Jewish World Review August 25, 2000 /24 Menachem-Av, 5760
Lieberman’s ascent illustrates author’s point about America
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN THE SAINTED junior Senator from Connecticut ascended to the podium at the Democratic National Convention last week, he greeted his audience with a one-liner that seemed to sum up the experience of American Jewry in a nutshell.
“Is America a great country — or what? Only in America!” said Joseph Lieberman with a look that was as much bemused as it was triumphal. The notion that an observant Jewish kid from Stamford, Conn., who was possessed of neither riches, looks, charisma nor great oratorical skills could be placed in a position where he may be a heartbeat away from the presidency seemed to amaze the recipient of this good fortune as much as anyone else.
We have all now lived to see the day when a Jew can rise to the top of the political world, not by shedding his Jewish identity but as an observant Jew on his own terms. What a country, indeed!
But, alas, appreciation for the United States has often been lacking. The last 50 years of American history has been characterized, in no small measure, by a steady drumbeat of cynicism and disbelief in the essential goodness of America and our system of government.
From the Marxist apologists for Joseph Stalin; to the radical left, which used the tragedy of Vietnam and the struggle against American racism to call into question the very notion of patriotism; to the cynics of both the left and the right who, from different frames of reference, have come to view America as a morally bankrupt nation, the voice of the “blame-America-first” crowd has grown from a whisper to a roar. For those such as the radical leftist demonstrators at both the recent Republican and Democratic conventions, the United States remains mired in its original sin of racism and debauched by prosperity. Such a lack of perspective is as conspicuous as it is appalling.
This lack of faith is also demonstrated by those Jews who, despite the wide acceptance that Lieberman has won in the non-Jewish world, actually believe his nomination will set off a backlash of anti-Semitism. For all of our justified vigilance against hatred, the history of European anti-Semitism cannot be replayed here — because America is different. Too many of us are so stuck in the fears of the past that we can miss the fact that America is more than just another stop-off in the Diaspora.
Answering America's critics
In these three books, Podhoretz tells the story of his conversion from a supporter of the radical left to the Reaganite neoconservative pundit he has been for the last quarter-century. In these books and in his new tome, Podhoretz skewers his ex-allies and ex-friends on the left, and attempts to settle more than a few scores in the arcane literary feuds of the New York intellectual world.
In his latest book, Podhoretz traces his life from his poverty-stricken immigrant beginnings to his education at Columbia and Cambridge universities (made possible by merit-based scholarships), and on to his entry into the world of literary criticism and political commentary. In discussing his experiences, as well as in exploring this country’s intellectual and literary history, Podhoretz admirably sticks to his theme of celebrating America’s uniqueness.
Even more trenchantly, Podhoretz also traces his confrontations with the various species of America-bashers he has encountered. From the socialists and communists of his youth to the anti-Vietnam war radicals to the advocates of appeasement of the Soviet Union — as well as with the anti-Semites on both the left and right in our own day — Podhoretz sees a common thread of distrust in America’s mission to stand up for freedom abroad and at home.
Podhoretz quotes, with approval, the words of fellow conservative William F. Buckley, who memorably wrote, “Complaint is profanation in the absence of gratitude. There is much to complain about in America, but that awful keening noise one unhappily gets so used to makes no way for the bells, and these have rung for America, are still ringing for America, and for this we are obliged to be grateful. … we are singularly blessed in this country.”
The flowering of both democracy and opportunity here is no accident of history. It is, as Podhoretz points out, the result of a national devotion to the preservation of liberty. This is a civic culture so deeply ingrained in the American people that it cannot be eradicated even by generations of intellectual cynicism or the petty corruptions of welfare-state liberalism and affirmative action, which have distorted our vision of a merit-based society.
An American 'dayenu'
Podhoretz ends his book with a personal American dayenu — a reprise on the Passover seder text that lists each of the Almighty’s blessings bestowed upon the Jewish people during the Exodus. To each recitation of a miracle or divine gift, we answer dayenu — it would have been enough. So, too, for Podhoretz, each gift bestowed upon him by American democracy is similarly blessed and acknowledged in a uniquely personal patriotic credo.
The love affair between Jews of humble origin, like Lieberman and Podhoretz,
and the American republic that nurtured them and then raised them to
prominence is more than a cliché. Indeed, this is a country where patriotism
never deserves to go out of
JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's highest awards in two categories: First Place in the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing for his column "Israel's China Syndrome -- and Ours" and First Place for Excellence in Arts and Criticism for his column "Jewish Art, Jewish Artists." The awards were given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 2000 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Washington D.C. on June 22, 2000. Let him know what you think by clicking here.