Washington, D.C. Sometimes these Republicans can be convincing folks. Certain days, for example, I’m left wondering what’s so bad about John McCain anyway. And just before the new year, a Republican gathering here in the nation’s capital almost convinced me that Machiavelli was Jewish. Yes, Niccoló Machiavelli, Jewish. Now, I’ve been Jewish (and on Jewish mailing lists) for my whole life. I’ve received my share of those annoying books that list who’s Jewish in baseball, or American history, or the novels of Zane Grey, and I know about all of the Jews listed in Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” — but they still almost had me going on this Machiavelli thing. You see, the gathering was a candidates’ forum hosted (at my favorite D.C. landmark, the Washington Hilton) by the Republican Jewish Coalition. All six Republican candidates stopped by to woo the twenty or so bona fide Republican Jews in the room (the other few hundred people being evenly divided between the working press and the morbidly curious). You could count the yarmulkes in the room on one hand. Orrin Hatch lived up to every expectation. He was a tall man in a room full of short people, he was the only Mormon present, he was Bland with a capital B, and he unabashedly begged for even a single vote. He exaggerated his own importance, he belittled his opponents’ ideas, he wheedled and he whined; in other words, he really sucked up. Worried that it wasn’t enough to pledge that he has always “stood firmly for the proposition that a united and indivisible Jerusalem is and always should be the capital of Utah” (oops), he tried to compensate by getting confessional. “I wear a mezuzah around my neck, and have every day for the last fifteen years. I truly understand what Jewish people have been through all over the world, and I love you.” Yikes! Alan Keyes was cast in the role he usually fills — a combination of being dead last in the race, over the top in his presentation, and the only black man in the room not operating a television camera. Like a one-actor play oblivious to the audience, Ambassador Keyes stepped on his jokes and spoke over his applause. When he did acknowledge the audience, it was only to assert that Jews are not “just another special interest group” — before continuing a speech that said absolutely nothing of special interest to the group. John McCain gave a seminar in foreign policy. It was wide-ranging. It was impressive. It was boring. He eventually mentioned Israel, made a joke at the expense of Hillary Clinton (who had recently embarrassed herself by embracing Mrs. Arafat after sitting silently while the Palestinian Premiere’s wife egregiously slandered Israel). He made some garbled comment about being wary of socialism in Israel. He said nothing about domestic policy or American Jews. He received thunderous applause. After the fundraising lunch to honor Senator Ashcroft and undeclared Senator Giuliani, Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes were boring. They made sycophantic, pie-in-the-sky promises, told jokes with Hillary Clinton and Al Gore as the punchlines, and mixed their metaphors. Forbes actually averred that “Israel’s creation and continued existence is a profound moral triumph over evil.” Huh? It was no surprise that after Forbes cut his speech short for some Q&A, there weren’t enough questions to fill his allotted time. He made an ignominious exit. To be fair, it wasn’t all Forbes’ fault. His speech immediately preceded George W. Bush’s. Bush was introduced by Max Fischer, Coalition founder, advisor to every Republican president since W.W. II, and a man who looks as superannuated as anyone might be who provided face-to-face advice to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Fischer, in turn, was introduced by Plano’s own state senator, Florence Shapiro, making a special appearance to honor her favorite Governor. Bush immediately distinguished himself. He was wearing twice as much make-up as several women in the room, who looked very much like our own ecumenical versions of Tammy Faye Bakker. And Governor Bush said “a lot” a lot, as in: “I love my wife a lot…. I love our girls a lot… [and] I’m running for President because I love my country a lot.” No kidding. After that he said a lot of nothing. He recycled lines from his big tax-cut speech from that morning, and he offered up his daily soundbites. Unlike the other candidates, he never even really spoke about Israel. The speech he chose for a Jewish group left a lot of us wondering if he’d ever met a Jew before. Yet he received more applause that all the other candidates combined. Shapiro was applauding so hard, she bounced up and down. Someone in front of me whistled. Someone beside me cheered. This for a man who answered a question about his motivation by saying, “It’s important we win the White House. It means a lot.” And that’s when I started to believe that Machiavelli was Jewish. It was a logical conclusion. One man (Keyes) came and spoke about a moral crusade that most people in the room (like most people in the country) find uncompelling; he got polite applause. Three men (Hatch, Bauer, and Forbes) came and told those assembled everything that Jewish Republicans should want to hear; they got polite applause. Two men (McCain and Bush) came and said nothing of any interest to the Jewish community; they received ovations. It was more than a lesson in realpolitik. It was a demonstration of Machiavellian philosophy: grab power at any cost; embrace the most likely means to your ends. It was the only way to explain this Jewish audience ignoring comments Bush made only a few years earlier — about how non-Christians are eternally damned. On my way out, I picked up a Coalition publication. The cover featured a photograph of Charlton Heston portraying Moses. Charlton Heston: not Jewish — not even a chance. Moses, now there’s a Jew. He didn’t reflexively root for the frontrunner, and he demonstrated real compassion and commitment, as well as a personal relationship with God. He was even, at least according to Disney’s revisionist history, a prince. I’ll bet he was never a Republican.
Jeff Mandell, formerly a Texas Observer prince, is currently appearing on the Borscht Belt(way).