This is not about Republicans versus Democrats. This is not about Christians versus Jews. This is not about the old bad South. This is about lingering, hurtful, anti-Jewish stereotypes and their thoughtless dissemination.
To recap: On Sunday, The Times and Democrat, a newspaper in Orangeburg, S.C., published an op-ed piece by two Republican Party county chairman defending their state’s Sen. Jim DeMint’s stand against congressional earmarks.
They had a perfect right to do that – they even, you could say, had a perfect right to compare his frugality to the habits of “Jews who are wealthy [and who] got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves.”
Now, frugality is fine, particularly during a recession, and watching rather than wasting our “pennies” (congressional and personal) may reap rewards in dollars, but this particular comparison is odious. It’s also demeaning and untrue: Witness the ranks of the Jewish poor throughout history as well as today. It drew a well-deserved barrage of protests from across the country.
Edwin O. Merwin Jr., chairman of the Bamberg County Republican Party, and James S. Ulmer Jr., chairman of the Orangeburg County Republican Party, the perpetrators of this piece of dreck, seem to have been taken aback by all the flak thrown at them and have since apologized.
A Columbia, S.C., newspaper reported that Ulmer had e-mailed a statement that he had heard the comment “many times in my life, truly in admiration for a method of bettering one’s lot in life.”
The trouble is, we believe him. We believe he believes, in a kind of backhanded compliment, in the myth of the generic rich Jew, a myth that has hurt us through the centuries.
And Merwin said in a statement that he has “always abhorred in the past and shall continue to do so in the future, anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever.” Maybe so – but can he recognize it? Can the readers and the editors of The Times and Democrat recognize it?
In a story the paper published on Wednesday, it quoted a clearly well-meaning pastor, the Rev. Charles Butler, who said that the men are not racist and that “[i]f anything, they are making a tribute to Jewish stewardshipâ€¦. We admire the wisdom of many of the Jewish people when it comes to financial things and stewardship.”
They just don’t get it.