In the 1972 Florida Democratic presidential primary, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, an especially admirable public servant, was featured speaker at a Miami dinner sponsored by combined Jewish philanthropies. In attendance was a group of voters widely known for their generosity and political clout, who had been regularly courted and wooed by the most importunate and creative of candidate-suitors.
One Humphrey primary opponent, Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, an unswerving supporter of Israel, had all but promised to put on his aviator goggles and personally fly F-15 jets to Tel Aviv.
Humphrey rose to the challenge. He told his Miami audience he had recently discovered an unacceptable injustice under the federal school lunch program, which he had long championed. There was no kosher school lunch program! My friend and authority on all matters both Jewish and political, the late and brilliant Alan Baron, who heard this Humphrey speech with me, analyzed the situation this way:
The United States had a Jewish population of just over 5 million, of whom approximately 10 percent kept kosher by observing the Jewish dietary laws. Baron then figured of that observant 10 percent, the overwhelming majority of the children were enrolled in Jewish religious schools - and he was confident that investigation might turn up one Jewish seventh-grader in a public junior-high just outside Kearney, Neb., who was being offered a baloney sandwich every third Thursday.
As political pandering goes, that 1972 Miami overture was mostly harmless. But not so the presidential candidates' pandering vintage 2008. Consider this recent event in Washington, where Jewish leaders convened a meeting to hear from representatives of the three surviving campaigns. They were Ann Lewis, former White House counselor to President Bill Clinton, representing Hillary Clinton; former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, representing John McCain; and, representing Barack Obama, Princeton professor Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush.
Let us stipulate that there is more free and open debate critical of the foreign and defense policies of Israel in Tel Aviv than there is in Washington, D.C. Too often, the American public figure who questions the wisdom or morality of any military or diplomatic initiative by any Israeli government, no matter how wrong or counter-productive that policy may be, risks being libeled as hostile to Israel or, worse, an anti-Semite.
At the Washington meeting, according to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, the Obama representative, Kurtzer, was forced to answer criticisms about Obama's statement that you did not need to have a "Likud view" - the right-wing party in Israel - in order to qualify as a supporter and friend of Israel.
And that's when the really ugly, giant pandering began. Lewis, the savvy Clinton representative and a veteran of nearly four decades in presidential politics, made an extraordinary declaration: "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties." Her words won applause in the room.
But where is the outrage on the campaign trail? "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel?" If Israel decides to bomb and invade Lebanon again, or any place else, is it the duty - by this "Clinton Doctrine" - for every American president to uncritically rubber-stamp such a unilateral action? The same United States that fought for its independence some 233 years ago will now surrender that independence without even a whimper of dissent to a foreign country in the combustible Middle East?
We wait in vain for McCain or Obama - two men whose campaigns remind us regularly that they reject "politics as usual" - to publicly repudiate "the Clinton Doctrine" that the United States president's role is to give every Israeli government a green light, carte blanche and this nation's proxy. Where is the leadership?
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.