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The Don Imus Of Politics
GOP (very dark horse) presidential candidate Tommy Thompson thought he'd connect with the Jews by telling a Jewish group that making money is "sort of part of the Jewish tradition." Craig Gilbert writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

At the outset of a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the former Wisconsin governor told an audience of a few hundred people that, "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money."

Added Thompson: "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that."

The remark caused some murmurs and disbelief in the room, according to some who were present.

Thompson, a Roman Catholic, returned to the podium shortly after the speech was over, after someone from the organization spoke to him.

"I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," said Thompson, according to an article posted by Shmuel Rosner, chief U.S. correspondent of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Rosner covered the event.

According to Haaretz, Thompson went on to say, "What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding businesspeople and I compliment you for that and if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that."

On a positive note, a few people thought about Tommy Thompson on Tuesday. Perhaps, as a commenter on Obscure Store suggested, he can talk about the fine tradition black people have in basketball, or the Chinese have in the laundry business to get back in the news on Wednesday and Thursday.

Posted by aalkon at April 18, 2007 1:15 PM


If I recall my history lessons correctly (which were a long, long time ago, so be indulgent with me here), Jews were prohibited from owning property throughout large parts of western Europe until fairly recent times. This basically induced them to take up commerce, which is where this icon of the merchant Jew evolved from. And because many of them were so successful and wealthy, they became objects of the jealousy and resentment of the poor, often struggling farming community. I'm sure some history major out there can comment more knowledgeably about this.

Posted by: Marie at April 18, 2007 2:04 AM

By "property" I meant land.

Posted by: Marie at April 18, 2007 5:24 AM

Marie is correct.

Here's an example:

As non-citizens, Jews could hold no public office, could not vote and could not own land. As a result, Jews were forced to pursue social and economic lives that further distinguished them from the mass of Romanians. This fact added socio-economic tensions to the obvious religious and linguistic differences.

Unable to own farms, most Jews lived in Romania's cities: 40 percent of urban dwellers were Jewish in 1899. Those who did live in the countryside worked as estate managers for landlords or as merchants: those merchants also functioned as money lenders in the absence of banks or other sources of credit. Both of these careers led to friction between Romanian peasants and their Jewish neighbors. During the peasant revolt of 1907, rural rioters made a special point of attacking Jews because they were seen as symbols of economic repression. Although Jews in Romania had little political or economic power, they suffered from prejudice based on both political and economic myths.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 18, 2007 6:48 AM

Here's another example:

In Latgale since Jews could not own land they concentrated on crafts, trade and commerce. Some were in agriculture. Jewish occupations included: tanners, tailors, blacksmiths, locksmiths, shoemakers, watchmakers, glaziers, bakers, carpenters, butchers, weavers, fullers, storekeepers, merchants, pharmacists, and doctors. More enterprising Jews ran inns and pubs, produced alcohol and made beer. Some Jews also made their living by distributing goods to remote rural areas as peddlers carrying their merchandise in a box or on their back or with a horse.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 18, 2007 6:50 AM

I have always heard that the "Jews are good with money" stereotype came from the fact that it was "un-Christian" to loan money and charge interest. So the Jews filled the void and became moneylenders.

Posted by: Amy at April 18, 2007 8:07 AM

Oh my! The guy has been in politics for YEARS! He was the bloody governor of Wisconsin. It is not as if he is a newbie to campaigning.

When going into an event wherein the attendees are not normally considered a part of your base (e.g. Jews generally support dems not reps), it is common practice to prepare ahead of time a few comments to help you connect with your audience.

If Tommy prepared with his staffers, he needs to fire their asses. If he did not and such a comment was "off the cuff", he needs to fire their asses for not being prepared. If he ignored his staffers, vote is already elsewhere...

what a dumbass...

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 18, 2007 8:20 AM

I agree the guy's an idiot for saying something like that. A politician should know better. I wonder, though, if it is simply not possible in today's public discourse to generalize at all about a group of which one is not a member. I wonder someone would get in trouble if he said something like this, "As a whole, the Jewish community is one of the most successful groups in the U.S., and it seems no small part of that success is the degree to which the Jewish community emphasizes a strong family, education, and hard work."

Posted by: justin case at April 18, 2007 9:45 AM

Wait a minute! This guy is to be cussed for saying what is not only common knowledge, but has basis in history?

Posted by: Radwaste at April 18, 2007 10:00 AM

Uh, where does the comparison with Don Imus come from? Imus was being a cruel asshole who thought he was funny. Thompson was stating a fact: Jews have a rich history of excellence in banking and commerce, one of which they should be very proud. How the hell is stating this on a par with a "nappy-headed hoes" comment?

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 18, 2007 10:32 AM

I remember after my grandfather died I found out he was a Jew. He just forgot to mention it to us, musta slipped his mind. Later we discovered that he came from a very devout sephardic jewish community, when this unknown jewish woman came up to us after he died. We thought she was crazy, and then we verified everything she said. We were like WTF, he was a JEW?

Posted by: PurplePen at April 18, 2007 10:48 AM

Radwaste and Jackie - I think the issue that people had with the statement is that it plays into the "money-grubbing jew" stereotype. Amy's comment about black people and basketball falls into the same category, really. Demonstrably true, perhaps, but that plays into stereotypes.

Posted by: justin case at April 18, 2007 12:49 PM

So now we're expected to ignore reality for fear of offending people? Most Jews I know are not nearly so po-faced as this.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at April 18, 2007 2:10 PM

What Jackie said. I'm Jewish, and I'd find it really hard to be offended by this.

Posted by: Rex Little at April 18, 2007 5:10 PM

So now we're expected to ignore reality for fear of offending people?

Not at all. But saying things that plays into stereotypes is bound to get certain types of people worked up. No one should be surprised.

Posted by: justin case at April 18, 2007 5:15 PM

I'm not saying I disagree with what he said -- or that a lot of black people play pro basketball (although I'm not sure how many Chinese people still own laundries). My amusement at this was that it's not a really smart way to politick -- and I don't think he said it because he's one of the rare, ingenuous politicians!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 19, 2007 6:10 AM

Well, whose burden is it when someone gets offended? Right now, some people want others to shut up, be censored, etc., if they are offended. Of course, the folks doing the complaining don't realize that they are laying the groundwork for someone to shut them up forcibly!

It's all an expression of ego.

Posted by: Radwaste at April 20, 2007 7:45 AM

I think that most people don't get offended by stuff like this, but that they feel they SHOULD be offended. Presumably, everyone in a room where such a comment is made tenses up and looks around to see who will take offense.

Add in the fact that modern media/communication makes it impossible for a politician to say anything without it being scrutinized, analyzed, and replayed a thousand times, and you have a system where the only people who get into positions of power are the ones who can lie the best.

Posted by: SilverFox at April 20, 2007 9:03 AM

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