Once upon a time, having the name “Russo” made you golden in Cuyahoga County politics, so much so that, back in 2004, a judicial candidate petitioned the court to have his middle name changed to “Russo” for ballot purposes. Now of course, it’s a liability. One candidate named Russo ran for office a couple of years ago using the slogan “no relation” — to now-convicted former county auditor Frank Russo, that is.
I’ve been wondering lately if the same thing could happen in this county to the name “Mandel.” It’s long been associated with some of the most generous and altruistic elements of Cleveland’s Jewish community. But now, there’s Josh “The Empty Suit” Mandel, running the most disgraceful U.S. Senate campaign imaginable.
I'm starting to long for the days — last week or last month — when Mandel steadfastly refused to tell Ohioans what he stood for. Now that Mandel is being pushed to take start taking positions on controversial issues we’re seeing why he has tried to be silent and vague as long as possible.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, last week he rambled off topic for over 12 minutes when asked what he would have done in place of the auto industry bailout — which he opposed — to keep Ohio’s auto manufacturing base from collapsing and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. Finally, all he could come up with was meaningless talking points about less regulation — never mind that it’s a historic lack of regulation on predatory big business that has landed us in economic purgatory.
Even worse, Mandel has now come out as a global climate change denier, saying that climate science “is inconclusive and riddled with fraud”— a dangerous, destructive position that’s insupportable to any intelligent, thoughtful person. (One person I know quipped, “I think he is describing himself.”) It’s a snake-oil position sold by the recklessly greedy to the superstitious and ignorant, exploiting their desperate need to cling to something in the face of a world that hasn’t been kind to them. It’s a position held by people who believe Earth is 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. I’ll bet your rabbi doesn’t like the company you keep, Josh.
People have commented about Mitt Romney's moral and intellectual emptiness so maybe Mandel is the Republican for these times. But I find myself wondering about his parents — affluent, educated people. What do they think of a son who grew up with Jewish values, attended outstanding schools, graduated from law school — and then took up pandering to people who, because of their lack of the same opportunities they gave their son, hold some of the most backward and hateful ideas?
I grew up in very similar circumstances to Mandel. My community was upper-middle class. My parents — and those of all my friends — were college-educated. Our fathers were professionals; because it was the 50s/60s, most of our mothers didn’t “work” but were actively engaged in civic causes like improving the schools or voter education. In my high school where 90 % of the kids were, like me, Jewish, no one dropped out and almost everyone went to college. My classmates became doctors and dentists, accountants and lawyers, entrepreneurs and artists and teachers.
In our community, education and knowledge were valued. Spirited debate was encouraged, but you’d better be able to back up your contentions with facts, not empty talking points or faith-based emotions. My friends who went to Hebrew school learned to unpack the Bible and to view it prismatically, with an infinity of meanings, not to memorize and recite it in zombie-like fashion, the way they taught our one Catholic classmate in catechism.
But Mandel has a track record of appealing to ignorance and bigotry. Many of us remember precisely when he sold his soul: October 2010 when he ran his famous “mosque” ad during his campaign for state treasurer. That was the one that implied that incumbent treasurer Kevin Boyce was a Muslim who did all his hiring “at the mosque.”
Mandel often references having a grandparent who was a holocaust survivor. I’m of his parents’ generation, and I had classmates whose parents were holocaust survivors. Knowing what we knew about where religious bigotry led, it would have been considered a disgrace in our community to use someone’s faith (and lying about it on top of that!) to send out negative and toxic signals. I have heard Mandel’s parents don’t share his politics. That happens. But I wonder what they think about his lack of honor and decency in using this tactic to prop up his political beliefs. Did they never say anything to him about it? Can they be proud of him after he has done this?
Mandel has wandered far into territory that rejects logic and thoughtfulness and respectful discussion. Last week, Mandel referred to his decent, principled opponent Sherrod Brown as “un-American,” a cheap charge thrown around by the most jingoistic scoundrels who have no idea what it means to support your country. And I don’t care how many tours of duty you did in Iraq. They didn’t make you wise.