The Candidates and the Golden Calf

By Suzanne Fields

April 22, 2016 6 min read

The clever presidential candidate tries to mix politics with Passover, eager to join the Jews in celebration of the triumphant exodus from Egypt. Maybe the Chosen People will make him — or her — the Chosen One. But they have to work at not looking too clever. Lessons learned will be crucial as they enter the homestretch of the primary season.

New York, with the largest Jewish population of any state, provides the most dyspeptic Passover pathway. Sen. Ted Cruz, the evangelical Christian, toured a matzo bakery in Brighton Beach; Hillary Clinton wrote an essay about her record on religious freedom and distributed it in English, Yiddish and Hebrew; John Kasich stopped by a Jewish school in Brooklyn, and asked onlookers, "pray for me, will you?" (He needs a miracle as tall as the parting of the Red Sea.)

Bernie Sanders, the Jewish guy, described by The New York Times as "more comfortable speaking about Pope Francis, whose views on income inequality he admires, than about his own religious beliefs," flew off to meet the pontiff about a week before Passover. But one self-described "leftist feminist Jewess" recently wrote in The Forward, an online Jewish news site, that she imagines Sanders as a modern Moses-like prophet, standing in robe and sandals, shaking his staff at evil and standing up for social justice and income equality.

Bernie thought he was on a roll as the first Jew to win a presidential primary (in New Hampshire), but he turned out to be a prophet without honor in New York. It seems, after accusing Israel of "disproportionate" responses to Palestinian terrorism, he is not beloved by New Yorkers who love the Jewish state. His assertion is certainly a hard sell to those who have to duck rocket fire and avoid suicide bombers on their way to work. Clinton is much more popular among New York Jews.

Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner. Knowing she would give birth to her third child around Easter, Trump boasted in March that he was "about to have a beautiful Jewish baby." Maybe the Donald has a knack for inclusion, after all. He was in trouble with many Jewish voters for saying he would be "neutral" in negotiating peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, but probably won some of them back with a strong speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a speech he says his son-in-law helped write.

Since the late primary season coincides with Passover, and the candidates seem to be eager to display their curiosity — if not their necessarily faith — they might consider the Bible story of the golden calf, written in the Book of Exodus. The lesson of the golden calf is a particular problem for Clinton, who must have read the lesson in her Methodist Sunday school.

George and Amal Clooney threw a fundraiser in Los Angeles four days before the New York primary, where couples had to contribute $353,000 for two seats at the table. Sanders fans protested by throwing real dollar bills at Clinton's motorcade.

When George Clooney was asked on "Meet the Press" about the "obscene amount of money" required to attend his dinner, the movie star said he agrees with the outraged folks, but he said it was going to a good cause. Clinton's romance with the golden calf, which the ancient Israelites made on their way to the promised land, is likely to spur a growth of outrage in the months leading to November. The golden calf survives as a symbol of the way that the worship of money corrupts the spirit.

Sanders says the honorariums Clinton collected from Goldman Sachs must have been written in "Shakespearean prose," in which case paying her $675,000 for three speeches is a real bargain. We don't know if they were because she won't release the transcripts. But surely some unusual inquiring minds want to know, since investment bankers usually expect value for money.

Simon Head, writing in The New York Review of Books (which is no right-wing journal), asks how, after the exposure of Goldman-Sachs' aggressively deceptive marketing of financial derivatives and the billion dollar penalties exacted for them, she could now portray herself as an opponent of the big banks and their excesses.

"According to a July 2014 analysis in The Wall Street Journal, from 1992 to the present," he writes, "Goldman has been the Clintons' number one Wall Street contributor, based on speaking fees, charitable donations and campaign contributions." Figures like these hardly reflect "the disinfectant" of transparency she promises the left-wing grassroots whose turnout is crucial to Democratic prospects.

The Passover Seder teaches the lesson that both the bitter and the sweet contribute to a renewal of the spirit. The Bible is good reading for Clinton and all of the candidates, but merely reading it is not enough: They have to pay attention.

Write to Suzanne Fields at [email protected] Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost." To find out more about Suzanne Fields and read her past columns, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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