In a 1937 Gallup poll, 47 percent of Americans said they would not support a Jewish candidate for President, regardless of a candidate’s qualifications. During the past 70 years that number has dropped to a low of 15 percent, even prompting a Vice-Presidential hopeful in 2000 (Joe Lieberman).
The zenith of that anti-Semitic era was the “Red Scare” of 1919-1920. Mitchell Palmer, the US Attorney General of the time, accused Jewish Americans of being “foreign-born” subversives, claiming that in their midst they had 60,000 organized agitators of the Trotsky doctrine (much like today’s “Green Scare”, which claims that Muslim sleeper cells hide in every mosque).
Leon Trotsky was a Ukrainian-born revolutionary who lived in New York before leaving to lead the Red Army against communist opponents, including American troops.
Two decades later, half of all Americans said that they would never vote for a Jewish president; and in a subsequent poll (1944), one-quarter accused them of being “less patriotic”.
So, why rehash this dark chapter in our history? Because, in truth, bigotry never dies, it merely blends in to its chronometric background; like a chameleon stepping from yesterday’s narrative into today’s, seeking a modern antagonist.
Recent commentaries have lauded the 2008 Presidential Elections as representing great social and political progress, with the first possible female President, African-American, Italian-American, and of course the first possible Mormon (Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney). But while the consensus seems to be that sexism and racism can be overcome, it is considered more or less axiomatic that particular religions and religious ancestry will not so easily prevail.
Already proving a liability for Romney, is his Mormon faith, as indicated by a Feb. 9-11, 2007, Gallup poll, in which twenty-four percent of Americans said they would not vote for a qualified Mormon presidential candidate.
While, the country has no official religious litmus test – Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office” – at the end of the day, voters can, and do, reject candidates based on preconceived notions and prejudice; a classic example of our Democratic system tainted by our habitually illiberal tendencies.
The response to a theoretical Muslim candidate, however, is far more negative. Though it was scarcely covered by the media, a November 2006 Rasmussen poll found that 61% of likely voters said they would never vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. While no Muslim candidate has yet to announce their candidacy, this is hardly encouraging news for Barak Hussein Obama and the Muslim ancestry that hangs over his head – both his father and step-father come from a Muslim background.
With popular misconceptions of Islam and Muslims, Barak’s political opponents hope this will become a major issue in the campaign. Begging the question, what will Obama do?
While Barak acknowledges, for example, that his Kenyan father was a Muslim, he qualifies it with, “but by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist…”; he further acknowledges that his step-father was raised a Muslim in Indonesia, but yet again qualifies it with, but he was “skeptical” about religion and “saw religion as not particularly useful in the practical business of making one’s way in the world; and only recently did people learn of his little known middle name, Hussein.
Many worry that Barak’s apprehensions may give way to appeasing a cabal of polemicists who seek to ensnare our country in wars that are not in our best interest, such as those who seek a war with Iran. Recently, for example, Obama suggested that the United States might one day have to launch surgical missile strikes into Iran and Pakistan.
So, while a Muslim candidate dare not consider a run for President in 2008, can one with an admitted Muslim ancestry – and hopefully before election day, a proud and unapologetic ancestry – get elected to the highest office in the land? Or will they go the way of Jewish Americans, and have to wait 70 years before contemplating the possibility?
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This piece originally appeared in Illume Magazine.