund raising, it was rare and hard for them to win elected office. In the U.S. Senate at that time there were two Jewish senators, Jacob Javits from New York (a liberal Republican in a state with a large Jewish population), and Abraham Ribicoff (a moderate Democrat from Connecticut).

It was an interesting thesis. But within a decade there were not two but eight Jewish senators, including Jacob Chic Hecht, a Republican from Nevada, a state with a big Mormon population and slightly more Jews than walruses. Today, of the 100 members of the Senate there are 11 Jews, including two women from California (Boxer and Feinstein); two from Wisconsin, a state with a tiny number of Jews (Kohl and Feingold); as well as senators who are Jewish from Michigan (Levin), New Jersey (Lautenberg), Oregon (Wyden), Minnesota (Wellstone), Pennsylvania (Specter), New York (Schumer) and Connecticut (Lieberman, of whom more in a moment). But who's counting? What's going on? By 1982 a Gallup poll offered a clue:

Question: "Immigrants who on balance have been a good thing or a bad thing for the country." Here, by nationality, are the "good" versus "bad" rates: English 66 percent to 6 percent, Irish 62 to 7, Jews 59 to 9, Germans 57 to 11, Italians 56 to 10, Poles 53 to 12, Japanese 47 to 18, Chinese 44 to 19; and those with higher negatives than positives, Mexicans 25 to 34, Koreans 24 to 30, Vietnamese 20 to 38, Puerto Ricans 17 to 43, Haitians 10 to 39, and Cubans 9 to 59.

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I do not believe that there has ever been a country which regards its Jewish population by 6 to 1 favorable. (That includes Israel.) Could America be the first philo-Semitic nation in history? Irving Kristol says, speaking broadly of the Jewish experience in the Diaspora, "They used to want to kill us, now they want to marry us."

But it's not only Jews. In earlier times, and not so much earlier than 1982, Irish, Italians, Poles, Japanese and Chinese had been scorned by many fellow Americans, and regularly excoriated in the public press and the academic community. Many early-1900s sociologists were big into a theory called "scientific racism," and were able to "prove" that Italian, Slovak, Polish and Jewish immigrants to America were "morons."

Immigration historian Rita Simon explains it this way: "The American public's attitude toward immigrants... (is seen through) rose-colored glasses, turned backwards. Those immigrants who came earlier, whenever earlier happens to be, are viewed as having made important and positive contributions to our society, economy and culture. But those who seek entry now,' whenevernow' happens to be, are viewed at best with ambivalence, and more likely with distrust and hostility."

(The data above are 17 years old; a somewhat similar 1997 Princeton Survey/Pew poll shows the same sorts of results, with Koreans and Vietnamese moving into positive territory, 52 to 26 and 41 to 36 respectively.)

In 1992, after he wrapped up the nomination, Gov. Bill Clinton sent Warren Christopher out to talk to potential vice presidential running mates, including Sen. Albert Gore. Christopher asked Gore how Joseph Lieberman, who is a Modern Orthodox Jew and holds the Sabbath sacred, would play in a state like Tennessee. Gore paused for a moment and said Lieberman would likely do very well. Voters in Tennessee, Gore said, admire people who are God-fearing and religious.

If you're a regular reader of this column you'll guess what I'm up to. Lieberman, representing the right wing of the left wing party, would be the strongest Democratic candidate for president -- or vice president. On the assumption that Gore is the Democratic nominee (he is not among my top three choices) he should chose Lieberman as his running mate. After all, the Jewish candidate wins Uris' fictional election.

And one more thing. Like William Tecumseh Sherman I am not a candidate for president. Or vice president. But unlike Sherman, if nominated I will run, in either party. If elected I will serve.

JWR contributor Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may reach him by clicking here.


06/28/99: To sir with love
06/15/99: Crime hawk turns
06/04/99: The forest and the trees
06/01/99: Must we still subsidize 'cultural pollution'?
05/24/99: Whatever happened to Kittlitz's Murrelet?
05/17/99: The contribution revolution
05/10/99: 'MacArthur' not wanted for Belgrade
05/03/99: Reality: home and abroad
04/26/99: John McCain: born leader
04/19/99: Gore in the balance
04/13/99: Hollywood is sharing the spotlight
04/05/99: Lessons of Vietnam, and Serbia
03/26/99: Politics as dog food
03/19/99: Bush-whacked Bush-whackers
03/08/99: Axioms for good politicians
02/26/99: L.A., D.C. try to get back to the past
02/23/99: The sprawl brawl
02/11/99: Celebrated lives writ short
01/28/99: Who's afraid of the Euro?
01/25/99: The Vast Right-wing conspiracy and Danny Williams: The last word (hopefully)
01/14/99: Sum of scandal? It's OK
12/31/98: Predictions? I don't think so
12/11/98: Better dead than read?
11/25/98: Polling the Pilgrims
11/13/98: The icon and the iconoclast
11/06/98: What happened? Nothing!
10/28/98: Two billion never-borns!
10/22/98: Election pundits know nothing
10/15/98: The too-big-to-fail doctrine
9/29/98: The Jerk Factor at work
9/24/98: American civic engagement thriving
9/16/98: Anatomy of a cover-up
9/09/98: Draft Joe Lieberman!
9/03/98: Get over it, folks
8/28/98: McGwire. Maris. Ruth. Clinton.
8/20/98: Is consuming a Big Mac eating?

©1999, Creators Syndicate