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The 8th Wonder

March 13, 2003 1:11 am

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Mr. Moran on the 'Jewish community'

REP. JAMES MORAN's recent comment that advocacy by "the Jewish community" is pushing the United States toward war with Iraq is the latest evidence that Mr. Moran, a Democrat who represents Virginia's 8th District, may be America's most wretched member of Congress. In fact, he occupies the same position in a tournament of wretched members that Kentucky soon will occupy in NCAA basketball office pools: You can put his name in the last bracket and work backwards.

Mr. Moran's latest blunder--he divides his public life roughly evenly between blunders and wide-awake ethical breaches--came during an antiwar forum when he imparted this wisdom: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." However, the "Jewish community" is like any other ethnic grouping. That is to say, it is no monolith. Jewish author Leon Uris has wittily noted that if you have four Jews in a room you'll have five different opinions.

To be sure, as William Buckley Jr. has observed, there are some American Jews who care nothing about Israel--but not many. And Jewish hawks, some of whom flap amid the higher aeries of the Bush administration, may well outnumber Jewish doves regarding Iraq, an antagonist of Israel. But if Mr. Moran had a particular pro-war Jewish group in mind, he should have named it (or them). The broad brush of stereotype is grossly out of place when talking about a people on whom stupid accusations of evil plotting historically have brought persecution and death.

Mr. Moran's first attempt to diffuse his remarks was lame. At the antiwar meeting, he intended to suggest only, he later claimed, that "religious groups" should speak out against the war. But Mr. Moran, a seven-term congressman, is no ingenue. He well knows that politically active secular Jews make up a large part of the American "Jewish community," the vilified group. Adherence to the tenets of Judaism was never the issue; ethnicity was. The congressman's original remarks admit but one plausible interpretation, and it is disturbing.

It's not as though Mr. Moran ultimately failed to diss a faith group, however. In a some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish defense, Mr. Moran, a Roman Catholic, noted that his daughter is converting to Judaism and that he is "100 percent in support of that." Perhaps Mr. Moran meant--to the extent that his words were anything but a syllabified squeal--that freedom of religious conscience in America is wonderful. Well, yes. But orthodox Christians must marvel that a co-religionist, a public man, so heartily endorses a formal repudiation of belief in their creed.

Even while weaseling, Mr. Moran blamed this and similar episodes on a manly tendency to speak bluntly. But blunt talk--the lingua franca of the beer joint--is no virtue when uninformed by knowledge, fairness, and decent principle. Like the offensive remarks made by Sen. Trent Lott earlier this year about segregation, Mr. Moran's statements are under bipartisan attack, as they should be.

This is not a man who deserves the benefit of the doubt. Less than a year ago, Mr. Moran was under fire for spearheading bankruptcy "reform" legislation strongly supported by a financial concern that had granted him and his wife a $447,000 mortgage loan in 1998. The deal allowed the couple to reconfigure $30,000 worth of credit-card debt. Meanwhile, MBNA Corp. was locking up congressional support for legislation that would save the company millions by condemning people with mountainous medical bills and other tough-luck cases to life in the poor house.

Mr. Moran regularly wins re-election with two-thirds of the vote. That's the last thing to be said, and the most wretched.





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