August 18, 2000

THE communications revolution is killing tolerance, not widening it. So many millions of bigots are given their say that racism and every conceivable kind of hatred, from disgust at disability to belief in racial purity, seem like mainstream concepts.

Al Gore is a man I have met on many occasions and I can testify to his fundamental decency and honest.

He has chosen an outstandingly competent running mate in Senator Joseph Lieberman.

I am certain he picked Lieberman for his keen mind and dazzling TV presence, far above his religious persuasions.

And even then, the chief factor in the Senator’s standing as an Orthodox Jew was his deep moral rectitude and not the possible gains and losses at the polls: Gore is not a man to worry about the voting tendencies of rabid antisemites.

But the media’s reaction was to fly into a swastika-patterned whirl.

‘The first Jew ever to run on the US presidential ticket,’ shrieked every leading article.

Yes? And? So? US presidents have included Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from a bizarre deformity called Marfan’s syndrome; Franklin D Roosevelt, who was wheelchair-bound; and Jack Kennedy, who was a ferocious womaniser as well as not being a Protestant Christian.

In the 21st century, I don’t believe any of those men would stand a chance. Lincoln was too weird — would you vote for a man whose TV debates looked like out-takes from the Addams family?

And Roosevelt, the polio sufferer — wheelchairs don’t play well in modern politics.

Newspaper readers can cope with superbly muscled paraplegics, propelling their racing chairs along a marathon route, but they retain some grim prejudices about the disabled in politics.

What about JFK? His Democratic successor, WJC, was almost hounded out of office for sharing a cigar with a female intern.

If you think Kennedy’s grip on power was unshakably strong, enough even to survive revelations about his relationship with Marilyn Monroe, imagine what chance today Clinton would have of remaining unimpeached if the National Enquirer printed photographs of him in bed with Demi Moore.

We are less tolerant than earlier generations and that is because we know more. We know more about prejudice, narrow-mindedness and contempt for the differences of others. In this climate, Al Gore is bold to pick an Orthodox Jew. But just in case a trend should develop for traditional Jews in positions of power, we have Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to remind the voters why they should never trust a politician in a kippah.

The holy man’s drivelling about six million ordinary people paying penance of the sins of past lives reminded me of something, and I couldn’t remember what it was at first.

Then I recalled how former England coach Glenn Hoddle was pilloried for saying that the disabled were being punished for sins committed in previous existences.

How one miserable past-life sinner, such as FDR in his wheelchair, can get to be US president, while others, such as my mother’s uncles, have to die in the back of a lorry converted into a gas chamber — this is a theological point which is simply too subtle for me. I shall have to invite the rabbi to dinner and press him on the question.

Unless, of course, my Doberman guard-dog savages him first, in retribution for his past-life sins.

God-fearing men can make the best politicians — and the worst. Atheists can make terrible leaders — and inspirational ones.

I do not believe I am being impossibly naive when I say that in the polling booth we should think about the policies and not the faith.

The US must vote Democrat or Republican — not Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

But if America has to pick the government on the basis of religious persuasion, I’d like to make a few suggestions:

President: Jackie Mason. Since religion is a major issue here, the president must be able to diffuse it. Jackie can dismiss the Big Questions as amusing cultural quirks — ”My son, the President. But Mrs Lipstein upstairs, she can always trump that with ‘My son, the Doctor’!”

Vice President: Bob Dylan. He can be Orthodox Jew, born again Christian or fundamentalist Muslim, depending on the political necessity and day of the week. Plus, everyone knows at least three of his songs.

Defence Secretary: Mahavira Vardhamana, Jain holy man. I happen to believe all politicians in command of armies or nuclear arsenals should be fervent pacifists, who believe their souls would be forfeit if they so much as stood on a beetle.

Health Secretary: Deepak Chopra. We should all spend much more time meditating and much less time paying insurance on private medical schemes.

Chief spokesperson: This is the big one. An outstanding press secretary can transform a limp government into a pillar of strength, a witless government into a creative powerhouse. The candidate’s past politics are irrelevant — an ex-terrorist or a newly-freed jailbird would do, if their aura sizzled with the right mix of spirituality and wisdom.

Age, colour, religion — all these things are unimportant. The viewers, no matter how cynical they have been made by a surfeit of information, will see right through these things if the spirituality is right.

Two words prove the truth of what I am saying: Nelson Mandela.

I wonder if he might be coaxed out of retirement.


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