Fight The Bias - Newsletter Issue #1
In this edition....
My Boss The Fanatic - A Jewish Man's Personal Experience with Ashcroft
I've been saying all this week that I'm seeing the George W. Bush I've known personally all these years come out, now that he's president. He's very confident and very sure of himself.
W was impressive in announcing his education plan on Tuesday and, at least in these early days, has been extremely effective at winning respect from partisan Democrats including the likes of "The Swimmer" Ted Kennedy.
The President is coming out of the barrel here with two big issues - tax reform and education reform - right out of the Reagan book. Reagan came out of the blocks with his tax cut and rebuilding of the military. He didn't let any grass grow between the election, inauguration and his first days. In contrast, Clinton got bogged down with gays in the military.
I know many of you have been worried to hear Democrats like Kennedy come out happy after a meeting with Bush, but W's on the winning side of issues like education - and liberals don't want to miss the train as it pulls out of the station. Trust me. I know these people like the back of my hand.
The last eight years of the so-called love fest that the Democrats had for Clinton was smoke and mirrors. It wasn't genuine. In certain quarters of the Democratic Party, Clinton was as despised as he is in certain quarters of the Republican Party. Many of these Democrats are happy just to be able to talk to a president that they can trust.
Meanwhile, President Bush is loading up that train, the agenda express, and it's going to be pulling out of the station. A whole new train every day, with new people on board and a new agenda, is going to be pulling out of there, and Democrats will be begging them to wait so that they can get on board.
The education train left today. Hello, vouchers, folks.
Neil Boortz is a syndicated talk show host based in Atlanta Georgia. You can visit his website at http://www.boortz.com.
My Boss the Fanatic
By Tevi Troy
http://www.jewishworldreview.com - A WOMAN I recently met at a Bat Mitzvah
asked me what I do for a living. Experience told me what was coming, so I
kept my answer generic: I work in politics. She followed up, pressing until
she got the answer she wanted-or, more accurately, did not want: I work for
Senator John Ashcroft, Republican of Missouri. I'm used to fellow Jews
disliking my boss, but her answer still took me by surprise:
"I'm speechless." With his nomination to be George W. Bush's attorney general,
Ashcroft's image among my co-religionists seems to have deteriorated even further.
The National Council of Jewish Women opposes his appointment. Jewish senators
like Barbara Boxer and Charles Schumer have expressed their displeasure.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said this
week, "We question whether his religious views will have an impact on his
role as attorney general." I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll ever be
able to safely cruise Bat Mitzvah buffet tables again.
Critics imply that Ashcroft, because of his strong Christian beliefs, is
intolerant of Jews. Actually, he's more than tolerant; he's downright
philo-Semitic. Ashcroft was born to a gentile family in a predominantly
Jewish Chicago neighborhood. His mother served as a Shabbos goy, turning
ovens on and off as needed (a practice many Jews found charming when
practiced by a young Colin Powell-but then Powell is African American and
pro-choice). Ashcroft's father even took a mezuzah with the family when
they moved from Chicago to Springfield, Missouri, where he kept it affixed to
his doorpost until his death, in 1995. Ashcroft, I'd wager, knows more about
Judaism than half the Jewish members of the Senate. When I first told
Ashcroft that, as an observant Jew, I would not be able to work on
Saturdays and certain holidays, it was a point in my favor, not a strike against me.
Once, I stood up during a Friday afternoon briefing and said I needed to
leave. He asked me where I was going, as it is unusual for staffers to
walk out of briefings. I told him that the sun was setting, and he immediately
understood and ordered me to hurry along.
Ashcroft, his detractors suggest, is a religious fanatic, because his
religion dictates that he cannot smoke, gamble, drink, curse, or dance. But
it may be precisely because he is scorned as a "fanatic" that he has been
so tolerant of my own religious practices that might be perceived by the
unitiated as somewhat odd. After all, when I go to weddings, I won't
participate in mixed dancing. I fast half a dozen times a year, and I
unscrew the lightbulb in my refrigerator every Friday so I won't turn on
the light on the Sabbath. I'm every bit the "fanatic" that he is-maybe more so.
What most liberals and most Jews don't understand about people like
Ashcroft is that their deep respect for religious faith genuinely transcends
sectarian divides. And that often makes it easier for me, as a religious
Jew, to work for them than for Jews or Christians who don't take any
religion seriously as a force in people's lives. In my experience, when you
tell a nonobservant Jewish boss you need time off for Shavuot, there is
often a moment of discomfort, as if he thinks you are acting superior for
taking off what many Jews see as a minor holiday. When you tell an
observant gentile, he may ask you what the holiday is and then say he is
happy that you are observing Pentecost.
As senator, Ashcroft held a voluntary Bible study in his office every
morning. I didn't go and suffered no adverse consequences. But the
office's other Orthodox Jewish staffer-Ashcroft may well have employed more Orthodox
Jews than any other senator-attended regularly. And every other attendee,
including the senator, was impressed by this staffer's knowledge and
understanding of the Torah. Whenever staffers ate with the senator, someone
began the meal with a prayer. While the prayers were of the Christian
extemporized variety-as opposed to the Jewish approach of reciting specific
blessings for specific foods-they were ecumenical in content. In fact,
Ashcroft pointedly insisted that prayers not mention the Christian Messiah,
in order to be inclusive of all the religions in the office.
And there's another reason for Ashcroft's sensitivity. It's not just that
as a devout person he feels an affinity to other believers. He feels a
particular affinity to members of minority religions, because, hard as it
is for many Jews to understand, he also sees himself as part of a small,
sometimes scorned religious minority.
Ashcroft is a member of the Assemblies of God (often called Pentecostals).
Members of the AOG are probably even less well-represented in the upper
echelons of American politics, industry, and academia than are Orthodox
Jews. In fact, Ashcroft would be only the second AOG Cabinet member ever. I
know Ashcroft has suffered religious bigotry, because I've seen it. In St.
Louis before the election, some people told me they were uncomfortable with
the fact that his faith forbids him to gamble, smoke, dance, drink, or
curse. I could not help but wonder how these people would feel about a
non-Jew who expressed similar misgivings about a Jewish politician-like
Joseph Lieberman-who did not eat cheeseburgers or ride on the Sabbath and
who threw out all his bread products every spring. When Al Gore chose the
Connecticut senator as his running mate, The New Republic wrote: "What is
so startling about Lieberman's observances, and so edifying about them, is
that they appear to have served as the basis for his engagement with the world.
His career stands as a rebuke to those Jews-and those Christians-who insist
that a religious life requires a withdrawal from society" Ashcroft, in his
own way, represents a model just as unusual and just as impressive.
Jews sometimes seem to view members of the Christian right as contemporary
versions of the Christian zealots who oppressed Jews in eighteenth century
Ukraine or fifteenth-century Spain. But I see them as more like the
Puritans, who encountered religious prejudice in England and braved death
to come to the New World, where they could be "fanatics" in peace. And,
because they knew that their observances made them objects of scorn in the old
world, they helped create a new world that demanded religious toleration,
even for religious beliefs that they themselves rejected. If Jews, or
anyone else, oppose Ashcroft because of his views on affirmative action or
abortion or antitrust, I might disagree, but I can understand. But if they oppose
him because they think his faith oppresses others, then they misunderstand his
religion, and perhaps even their own.
Tevi Troy, former policy director for Senator John Ashcroft, is writing a
book about intellectuals in the White House.