Out of the Woods: Presidential race may show if faith is still factor in American politics
The best unkept secret about Vermont’s Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is that he is Jewish. His supporters probably know this. But, I suggest the vast majority of voters in the rest of the country do not know it. He considers himself a secular Jew, but only in heritage or tradition, and not necessarily in religion.
In an interview last year, he flatly stated: "I'm proud to be Jewish," but added, "I'm not particularly religious." Sanders was a descendant of a Polish Jewish family, who migrated to the U.S. during the Great Depression and Holocaust. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1941, and since childhood he was raised in Jewish traditions and also attended Hebrew school, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
As for his party affiliation, on April 30, Sanders filled out Federal Election Commission paperwork by saying his affiliation is the "Democratic Party," according to the entry on the FEC form, a public document.
I hasten to make it crystal clear that in this disgraceful national political campaign, in which some uncivil presidential candidates, almost exclusively Republicans, have raised the ugly specter of racial and religious bigotry it is relevant for voters to know candidates' faiths, although it should not determine who individuals vote for.
As for his party affiliation, Sanders has been labeled himself a "Democratic-Socialist." The word "Socialist" has been considered a negative by the majority of Americans because it is interpreted as only one step away from Communism, an old-fashioned term for the Russians in World War II.
Frankly, whenever I see Sanders on TV, I see him as an aging, energetic, highly emotional man, pushing the pedal to the floor, apparently appearing to use up all the gas in his tank.
Although our country has never elected a Jewish president, former U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, independent Democrat, and Orthodox Jew, ran with Al Gore as vice president in 2000.They lost to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. In 2003, Lieberman announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. He stated that his historically hawkish stand on military issues would appeal to voters. He initially led the primary polls, but was unsuccessful in winning support from liberal Democrats. Lieberman failed to win any of the primaries and, ironically, did not have the support of Al Gore, who instead endorsed the candidacy of Howard Dean.
As for his personal life, Bernie met his wife, Jane O'Meara, when he was mayor of Burlington, Vt. She had an impressive resume, having attended the University of Tennessee and earning a master’s and PhD from Goddard College in leadership studies in politics and education. She has three children from a previous marriage. Sanders considers his wife his best sounding board.
Meanwhile, another Jewish politician has emerged as a possible long-shot for president: Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His "Out of the Woods" column appears every other Friday in the Westport News.