Is America ready for a Jewish Vice President?

A viewer asked this question on 8/8/2000:

Do you really think that the AMERICAN ELECTORATE is ready and open minded enough to vote for an orthodox Jew-or will latent anti-Semitism raise it's head.

JesseGordon gave this response on 8/9/2000:

I'm Jewish. But the first thing I thought when I heard on Monday that it was Lieberman was, "He picked a JEW?! America's not ready for that!" I've gotten used to the idea since, but that was my honest first reaction.

I think the American electorate is also ready for a black candidate -- certainly if Colin Powell were a candidate he would likely win and race would not be much of an issue in the campaign. And a female candidate -- I think the electorate is also ready for that, judging by the positive response to Elizabeth Dole's primary bid.

I've always thought that a female president would come first, then a black president, then a Jew. I base that simply on numbers -- Americans are about 50% women; 15% black; and only 3% Jewish. So the barriers, I thought, would fall in that order.

But by that measure, a gay candidate should be more likely than a Jew and less likely than a black candidate (because, gays claim, 10% of the population is gay). But I don't think the American electorate is at all ready for a gay candidate yet, so the numerical theory is not too robust.

Directly to your question, yes, I DO think the American electorate will accept Lieberman's candidacy and stop focusing on his religion soon enough. It makes for a big splash for the first few days, but next week, we'll all be talking about his views on school vouchers and abortion -- which is the best sign that we're "ready."

Of course there will be some anti-Semitic backlash. There would be some racist backlash if Powell ran, and some sexist backlash if Dole won the primaries. But I think America is pretty safely beyond institutional anti-Semitism, and that's what counts. What I mean by that is, if INDIVIDUALS don't vote for Lieberman because they hate Jews, that doesn't mean America isn't ready (it just means there are some bigots left). It's when INSTITUTIONS say Lieberman can't run that would indicate we're not ready as a society. It wasn't very long ago that Harvard didn't allow Jewish applicants -- THAT's the kind of institutional barrier that no longer exists.

I'll close with a personal story on this topic. In 1988, I was watching the presidential campaign with my sister-in-law, who grew up in Finland. She was intrigued with the idea that anyone could run for president, so she asked me, "Could you run?" I replied, "No, I'm Jewish." Her interpretation was that Jews were institutionally barred from running for President, as is indeed the case in Finland (only members of the state-established Lutheran church can be in the Finnish government). My meaning, of course, was that America wasn't "ready" in the sense that you're asking -- that in 1988, at least, I didn't think any Jew could possibly be taken seriously as a candidate. It makes me very happy that only 12 years later I've been proven wrong.

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madpol gave this response on 8/9/2000:

Anti-Semitism is hardly latent in the US. I think it will almost certainly raise its ugly head between now and November.

I am just as certain that Gore's campaign manager, fellow Chicagoan Bill Daley, is counting on it.

Polls show a double digit margin for Bush among likely voters, but a dead heat among registered voters. Gore needs turnout to win--big turnout! And Lieberman is Conservative enough that Conservatives can't attack him as a Liberal.

Having the KKK, Nation of Islam and other assorted bigots yelling about a "Jewish Conspiracy" is the surest way to galvanize the Democratic base.

By the same token, such an outcry would put Bush in an untenable position. Does he stay silent and risk Moderates and Independents flocking to Gore? or Does he denounce the bigots and risk his already shaky relationship with the Religious Right? Either way, his base de-energizes. Some of his "likely voters" either switch sides, stay home, or vote 3rd party.

It wouldn't take much anti-Semitism either. The campaign, so far, has been so dull that a story hungry press will pick up the story and run with it.

There is a precedent, even though Bush's dad denounced former KKK leader David Dukes in his run for Congress, it still cost him with the Right.

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npscott gave this response on 8/8/2000:

Yes, I believe so.

In 1960, John Kennedy, Catholic, ran for President. For those not living then, it's hard to recreate the atmosphere. But, it was vastly different from today.

Stereotyped ideas get embedded in society and are widely shared. Many Protestants thought that a Catholic President would have his 'strings pulled' by the Pope, in Rome. They really believed that.

But, then John Kennedy got up before a group of Protestant Ministers in Dallas and said, (from memory, not an exact quote) "I am the Democratic candidate for President. I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic nominee for President who happens to be Catholic."

Later, during the same speech, he said, "Am I to believe that on the day of my baptism (Catholics are baptized when infants) I was forever excluded from being President of the United States?"

Those words had a tremendous impact in a land which values equality and equal opportunity.

Now, we are forty years down the road. There is no fear a Jewish President would have his strings pulled by some far off ecclesiastical leader.

Polls cited on the TV news networks yesterday, showed 92% of the people would vote for a Jew for President.

And why not? If he is a leader, an honest man, a man whose values are 'mainstream', does anyone think we would toss him aside for an inferior candidate?

How much less is it a concern for Vice President?
I also believe America is ready for African-American leadership. Not a single major U.S. city has been without an African-American mayor. Ninety-eight percent of big city mayors have held office with honor, and effectiveness.

Colin Powell, an African American, was in charge of our Armed Forces. He guided us through a major war.

It seems to me if the country, mostly white, has experienced African American leadership in all her major cities, and at high levels of government, not just Joint Chief of Staff, but cabinet posts as well, then we're no longer scared of the 'boogey man'.

And that includes Senator Joseph Lieberman.

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stevehaddock gave this response on 8/8/2000:

Most Americans are ready, however...

Anti-Semitism isn't exactly latent in the United States. The KKK, although weak, is still virulently anti-Semitic and, strangely enough, more of them are Democrats than Republicans. Religion was a serious issue in the 1960 Kennedy campaign, especially with the KKK, but with Americans from a broad range of backgrounds as well.

My guess is that the KKK will start making waves about this, which strangely enough could push more southerners away from the Republicans. Anti-Semitism will probably become a campaign issue, but the Democrats will have no problem with it. It is the reaction of Bush to his southern base that could turn the tide.

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