The White House Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to getting a woman–any woman–onto the national ticket, issued a graceless press release about Al Gore’s selection of Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. Lieberman, of course, will be the first Jew to be chosen by a major party to run for vice president. For those who dedicate their lives to group-identity politics, the only appropriate response to such a Jackie Robinson moment is: Mazel Tov! The White House Project would seem particularly well-advised to be gracious, considering its constituency had its Jackie Robinson moment 16 years ago, when Geraldine Ferraro was selected as Walter Mondale’s running mate. Instead, the group’s president and co-founder, Marie C. Wilson (previously best-known as the inventor of “Take Our Daughters to Work Day“), groused that the choice of a woman would have been “a welcome step for the Democratic Party,” and then expressed mild satisfaction that “more female leaders than ever before were part of the conversation on potential vice-presidential candidates.” (Translation: “Memo to donors! Your money wasn’t wasted!”) The only praise served up to Gore for breaking down an ethnic taboo was Wilson’s use of the word “historic” to describe his choice of Lieberman. She didn’t even say why it was historic! (For the purposes of this column, Chatterbox is thinking of Lieberman as an ethnic symbol rather than an actual candidate. To read Chatterbox’s slightly ambivalent view of Lieberman-the-politician, click here.)
Wilson’s stinginess stands in stark contrast to the general response, which has been celebratory of Lieberman’s Jewishness. (Please note, for example, Gene Weingarten’s funny and touching memo to his deceased Jewish mother in the Aug. 8 Washington Post.) For Chatterbox, the kvelling has been a pleasant surprise. Eighteen months ago, Chatterbox wrote a column arguing that American culture no longer showed much interest in the question of when America would elect its first Jewish president. Chatterbox saw two possible explanations for this:
1) “It just ain’t in the cards, so why think about it?”
2) “[A]nti-Semitism is such a dead letter in American life that when a Jew finally becomes president no one, not even Jews, will think it worth mentioning.”
Both of these turned out to be wrong, as was Chatterbox’s prediction that, apart from Dianne Feinstein (whose vice-presidential selection would likely have been celebrated more as a triumph for women than as a triumph for Jews), no Jewish politician had much chance of making it to the White House soon. (Gregg Easterbrook of Beliefnet.com was more prescient: He wrote a column identifying no fewer than four Jews who had a strong chance of being selected by Gore, and said Lieberman had the best chance–but that was published not quite one month ago, when a lot more names were being bandied about.) In retrospect, Chatterbox’s biggest blunder was to mistake what he accurately sensed to be Marie C. Wilson’s attitude for that of the country as a whole.