All the Senator’s Men (Vol. 66, Issue 1)
In summing up the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy discerningly remarked that “victory has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan.” In the weeks following Senator Joseph Lieberman's nomination to the Democratic Vice Presidential candidacy, Jewish leaders representing a broad range of ideologies have proven Kennedy’s maxim by shamelessly anointing Lieberman the avatar of their particular convictions.
A spokesman for Agudath Israel of America has repeatedly defended Lieberman’ alleged laxity in some areas of Jewish observance, publicly declaring that since Lieberman was “running for vice president, [and] not chief rabbi,” the organization was “not here to critique his religious life.” Perhaps Agudah’s reluctance to judge the candidate's religious actions would command more respect if they adopted a similar policy of restraint when confronted with comparable failings in Israeli politicians or certain university presidents.
Likewise, Yeshiva President Rabbi Norman Lamm has celebrated Lieberman's “vindication” of Modern Orthodox ideals. Steven Bayme of the secular American Jewish Committee has trumpeted the senator's nomination as “an enormous opportunity for the [Modern Orthodox] movement to find its voice again.” This newspaper wonders if both Bayme and Rabbi Lamm are referring to the same “Modern Orthodoxy,” and why Lieberman affirms the ill-defined doctrine any better than the average morally upright apolitical Jew should.
These cynical attempts to utilize Lieberman’s religious convictions in the furthering of specific religious agendas shred the moral standard the candidate actually bears. Lieberman’s ultimate credential is his decency, not the stream of Judaism he represents. If we view the senator as the paradigmatic mensch, he will embody the best our religion has to offer. Those among us whose partisan pandering cheapens his value as a paragon of morality, however, can only harm themselves and their faith.