When a Republican gubernatorial candidate allegedly kills himself after a possible campaign to discredit him for being Jewish, it's worth a look to see if such anti-Semitic behavior is widespread in America today.
Recently, a colleague stopped by my office. "I've got something for you," he announced, and provided me with several political buttons and stickers that he got at an education conference in Kansas City, Mo., where Republicans had also gathered to hold a key state meeting.
Several of the featured items were from Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich, touting his candidacy for the 2016 gubernatorial election in Missouri. I pinned the button on my bag.
Within a week, Schweich was dead.
As news reports filtered in, we learned that Schweich was despondent, as he was told that he would face significant opposition, and his Jewish ancestry was mentioned, even though Schweich was Christian and a member of an Episcopal Church. It was too much for someone who spent his life in politics building up to this moment, already starting to feel the pressure from negative ads.
But how do Americans feel about Jewish political candidates? It just so happened that my Introduction to Political Science class was covering the subject of tolerance in class. We looked at numbers from the Gallup polling firm to see how tolerant the public was, and is, toward candidates from a variety of backgrounds.
Since 1937, Gallup had been asking voters how they felt about a variety of candidates. They asked the question "Between now and the ____ political convention, there will be a discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be ___, would you vote for that person?"
In 1937, only 46 percent of those survey said they would vote for a Jewish candidate. By 1958, that number jumped to 63 percent. By 1978, 82 percent of respondents said they would vote for a well-qualified Jewish candidate nominated by their party. In 2012, that number was 91 percent of those who participated in the Gallup poll.
But do those opinions translate into actual votes? Democrats put Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman on the ticket during the 2000 election. That same year, 92 percent of those asked said they would vote for a Jewish candidate. And the Gore-Lieberman ticket won the most popular votes.
I wish Schweich had been able to see the numbers. Better yet, I wish his critics in the Missouri Republican Party had seen it as well. Schweich was a viable candidate, having defeated the incumbent State Auditor in a bad year for Republicans in the state elections (with Todd Akin being a drag on the ticket). Maybe the GOP official wanted a different ticket. But in the eulogy, Senator John Danforth (a former minister) decried the political bullying that ended Schweich's life. Thankfully, it's a sentiment shared by an overwhelming number of Americans. There's no place for anti-Semitism today in the USA.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.