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Kvell, dont kvetch, over Liebermans run
January 17th, 2003
Chicago As another presidential campaign begins, I think its time for me to look reality square in the face. Im never going to be president of the United States.
Go ahead and laugh, but its a bitter pill for me to swallow. As long as I can remember, that has indeed been my goal.
I remember first having that desire as a small boy, and have had it pretty much since. I truly believed it not only could be, but would be.
That I was Jewish never seemed to be an obstacle, maybe because the first president I was aware of was John Kennedy and he was Catholic. I figured if he could, so could I.
I read the newspaper every day, followed politics avidly, watched every minute of the political conventions (in the days when the networks covered every minute), collected campaign buttons and stickers, devoured books about past campaigns and presidents and generally got my hands on everything about politics, especially about the guys running for president every four years.
I started learning the ropes at the bottom. I was president of my day schools senior class, president of the student council at the yeshiva I attended and president of my senior class there.
Im not exactly sure where I got diverted from that goal by journalism, though I do see both as similar in that they have the potential to tell truths and do good, to improve lives and make a difference.
In any case, even as I pursued the journalistic life, the notion that I would one day be president never completely left me. Indeed, journalism made me almost taste it.
As soon as I began working as a journalist, I made it my business to cover every presidential candidate who came to town. I interviewed dozens of them. Being in their presence convinced me I would be one of them one day.
Alas, it is now clear that if there will be a Joe the Jew in the White House, his last name is going to be Lieberman, not Aaron.
Kvetching, not kvelling
This week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman announced that he is a candidate for president of the United States, becoming the first Jew to have a serious chance at winning the nomination of one of the major parties.
My personal disappointment aside, this should be an occasion for major Jewish kvelling. But it doesnt seem to be.
Indeed, it seems to have resulted in much more kvetching. Virtually every Jew I have talked to about it has been scared, itemizing all the reasons they wish Joe wouldnt do it.
They fear he will have to bend over backwards to prove he is fair by being unfair to Israel. Some fear his very being will unleash a wave of anti-Semitism.
Beyond that, having a Jew as president, some Jews fear, would be too much, would give us too high a profile, make us seem too powerful, would turn latent hatred into open hatred.
To all those Jews who feel that way and I fear it is a large number of us I say, for shame. What is wrong with us? Why can we not take yes for an answer, see how good times are for us?
Why are we so quick to take any sign of bad and make it a trend, a sign of how much danger we are in, but are so slow to see abundant signs of good and understand we are living in times unlike Jews have ever experienced.
A nut in Austria, France or Louisiana spouts anti-Semitism and gets a few votes, and were ready to proclaim a second Holocaust. But have a Jewish senator run for president, and we not only dont see how wonderful that is, but we try to make even that a bad thing.
Yes, the last year or so has been tough for the Jewish people. Israel has endured an unremitting hell of terrorism. The Jews of Europe have been subjected to ugly deeds and ugly words.
But the news is far more good than bad. We must never forget that, especially now.
We are good at seeing that some on some college campuses are urging divestment in companies that operate in Israel. We are not so good at seeing that virtually every major college president has condemned that and that no colleges have done it.
We are good at seeing that the poet laureate of New Jersey wrote a poem full of anti-Semitism, but not at seeing that the governor of New Jersey publicly condemned it and him.
We are not good at understanding that Lieberman shows us just how good we have it. His candidacy is not only taken seriously, but most polls show him as the frontrunner at this stage. That shows how far this country has come from 60 years ago, when its doors were slammed shut to Jews.
Poll after poll from the 2000 election showed there was no anti-Semitic factor among Americans for Lieberman having been on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate.
Of course, that does not mean that every single person in this country was pleased a Jew was running, nor that hateful things were not said about him privately. No place will ever be a hate-free zone.
But the vast majority of Americans voted or didnt vote for Gore-Lieberman because of what they stood for, not because of who they were, in terms of religion anyway. Some may have called them liberals or Clintonites or boring or dangerous, but almost no one picked on Joe for being a Jew.
We should take great comfort in that and take great interest in Lieberman running for president. What we should not do is be afraid.
It is beyond a shanda that Jews did not vote in any greater number for Gore-Lieberman in 2000 than they normally do for any Democratic ticket.
Okay, maybe it was understandable that Jews were nervous last time since it was the first time a Jew was on a national ticket. But now we should know better, see that not only did it turn out okay when a Jew ran, but that Americans were cool about a Jew running.
This time around, we Jews should rally behind Joe, be happy about Joe, get nachas from Joe, enjoy that Joe is running, enjoy what it says about this country and about our place in it.
Happy days are here. Reason to drink a lchaim.
Of course, it would be even better if the Joe the Jew running for president was yours truly, but hey, thats politics.
Joseph Aaron is editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News.