Politicians' timely love for ethnic groups

IT'S that time of the election campaign when politicians increasingly profess their love for the race, religion, ethnicity, and sex of voters, whether of their own kind or of others. Gov. Michael Dukakis unhesitatingly affirms his Greek roots and, since he speaks fluent Spanish, greets appropriate audiences in either English or Spanish language. George Bush regrets not being able to speak Spanish, but has let it be known that if elected he would appoint a Hispanic to his Cabinet - and that one of his sons is married to a Mexican-American woman.

As now, in the 1984 presidential election campaign a profusion of religious and ethnic appeals were made, with each party seeking to prove that it was more - or no less - patriotic or Christian than the other. As never before, Italian-Americans were wooed, particularly since Geraldine Ferraro was on the Democratic ticket.

There is nothing new to such ethnic outreach, though to some observers it is pandering. Politicians know that they must win the votes of many groups, so they dare not alienate any.

After suffering a number of election losses, the Federalists, who resented immigrants, took to wooing them in New York City, as in an 1810 campaign song:

Come Dutch and Yankees, Irish Scot With intermixed relation; From whence we came, it matters not; We all make, now, one nation.

As more and more immigrant groups settled, brazen and at times hypocritical appeals were made:

In the 19th century, Irish-American voters were wooed with what Horace Greeley called a ``bribery of affections.'' Irish hatred of England was exploited, though it meant losing British-American votes.

In commenting on the emerging political power of Bohemians in the late 19th century, Jane Addams said that Chicago's politicians ``work on the people's feelings, incite them against the men of the other party as their most bitter enemies; and if this doesn't succeed, they go to work deliberately to buy some.''

New York City's Tammany politicians, in the early 1930s, attended the functions of all ethnic groups, particularly Jewish ones - ``Walker and McCooney attend the Purim ball. Smith issues a message of greeting at Rosh Hashanna. The P.V. McCaren Club last year distributed $2,000 worth of matzoth.''

Racial and religious mudslinging were common. Thomas Jefferson was accused of wanting to end religion; Andrew Jackson was called an atheist and Sabbath violator; Franklin Pierce was labeled pro-Catholic. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was accused of being a Jew.

As Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnics voted in numbers sufficient to determine an election, some politicians previously known for their indifference or hostility to minorities become anti-racist and even integrationist. Though Gov. George C. Wallace gained national attention in 1962 by vowing ``segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,'' while running for a fourth term in 1984, he denied having had any animosity to blacks and received the endorsement of the black Alabama Democratic Conference leader.

Both the national Democratic and Republican Parties have long had special committees to attract minority votes by making group-specific appeals.

Cynical as it may seem, the reality of political life is that politicians and their parties are at their loving best - before the polls close. After that a cooling period sets in, until the next elections.

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