Early and mid-August used to be known as the dog days of summer, but in this election season, August has become the hottest month. Here are several observations about recent events:
· Despite the euphoria emanating from the Hillary Clinton campaign about the selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, it’s not clear whether Mr. Lieberman’s candidacy will help the First Lady.
When Rudy Giuliani was her opponent, Mrs. Clinton could rely on minorities to go to the polls in great numbers to vote against the Mayor. Mrs. Clinton needs an especially strong turnout from African-Americans in New York City to overcome Rick Lazio’s strength in the suburban counties surrounding the city. Yet neither Mr. Gore nor Mr. Lieberman appeal viscerally to minority voters. Plus, according to the Pew Research Center, almost one-fourth of African-Americans hold unfavorable attitudes toward Jews, twice the national level. And Jewish voters have a history as ticket-splitters, voting simultaneously for both Rudy Giuliani and Mark Green in recent citywide elections and for George Pataki and Charles Schumer in 1998.
It surely will not be difficult for Jewish voters to pull the Gore-Lieberman lever and then switch lines to vote for Mr. Lazio, just as they did in 1992, when Bill Clinton received 80 percent of the Jewish vote while Robert Abrams, a Jewish candidate, took just over 50 percent of the Jewish vote in his failed campaign to unseat Alfonse D’Amato. Ironically, Mr. Lieberman’s candidacy will force Mrs. Clinton (and her husband) to work harder to mobilize African-American votes, which could then diminish support among Jews, who are more likely to vote with Mr. Lieberman on the ballot. It’s possible that Mr. Lieberman will drive down the African-American vote while bringing out more moderate Jewish voters.
· One byproduct of the Lieberman candidacy is that Americans are about to get a steady stream of information about Jewish culture, especially given that the major Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzaret and Simchat Torah, fall between Sept. 30 and Oct. 22–the campaign’s critical weeks.
This year is probably the most inconvenient time for an observant Jew to run for national office, since the Jewish New Year starts so late in the electoral cycle, rather than early in September. As Seth Gitell of the Boston Phoenix has observed, Senator Lieberman will lose eight valuable campaign days in the weeks before Election Day, since Orthodox Jews are expected to treat the holidays with “Sabbath-like” restrictions on activities.
Rather than observe the High Holy Days in Washington, D.C., or Connecticut, it’s likely that we will see Senator Lieberman praying in synagogues across the country, most likely in suburban areas where there are strong Orthodox communities. What will non-Jewish Americans think when they see rabbis in ceremonial robes and sneakers on Rosh Hashanah and hear the piercing sounds of the Shofar? Even secular Jews on the Upper East Side may have to learn what it means to fast on Yom Kippur.
· There has been a lot of attention given to the fact that three of the four candidates on the national ticket attended Yale University during the 1960’s. Clearly, Yale was a special place in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and its reputation endures among high school students, so that it is still highly selective in undergraduate admissions. But, apart from its superb medical, law and drama schools, Yale is an institution in trouble. In 1998, Yale ranked just 27th in research-and-development expenditures, well below Johns Hopkins, which led the nation and other private universities such as Stanford, Harvard and Duke. Yale’s School of Management doesn’t even break into the top 20 business schools, and its Divinity School is in poor shape, both fiscally and physically.
While Yale’s English Department has maintained its preeminence (and continues to send its top undergraduates to The New Yorker ), the political-science department has become a harbor of refuge for left-wing ideologues, the economics department is not competitive with Harvard, M.I.T., Princeton or Stanford, and the Classics Department can’t attract first-rate talent. Sociology at Yale, like sociology across the country, peaked 25 years ago.
Worst of all, an increasing share of Yale’s junior faculty refuses to live in New Haven. They commute from Boston, Washington and New York, and spend more time on the Metroliner than they do in their Yale offices. Its simply too difficult to get a good meal in New Haven. In fact, New Haven is increasingly a nine-month city, which closes up when the students go home after the spring semester.
Half a century from now, we will still depend on Yale to produce our leading poets, actors and playwrights, but other universities will be the source of Presidential talent.
(Wise Guys columnist Terry Golway is on vacation. He will return to this space next week.)