Column: Thinking outside the box in 2000 |

Column: Thinking outside the box in 2000

The world is a pretty stable place, we often think, but sometimes, little earthquakes can change the fabric of society a small but definite amount in a single day.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman being named the first-ever Jewish candidate on a presidential running ticket was one of those little earthquakes.

It might not have meant a lot to all of us, but to America’s 6 million Jews, it meant the world is changing a little this week – for the better.

“I never thought it would happen in my lifetime,” Rabbi Irnie Nadler of the North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation in Kings Beach said in an interview Tuesday. “This is such a positive, wonderful time.”

It’s been 16 long years since the last “first” in presidential politics, that of course being Geraldine Ferarro picked as the running mate of hapless Walter Mondale in 1984.

Nadler noted that since Ferraro was a candidate and lost, no woman has been nominated by a major party, and he worried that if the Gore-Lieberman ticket loses in November, it might be blamed partially on Lieberman’s religion.

“If Joseph Lieberman doesn’t get elected, both parties will look at him, and we won’t see another [Jewish candidate] in our lifetime,” said Rabbi Nadler. “One of the things I’m afraid of is I don’t want this to become a referendum on Judaism in the year 2000.”

For a while, it looked like neither of the candidates would think “outside the box” in the 2000 race – that both would stick to the predominantly white, upper-class male Protestant candidates we’ve had for the past 200 years or so.

Both certainly had chances – Bush could have picked several diverse candidates, including former cabinet secretary Elizabeth Dole or New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, or perhaps African-American Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. Gore had a pretty good slate of diverse folks to pick from as well, including California’s own Dianne Feinstein or Hispanic Bill Richardson.

Of course, you don’t want to get into assigning quotas for higher office in this country – the most important attribute for a candidate for vice president must not be gender, skin color or religion but the ability to become a competent President of the United States should the worst occur. Both Lieberman and GOP pick Dick Cheney, whether you agree with their politics or not, are capable of being President if they had to be.

Yet, in an America that is rapidly moving toward having a non-white majority population, it seems hard to imagine that there aren’t more qualified African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Jews or women who could be considered for these higher offices. We’re a patchwork nation of many colors and ideas, and only getting more so every day.

For all those who harp and cry about how far we’ve yet to go in true racial equality in this country, we’ve certainly come a long way since the 1900 political scene, when Congress was lily-white and “colored” folk were forced into their own separate places to drink, eat and pray.

I’ve met people who avidly believe there are Jewish conspiracies in the world, that all black folks are lazy and hate to work, and Asians are computer braniacs without souls. Those are all lies, if you have the brain and heart to see through them. There are still those who will decry Lieberman’s nomination simply because he’s an Orthodox Jew – but there’s less people that think like that than there used to be.

We’re all a little prejudiced about certain people’s race, religion or sexuality -I know I can be, and it’s something I try hard to overcome. Lieberman’s selection, no matter what your political views are, is a boon that could help us all learn to be open-minded.

The rabbi of one of the area’s largest Jewish organizations agreed, in the final summation.

“This is terrific,” said Rabbi Nadler. “I hope it opens doors for everyone – blacks, Hispanics, Asians, whoever -this is good for all of us.”

Sierra Sun editor Nik Dirga grew up in Nevada County.

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