Nat Goldhaber has a suggestion to spice up the political debates leading up to the November elections. How about a lively discussion on the laws of kashrut among the three Jewish candidates running for the vice presidency of the United States of America?
Hold on there. We know about Sen. Joseph Lieberman running for vice president on the Democratic ticket. But who are the other two?
Well, there is Goldhaber himself, a dot-com California multimillionaire, who is the number two man on the Reform Party ticket. Or at least that part of the splintered party backing John Hagelin and bitterly opposed to the other faction, led by the strident Pat Buchanan.
Rounding out the trio is Winona LaDuke, the vice presidential candidate of the Green Party, headed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Winona LaDuke somehow doesn't sound like a member of the tribe, but her mother is Jewish, and her father is a Native American. While she follows her father's American Indian traditions, she does celebrate Passover and Chanukah and comes "from a family of very progressive Jews," she says.
When it is put to Goldhaber, a Reform Jew and intermittent shul attendee, that the devoutly Orthodox Lieberman might have an edge in a kashrut debate, Goldhaber demurs.
"I was raised in a kosher home and as a teenager attended an Orthodox synagogue in Berkeley co-founded by my mother," Goldhaber observes. "I think I could hold my own."
While displaying a nice sense of humor, the 52-year-old Goldhaber, his round face framed by a neatly clipped mustache and beard, is completely serious about his first foray into the political arena.
He is spending the weeks before the election full-time on the hustings, piloting his personal Citation Jet from city to city.
Tops on his political agenda is a drastic reform of political campaign financing, which, he says, is corrupting the entire legislative process.
This corruption is preventing Congress (and state legislatures) from making rational decisions, he believes. Polls show that so far the Reform Party, even unsplintered, is attracting a minuscule percentage of the electorate, but Goldhaber is unfazed.
"Look at Jesse Ventura," he says.
Even in defeat, third parties are important, Goldhaber argues, because often their ideas - from child labor prohibitions to Social Security - are adopted and put into law by mainstream parties.
Goldhaber made one fortune in 1987, when he sold a software company he created for $20 million. Last month, he made another $27 million on paper by merging a dot-com company with his Oakland-based Cybergold Inc.
The Buchanan forces, whose adherents, he says, have sent him occasional anti-Semitic e-mail, have charged that Hagelin picked Goldhaber to finance the Reform Party campaign.
However, Goldhaber maintains that he has given only $50,000, the top limit if his party is to receive $12.5 million in matching federal funds. (The federal windfall is at the core of drawn-out court battles between the Buchanan and Hagelin factions.)
Goldhaber and his wife Marilyn are the parents of 12-year-old boy triplets, who attend a Jewish day school and are preparing for their Bar Mitzvah next June at Temple Sinai in Oakland, a Reform congregation. "I think that the United States is ripe for a spiritual revolution," says Goldhaber. "In the face of material abundance, I think there is a deep hunger for spiritual fulfillment, though it need not necessarily be based on religion."