Jackie Mason Got It All Wrong

IT would seem that Jackie Mason - who should have known better - held a distorted view of what Stephen D. Isaacs concluded several years ago, after interviewing 200 of America's leading Jews. ``One finds,'' Mr. Isaacs writes in ``Jews and American Politics,'' ``that the overwhelming majority of the Jews in politics today harbor a basic outlook. It usually is mislabeled as `liberalism.' Instead the ethic is an almost religio-cultural obsession with the egalitarian ideal. Even those Jews whose life style is anything but egalitarian - who in fact live better than did the pharaohs of old - are sympathetic with the less fortunate.''

Isaacs interviewed the former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas on this subject. Mr. Fortas said he was certain this feeling for the poor and the disadvantaged was a Jewish heritage: ``Science hasn't advanced far enough,'' he said, ``to know how it is transmitted. Whether it's genetically induced or induced by some mysterious process that we don't understand, I believe it exists.''

But while sympathy for the oppressed or, at least, for the less-fortunate in life is an important component of American Jewish thought, there is something else about Jewish voters: These voters know the issues and they know the candidates; indeed, they are justifiably regarded as among the most intelligent and best informed of America's electorate.

Thus, it was a coolly intelligent assessment of the qualities of the black New York mayoral candidate, David N. Dinkins, that drew the Jewish community to his side.

Its instinctive sympathy for a member of an ethnic group which, like itself, had suffered prejudice and oppression was, of course, a backdrop for this rational voter decision.

But Jewish voters determined that Mr. Dinkins was a highly competent politician, and might well bring peace and unity to a city experiencing bitter divisions over race.

Jewish voters see Dinkins as a quiet voice. They like his calm style. They believe his opponent, Rudolph W. Giuliani, might, as mayor, be inflammatory.

But it was the comedian Jackie Mason, himself a Jew and part of Mr. Giuliani's campaign, who showed a lack of sensitivity to Jewish voters. Indeed, Mr. Mason has become the most inflammatory element in the campaign.

He should have known that his fellow Jews don't take kindly to the charge that ``guilt'' caused them to vote for a black candidate.

Self-interest does enter in, of course, and importantly so - as it does with all voters.

The rejection by New York Jews of Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential primary is a good example of perceived self-interest winning out over any feeling that here was an opportunity to support someone who represented the disadvantaged.

The Jews saw the Rev. Mr. Jackson as a threatening figure. They were particularly alarmed by his views on Palestinian rights. Mayor Edward Koch led the charge of those opposing Jackson. And Jackson suffered a defeat in a contest that, had it gone otherwise, might have elevated him to the place where he could have moved on triumphantly to claim the presidential nomination.

But Mason got it all wrong - and damaged his candidate's prospects, perhaps irreparably. The comedian reached out for a quick laugh with an unfair, oversimplified assertion - something that might have drawn a quick laugh in a nightclub and be soon forgotten. But Mason himself fell guilty to an unforgivable act for a speaker or performer of any kind: He forgot who his audience was.

So Mason's short life as a political ``helper'' for Giuliani was soon over. Giuliani disavowed the comedian's words and fired him. But the atmosphere of the campaign has been permanently soured by a joke (or was it a joke?) that didn't come off.

This story reminds us again how the American voters desire fair play in the political processes and how they react negatively in what they regard as dirty politics.

Thus, many Jews who had been uncertain about how they would vote for mayor have been pushed, by Mason's words, into the ranks of those supporting Dinkins.

Indeed, Dinkins might well hire Mason to continue purveying his anti-Dinkins humor. He would know that he would have the last laugh - when the votes were counted in November's election.

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