Friday, October 27, 2023

Is the Country Ready for a Jewish President?

What is it about Minnesota that inspires politicians to challenge incumbent presidents from their own party?

Fifty-five years after Minnesota U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy shocked the nation by seeking to unseat President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, Congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota is taking on President Joseph Biden in New Hampshire. Actually, Biden is not on the ballot in New Hampshire as he has chosen to kick off his primary schedule in South Carolina.

McCarthy didn’t win in New Hampshire, but his strong showing based on opposition to the Vietnam War prompted LBJ to announce 19 days later he would not seek reelection. 

Ultimately, McCarthy did not secure the Democratic Party’s 1968 nomination. It might well have gone to New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. RFK was assassinated after winning the California primary. 

Eerily, RFK’s son, RFK Jr., is running for president this year. He recently changed from seeking the Democratic nomination to running as an independent. Back to 1968: Democrats chose LBJ’s vice president and former Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey who lost a squeaker election to Richard M. Nixon. 

Phillips not only faces the challenge of unseating an incumbent who clearly relishes his job, he also must overcome the nation’s electoral history—voters have never chosen a Jewish president. No Jew has ever won his party’s nomination. 

Is the country ready to jump from a Jewish “second gentleman” husband of Vice President Kamala Harris to a Jewish president, in a time of rising antisemitism and a war between Israel and its Moslem neighbors? 

If Phillips shows Biden is vulnerable—his main reason for running is his belief Biden is too old for a second term—other, more widely known Democrats, including Senator Amy Klobuchar, also from Minnesota, might join the contest. Klobuchar sought the nomination in 2020. Klobuchar resides in Phillips’ congressional district. 

The 54-year-old Phillips is a three term congressman. He has consistently voted to support Biden’s legislative package. 

Polls have shown most Americans, even among Democrats, are wary of Biden’s age. He will celebrate his 81st birthday November 20. Political insiders also opine that a younger candidate espousing Biden’s agenda would fare better against Donald Trump, the 77-year-old projected Republican nominee. 

Phillips has been a successful businessman. His family history includes being the grandson of Pauline Phillips, better known throughout the world as Abigail Van Buren—the original Dear Abby! 

Another intriguing Phillips factoid: Should he succeed in winning the presidency in 2024 he would be sworn in on January 20, 2025, his 56th birthday.