Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman

Shedding Heat, not Light


A "Jews unhappy with Moran" article in a Northern Virginia paper presumes a proper "Jewish" response to issues. A person's faith should not be a tagline, not a headline.


What is with this headline from the Journal newspaper in NOVA?

Why, as this author has repeatedly asked in articles printed in the country's leading national newspapers, do reporters and editors believe it is appropriate to define voters or candidates by their race or religion in headlines?

Sometimes I feel like all of my hard work as chief cook and bottle washer for the 1985 and 1989 Wilder campaigns went for nothing, that it was a huge waste of time not to mention physical and intellectual energy.

But ever the believer in progress, I write today for the same reason this author wrote a Washington Post article in 2000, calling on Al Gore and Joe Lieberman -- whom I strongly supported -- to stop calling on voter's to help them make "history."

They conceded the "history" referred to the Democratic vice-presidential candidate's Jewish religion. I said then what Mr. Lieberman later said he likewise could now agree with: If you truly accept the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's call for people to be judged on merit, then as Democrats we have an obligation not to suggest religion is a legitimate reason to vote for a candidate. This is why as state Democratic Party chairman and as a member of the Democratic National Committee, I refused, despite strong criticism, to join "Jewish Democratic" groups.

After my Washington Post article appeared and was discussed on national television, the Democratic ticket suddenly stopped their references to making "history" on account of Mr. Lieberman's religion.

Mere coincidence? This is what the political "experts" in Virginia and Washington have said and they may be right. But naturally, one would like to think even a single voice from Richmond, Va., can still be heard on the national stage based on the persuasiveness of one's articulation.

So let's discuss the "Jews unhappy with Moran" story, the gist of which is captured in these paragraphs from the article:


"A letter describing U.S. Rep. James P. Moran as a friend of Israel and signed by Jewish members of Congress is doing nothing to restore the congressman's support base among local Jewish constituents, several local Jewish leaders said Wednesday.

Moran has drawn mounting criticism from many in the Jewish community for public comments he made about Israel in the last year and for his voting record on the Middle East.

The letter, which says Moran is "a strong supporter of Israel's right to security and sovereignty [although] we may not always agree on the best course of achieving that objective," is signed by 11 congressmen who assert, "as Jewish members of Congress, we want to assure you that he is a friend."


"It's awful. It's a disgrace and it's a fraud being perpetrated on the Jewish community in Virginia," said Steve Stone, a board member of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Virginia. "I know a lot of people who have taken such offense they have been in touch with the congressmen who signed it. He is not a friend of the Jewish community."


Steve Stone was a terrific Democratic when I knew him, a standup guy in Virginia politics. What he says is what he believed, so it is reasonable to assume this is not a personal thing between him and Moran.

Clearly, Mr. Stone and Rep. Moran (D-Alexandria) have a serious policy disagreement on several issues. In today's world, it takes guts for any individual to publicly disagree with a powerful member of Congress, especially one with what should be a seat for life for a Democrat.

To be frank, I am not sufficiently knowledgeable in their policy dispute to comment in any detail on the substance at issue.

But on another level, I do feel properly prepared to say the following with conviction: These issues surely transcend the "Jews are unhappy with Moran" reportorial and headline spin.

Turning these matters into "Jewish issues" is a mistake in my view, from every vantage point. What were the 11 "Jewish" members of Congress thinking when referring to their religion in the above quoted letter? Does their religious background or biography make their views on Mr. Moran's policy positions more accurate or worthy of importance?

Israel is America's most reliable ally in arguably the most dangerous region of the world. For sure, it is not unexpected for those of the Jewish faith, and the Muslim faith, to have an increased concern with Middle East issues.

But to reduce them to "Jewish issues" or to the "Jewishness" of those writing letters and otherwise involved is to give an ascendancy to a certain "political correctness" at the expense of the true nature of the debate relative to the substance at issue.

History demonstrates the wisdom of the late Dr. King and others in lifting issues out of the conventional definition. I ask you: When did calling something a "black issue" or a "Jewish issue" ever truly increase the public support needed to correct an abuse, right a wrong, change a flawed national policy?

Bottom line: Americans cannot, we must not, allow ourselves to fall into this trap of defining certain issues as "black" or "Jewish" issues.

In 1991, the New York Times, apparently amazed at the fact that a Doug Wilder and a Paul Goldman could team up in a campaign, wrote a controversial piece on yours truly, focusing a lot on my being Jewish. When this was brought to their attention, they apologized, essentially saying the uniqueness of our collaboration in these times struck them as amazing enough to warrant the focus given what has happened in New York State and elsewhere in politics.

But upon reflection, they realized this line of sight instead caused one to fail to focus on what needed to be focused upon in discussing what had happened and why it had happened in Virginia.

To me, those "Jewish" members of Congress have said more about themselves than they realized; and in so doing, far less about Mr. Moran and the issues involved than they also realize.

To the extent that any community in Mr. Moran's district is unhappy with his votes, this is a legitimate story and the media is doing its job in writing on the subject. Moreover, individual citizens should be encourage to express themselves in their own way as they are not professional politicians nor reporters.

But for those who hold ourselves to the standards of professionals in discussing public affairs, the obligations are higher relative to how we view voters, and their concerns.

When a person of the Jewish faith discusses Middle East issue, the press needs to see them as Americans, not as Jews. Their faith is not the headline issue in the story.

And when our pampered political elite write letters such as the one discussed above, and they use their religious faith as they did, then I submit that was the biggest story of all: and the Journal newspaper should have taken them to task for it and questioned the implications.

-- November 4, 2002


(c) Copyright. All Rights Reserved. Paul Goldman. 2002









Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.