March 2, 2000
Joel Grishaver receives Covenant Award for national service
When it comes to the Jewish vote in next Tuesday's 13-state primary, George W. Bush is a dead man. Don't take my word for it. Listen to Jacob Kupietzky for whom this campaign season marks a coming of political age. If you want to know how Jewish youths see the world, he's a good place to start.
Kupietzky, 24, educated at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) with a newly-minted master's in public policy from Columbia University, has been closely watching the campaigns of both the Texas governor and his rival, Arizona Senator John McCain, with an insider's interest.
Four years ago, he worked in California Gov. Pete Wilson's short-lived presidential venture, then in that state's Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren's miscast run for governor. In such a front-loaded Republican resume, you'll notice he was not involved in the Bush, Sr. and Bob Dole defeats, known for all-time low Jewish support. As such, he is a young Republican with a difference, discriminating between the party and the man, and believing, above all, in what might be termed the "Jewish center" -- fiscal conservatism and religious tolerance. He worked briefly in the first administration of Mayor Richard Riordan before starting graduate work in New York, where he now lives.
If there was anything good to say about Bush, he'd find it since, more than anything, Kupietzky wants to be with a winner.
"Goodness knows he did the right things at first," Kupietzky told me. He reeled off the record: Unlike his father, W. did not start out his campaign as a "lonely guy" fighting what Bush, Sr. famously called the "Jewish lobby." He appeared at the Republican Jewish Coalition candidates' forum last December, the Washington-based organization started by Eisenhower's advisor Max Fisher, and even referenced his speech on his www.georgebush.com Web site. Kupietzky was thrilled and flattered that all the Republican hopefuls were there. After eight years in the wilderness, it looked like the Jewish vote counted once again.
And Bush had good people close to him; Michael Dell, of Dell Computer is head of Bush's hi-tech task force. George Schultz is on board and Dov Zackheim, who served as Schultz's deputy in Ronald Reagan's state department. Ari Fleischer serves as Bush's earnest press spokesman.
But more's the pity, since nothing matters after Bush spoke at Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University, appearing to take sides with Pat Robertson. "Believe me, religious tolerance matters more than anything to Jewish voters," the young political observer said.
He should know. Two years ago, in the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Kupietzky, still a grad student, assisted UCLA Prof. Stanley Coben in polling the political attitudes of 350 religiously observant Jews in his Los Angeles neighborhood near Temple Beth Jacob. The results of that study, now being readied for publication, amazed the young religiously observant analyst: religious Jews were far more tolerant of private behavior than their image might imply.
"What matters to Jews is what matters to everyone else," he told me. "The economy. Crime. Education." And of course Israel, but only after everything else is factored in.
This "live and let live" respect for differences -- non-support for school vouchers or conservative positions on abortion -- was why observant Jews could rally around Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, and was precisely what Jews today were looking for in a candidate. After Bob Jones, they were unlikely to find it in George W. Bush, no matter how often he apologized. Which of course leaves Kupietzky with John McCain.
Any number of Wilson and Reagan Jews have already signed on with McCain, beginning with former Wilson spokesman Dan Schnur and former advisor Rosalie Zalis, who has been something of a mentor to Kupietzky since his YULA days.
"McCain's the man to do it," says Zupietzky, trying to excuse McCain's position on Prop. 22, the anti-gay marriage act, as "softened" by leaving such policies up to the states. Nevertheless, his political instincts tells him that if McCain can't distinguish himself from the Gary Bauer wing of the conservative right (something the Arizona senator attempted to do with a vengeance last week lambasting Bush, Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell for promoting intolerance) then Jews will flock to Al Gore.
I spoke with Kupietzky because I am a sucker for youthful enthusiasm. But it meant more to me after I spoke with his father. Moshe Kupietzky is a 50-something-year-old Los Angeles attorney and registered Democrat whose distaste for politics is one many of us know well. Jaundiced at the inadequacies of leadership, Moshe told me he was "frankly disappointed" in all the candidates; he listed in order of preference Gore, Sen. Bill Bradley and Bush but had "no clue" about his son's favorite, McCain. As for Israel, Moshe Kupietzky said he perceived it was no longer a top priority in the election, far less the focus than the economy and general civic issues.
Moshe and his wife Arlene have two older sons, Jay, an attorney in Israel, and Jeffrey, involved in the Internet world of Silicon Valley. Of the family, only Jacob is a political believer.
Right or wrong he's got the spirit.
Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of The Jewish Journal.
Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.