A JEW IN 2004?

Jeff Birnbaum, who I respect very much as a political commentator, makes a rather startling argument:

Joe Lieberman should be the hands-down front-runner for President among Democrats. He came within a chad’s width of being elected Vice President and is better known than any of his eight rivals. But polls show that the Connecticut Senator is behind in such key states as Iowa and New Hampshire, and political insiders don’t give him much chance of winning the nomination. There are several reasons for this, but one big one is rarely discussed in public: Lieberman is a Jew.

I hate to write those words. I’m Jewish and–I admit it–I like Lieberman. He’s wry and wise in the right proportions and willing to defy his party on matters of principle. He’s a good man. But he is also a member of a tiny and long-scorned minority. Plenty of people won’t vote for him simply because of his religion, whether they admit it or not. And, I’m ashamed to say, lots of Jews are reluctant to back him as well. After suffering years of discrimination, they fear that having too prominent a Jew on the national scene could spark an outbreak of anti-Semitism.

I am always dubious of claims of widespread racial or ethnic discrimination as the explanatory factor, especially when there are more obvious causes. In this case, there clearly is: Lieberman is far too conservative for the Democratic nominating electorate. While I think he may very well be the Democrat with the best chance of beating President Bush, he faces an uphill fight getting the nomination because he doesn’t throw enough red meat to the party faithful.

Furthermore, I’d argue that Lieberman’s Jewishness is an asset, not a liability. He certainly seems to think so; he rarely missed an opportunity to point out that he was Jewish during the 2000 campaign. I’m guessing there are far more Jews who will vote for Lieberman simply because he’s Jewish than there are anti-Semites who will vote against Lieberman because he’s Jewish.

(Hat tip: Confessions of a G33k)

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Religion, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Nick says:

    One of my (extremely conservative) Jewish friends was confronted by his Jewish in-laws back when it was first announced that Lieberman would be the VEEP candidate. “So, whaddya think? You’re gonna vote for Lieberman, right (because he’s Jewish)?”.

    My friend’s response was classic: “Too bad we don’t live in Israel, where EVERYONE in the race is a Jew…then you’d actually have to decide based on the issues!”.

  2. Cam says:

    I wonder if it’s not so much anti-Semitism as it is fear of increased terror attacks because of our president’s faith and perceived ties to Israel.

  3. April says:

    I think that many Jews fear an outbreak of anti-Semitism if a Jew fills a high-profile role like the presidency, not to mention fears of an assassination.