Tommy Thompson Plays Borat; Woos, Doesn't Wow "the Jews"
It was like a scene from the Borat movie. A man from a foreign land trying to connect with a tribe of people with whom he is unfamiliar. A wonderfully disastrous misconnection leading to misunderstanding leading to embracement.
The only problem is that both the man - former [Wisconsin] governor Tommy Thompson, and the tribe - activists gathering for the Washington convention of the Jewish Religious Action Center, were Americans. And that this man was claiming he was running for president of the United States. He came to woo, but left behind a crowd of sophisticated adults giggling like teenagers at his expense.
So, as friendly advice to this candidate (and all other candidates) here's my list of things not to do when trying to connect with the Jewish electorate:
Telling Jewish activists that 'making money is part of the Jewish tradition' is not a good idea. (Full quote: I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money. You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that).
Apologizing is generally a good idea if you do happen to make such a gaffe, but before apologizing one needs to make sure the apology does not make the situation even worse.
Thompson apologized by saying that he only wanted to highlight the "accomplishments" of the Jewish religion. (Full quote: I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to ladies and gentlemen is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that.)...
Mentioning Israeli politicians whom one has met can be a good thing, but Benjamin Netanyahu might not be your best choice to name-drop.
And the same can be said about American groups associated with Rabbi Meir Kahane. If you have had any contact with them, don't brag about it, not here....
After the governor left people were kindly making excuses for him. He was trying to be nice; he was trying to connect; he doesn't understand our sensibilities. So here's one last piece of advice for him and his many friends: Get a good adviser to prepare you for such events.
Wisconsin has a surprising number of Jewish officials in state and national office; Thompson's seeming lack of sophistication in working this crowd thus comes as something of a surprise (although, truth be told, he was not viewed as a particularly high-voltage intellect hereabouts. Standards may be lower in the Bush Cabinet.)
It would seem that Jews are no happier being foolishly stereotyped than are other [Imusian adjectives deleted] folks.
And while I'm at it: lots of American Jews engage in robust debate about Middle East politics (and politics of every kind--just check out the conversation at Passover seder tables around the country), and do not go for knee-jerk pandering in such settings. Be wary of "advisers" who counsel otherwise. Just as an experiment, perhaps politicians might try to treat Jewish audiences--and other audiences, ethnic or otherwise--as intelligent adults who care about lots of issues, and don't like being, or feeling, patronized on the basis of such stereotypes. Just an experiment.