Politics & Policy

Lieberman and The Race-Mongers

It's a more complex story.

If you are a close reader of National Review Online, and I mean a really close reader, you should go outside and get some fresh air. But if you are only a moderately close reader you’ve probably noticed what the Hollywood guys call the “arc” of the Lieberman story. Yesterday, like everyone else in Christendom, NRO was cheery about good old Joe getting the nod. The enthusiasm ranged from the extreme — Mike Potemra squealed like a kid who got a rocket-powered pony for Christmas — to the more restrained — I cheered Joe, but booed the hoopla. Today we’re settling back in to the proper perspective. Our esteemed leader Mr. Lowry has written about the rising level of “Lieberman fatigue.” One hopes that by tomorrow or Friday at the latest we’ll be done with all of this first-Jew stuff entirely. That is, of course, if Al Gore doesn’t spend the next month acting as if he gave Rosa Parks the correct bus fare.

he meantime, since the window is closing quickly and so many readers have written me to say that maybe anti-Semitism is more of a problem than I contend (see “Where is the Anti-Semitism?“) I’d like to take a last whack at the topic. Ed Rendell — who essentially called the Republican Party the party of anti-Semites — said that the effect of having a Jew on the ticket could not be predicted. He surely seems right. This morning we learned that Lee Alcorn, the head of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP — a Democrat — had some interesting comments: “If we get a Jew person, then what I’m wondering is, I mean, what is this movement for, you know? Does it have anything to do with the failed peace talks?” He continued, “So I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with money and these kind of things.”

Classy stuff, no? More about blacks and Jews in a moment. Then we go over and look at Salon — the magazine whose offices I someday hope to take over. They’re running a story today headlined, “Bigots Let Loose on Lieberman“. What’s the evidence? Well, there’s the Dallas NAACP buffoon, of course. There’s Matthew Hale, the self-described racist leader of some whack-job outfit called the World Church of Screwed Up White Guys — or something like that. And finally, the biggest evidence, as first reported by the New York Times, is a spike in anti-Jewish chatter in various chatrooms around the country.

Now, a few dozen intrepid readers have sent me e-mails saying how all of this disproves my contention that anti-Semitism is not going to be a major issue in the election. The only thing it proves is that the press–much like the Gore campaign — would love for there to be a story here. First of all, is anyone surprised that Matthew Hale and the Church of Caucasian Males Who Are Afraid to Use a Urinal Near a Black Man is using the appointment of Lieberman to get some free air time? These guys denounce the glue on postage stamps as a Zionist plot to sap their precious bodily fluids. They’d be kicked out of the union if they just let a Jewish vice-presidential candidate just walk by without comment.

The second bit of evidence — the jump in chatroom putschers saying things about “hook-nosed” Jews and the rest — has a nice bit of irony to it. After all, it was Al Gore himself who invented the Internet. Isn’t it ironic that his own crowning achievement has been subverted to become a megaphone of hate?

In all seriousness, people need to realize that the web is a megaphone, amplifying the voices of small numbers of people to make them seem more numerous. The fact that the chatrooms are disproportionately filled with anti-Semitic banter is pretty unsurprising. Like the members of the Church of Dudes Who Get Asked to Leave Public Libraries, these guys have nothing better to do. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the supposed thousands of anti-Jewish posts in all of these chatrooms weren’t put up by a couple dozen people.

Now, this Dallas NAACP guy is more serious. He reflects the views of a not-negligible Democratic constituency. Blacks are four times more likely than whites to hold strongly anti-Semitic views and they are the only demographic group where such bigotry does not decrease with education. I do not consider the black community to be an anti-Semitic community, but the sentiment is certainly out there. What’s interesting about Alcorn’s statements is that they prove one of Ed Rendell’s points, and destroy the other: Putting a Jew on the ticket will have unpredictable consequences; but the Republican Party is not the party of anti-Semites. Matthew Hale does not speak for Republicans. But Alcorn does speak for a serious Democratic constituency.

Still, I should confess, I’ve been thinking about this a bit more and I think that the Jewish thing will have a greater effect than I first suggested. I’ll be brief. Most of America had never heard of Joe Lieberman. The first thing they heard about him was that he’s Jewish, not that he’s a moderate Democrat; an honorable man; Bill Bennett’s morality road-show sidekick; and the rest. Now it is entirely legitimate to say, as a rule of thumb, Jews are liberal. In fact, I say it all the time. People know this. It is, as Casey Stengel would say, a true fact.

Now, according to the polls many Americans believe that Gore is too liberal. This is largely due to the fact that Gore is too liberal. It doesn’t seem implausible, to me, that if Joe Sixpack in Michigan or Kentucky heard that the too-liberal Democrat had just signed up a Jewish guy — from Connecticut! — to be his running mate, he might assume that the choice only reinforces the liberalism of the ticket. Meanwhile, if Bush had picked a Jewish running mate my guess is that the same conservative Joe Sixpack might say, “Hey, that guy must be my kind of Jew!” I don’t think any of this has to do with anti-Semitism, it’s simply a recognition of the way people’s filters work.

I’ve always believed the Republicans will be the first party to elect a minority or a woman, because people who vote purely along racial and gender lines normally vote Democratic unless they have a reason to vote another way. It is the Democratic Party that believes that race trumps ideas, and that ethnicity is a substitute for hard-earned conviction. The cabinet that “looks like America” was preferable to a cabinet that works for America. This Alcorn guy says, in all honesty, “If we get a Jew person, then what I’m wondering is, I mean, what is this movement for, you know?” because he thinks the “movement” is a zero-sum game about groups. Look at how Hillary summarized her feeling about the Lieberman appointment to Jewish schoolchildren yesterday. According to the New York Times, she said, “I, as an American, and you as Jewish-Americans would take pleasure in his nomination.” In Hillary’s world, there are Americans and Jewish Americans. She’s the former and the people whose vote she needs — right now — are the latter. That’s the real irony. Rendell thinks anti-Semites vote Republican. But the reality is that the people who can’t get beyond race and ethnicity are the people in his own party.

Nobody would ever accuse me of shying from self-promotion. But today I have something to share that I’m legitimately very proud of. William F. Buckley Jr., the Maximum Leader of National Review, the capo di tutti capi of conservatism, has seen fit to quote my Monday column in his own syndicated column. This is very flattering and very scary. It’s flattering, because it means he reads my column. And it’s very scary, because it means he reads my column. I await the day he see one reference too many to women’s prison movies and casts me down to the lower depths of the mailroom. In the meantime, I will take a bow.


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