What a difference two and a half years make. When Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore selected Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, there was a surge of Jewish pride and support. Now that Lieberman has announced his own candidacy in the 2004 presidential race, there's a surge of Jewish doubt and ambivalence. Why?
The objections to the Lieberman candidacy reveal a nice mix of Jewish fears and neuroses. However, they don't withstand serious scrutiny.
A Jewish president would provoke anti-Semitism. Actually, one of the most heartening aspects of the 2000 election was precisely that having a Jew on a major party ticket for the first time was a big yawn among non-Jews. We braced ourselves for the backlash -- andÂ nothing.
Lieberman's seeking the presidency itself shouldn't change matters. Besides, the risk is exaggerated: If Lieberman weren't president, then the anti-Semites wouldn't accuse the Jews of controlling the government? Since anti-Semitism is irrational, there's no use trying to placate it.
A related claim is that if a Lieberman presidency messes up any time, any place, "the Jews" will be blamed. I suppose that's possible; but, carried to its logical conclusion, it's an argument against Jewish excellence and leadership generally. Ultimately, it's wrong for Jews to let our enemies determine how high we can climb and how far we can go in America.
Because Lieberman is Jewish, he would (a) favor Israel; (b) bend over backward not to favor Israel. Take your pick -- each scenario has its fans, and they make equal sense. The fact that one is as likely as the other is the clue that neither is likely at all.
Lieberman has a public record of saying what he thinks and pursuing policies that he believes in. He has strongly supported Israel in its quest for peace and security. For a decade, he has urged the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He has also recognized that the Palestinians have interests, and refused to demonize Islam. You might or might not find this moderate approach appealing, but there's little reason to fear that Lieberman will change his tune in the Oval Office.Â
Lieberman is too religious. This is another way of saying that he's too Jewish. It's a bit of a puzzle, this Jewish discomfort with PDJ (Public Displays of Judaism). Jews who value the separation of church (or shul) and state more than the Torah squirm when Lieberman speaks of his faith. But the left has not always been so nervous around religion -- think of Martin Luther King Jr. or Jesse Jackson.
Lieberman is too conservative. This is the odd converse of the previous complaint, and means that he isn't Jewish enough, for those who equate being Jewish with left-wing politics.
Now, look. If you voted in 2000 for Ralph Nader (and thanks a lot), I understand that you are not likely to be too crazy about Lieberman. But Voltaire's aphorism remains apt: "The best is the enemy of the good." Yearning for ideological liberal purity is a big part of the reason George W. Bush is president today. Most of the electorate is politically in the middle. Lieberman's centrist posture, particularly on national security, is exactly why he's been voted the Democrat Most Likely to Give Bush Nightmares.Â
Privately, even Jews who like Lieberman whisper to each other, "But he can't win."
Why? Granted, he probably can't get the Muslim extremist vote, the neo-Nazi vote or the anti-Zionist, left-wing lunatic vote. But on the whole, gentiles are ready for America's first Jewish president. It would be a shame if American Jews, for truly flimsy reasons, were not. Â
Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. The opinions expressed are his, and do not represent those of the organization.