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Anti-Semitism in Virginia

2014-06-13

Eric Cantor, a Jew who has represented a district in Virginia in the House since 2001 and is Republican majority leader, lost his primary bid to get on the ballot for re-election on June 10.  Jewish organizations were quick to deny that this represents a resurgence of anti-Semitism in a region that is 99-3/4 percent Christian.  However, his challenger, David Brat, who is currently chairman of the department of economics (more on this below) at Randolph-Macon College, is Roman Catholic.  In addition, Mr. Brat has a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and uses “God” in his speeches often.  He appeals to Christian conservatives in a way that Mr. Cantor simply cannot.  Mr. Brat has made statements in his “scholarly” articles such as: “What is the Christian response to an ever-increasing size of government?”

Mr. Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives.  This remarkable fact has given Jewish Republicans a narrow window for political donations, which have flowed freely into his campaign.

No one has come out to say that they voted against Mr. Cantor because he is Jewish, unlike in 2000, when his opponent was described as the only Christian in the primary. There are important differences between now and then.  The first difference is that Mr. Cantor only had to face a primary in his first election and in the last two–the intervening elections all earned him a bye, probably because he so rapidly developed powerful political connections that discouraged Republican opponents.  In fact, there are deep concerns about funding for Republicans now that Mr. Cantor is out, since he was able to attract massive donations that allowed him to spread his extra money around to other Republican House candidates.

The second difference is the increase in outright xenophobia in this region.  One of the major issues in this election is immigration reform, which attracts open xenophobes in the Republican Party who think that we can simply deport 11-12 million illegal immigrants without cost to our economy and society.

The third difference is the rise of the Tea Party Republicans,  who have shown themselves to be even more racist and xenophobic than regular Republicans.  The Tea Party has given closet racists a safe space to indulge in their misanthropy to their heart’s content, using code phrases that translate to ugly bigotry.  I am sure that if any such individuals read this, they will deny that they are racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic, but if they claim that to be so, then they are forced to wholeheartedly agree with the statement that all individuals, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or sexual preference, are entitled to an equal share in America’s bounty.  The slightest disagreement with that proposition, in my mind, disqualifies one as color-blind.

Finally, the print edition of today’s New York Times has extensive reportage on this subject, with the following highlights: David Wasserman (for the Cook Political Report) called religion “the elephant in the room” and described Mr. Cantor as “culturally dissimilar from his own voters.”  He explained that Mr. Cantor was unable to copy his opponent’s use of “evangelical language and imagery” and credited him with “never pretend[ing] to be someone he is not.”

Mr. Brat, on the other hand, claims to be an academic economist, although his economic views appear to be somewhat suspect.  His views on the minimum wage: “I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one.”  This from an interview on MSNBC.  He went on to claim that productivity and wages are directly connected; while it is true that productivity and wages increased in step from WW II to 1973 in the US, since 1979, productivity has increased 65 percent and wages only 8 percent.  The benefits of increased productivity are flowing more and more to the upper class, stockholders and board members.  To be fair, his exact statement was “All I  know  is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation’s productivity. Right? So you can’t make up wage rates. Right? I would love for everyone in sub-Saharan Africa, for example— children of God—to make $100 an hour. I would love to just assert that that would be the case. But you can’t assert that unless you raise their productivity, and then the wage follows.”

What?  What does the minimum wage in the US have to do with paying sub-Saharan Africans $100 an hour?  And why does he bring that up?  Because he doesn’t think they rate a minimum wage, or because he thinks that liberals want to pay them that much?  OK, so his “specialty” is the relation of religious freedom to economic issues, but as chairman of an economics department and a candidate for the House, shouldn’t he have thought up some answers to economic questions?

More importantly, what does Christianity, or any religion for that matter, have to do with the size of government?

The only really odd thing about this particular election is that, in November, Mr. Brat will face another teacher at Randolph-Macon college who happens to be in the sociology department and is of course, a Democrat and a Christian.  Unless, of course, you think it odd that a Jew would represent a Christian-majority district; by the same token, do you think it odd that your doctor is Jewish?

Caveat: I am not, so far as I know, Jewish; my mother and her mother before her were Lutherans.  Only three percent of the US population is said to be Jewish, but half of my medical school class were Jewish.  Researchers have theorized that genetic selection pressure caused by religious persecution over the last two thousand years has contributed to higher average levels of intelligence because Jews were historically restricted to certain specific professions in which mental acuity was a big asset.  They also suggest that this same selection pressure has led to increased incidences of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as a side effect of rapidly increased intelligence.

Go figure, as they say.

 

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