Danforth: Schweich’s greatest concern was ‘whispering campaign’ that he was Jewish

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

In a powerful eulogy to state Auditor Tom Schweich, former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Missouri, said Schweich’s “greatest concern” in their last conversation was a “whispering campaign that he was Jewish.”

Over 1,000 people filled the pews Tuesday at the Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton for the funeral service for Schweich, who died Thursday, Feb. 26.  Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, placed the blame for Schweich’s tragic death squarely on those who took part in a campaign to undermine his bid for the GOP nomination for governor. But Danforth declined to name names.

“Tom was very proud of the fact that his grandfather was Jewish and that he told Tom never to give ground in opposing it,” said Danforth, who served as a mentor to Schweich.  “He saw the whispering campaign as anti-Semitism and told me in our last phone conversa tion that he was going to the media to denounce it and to present several witnesses to back up his concern.  Tom saw this whispering campaign as anti-Semitism, which of course it was.”

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Danforth said that some have said mistakenly referring to someone as Jewish was no more harmful than saying he or she is a Presbyterian.  “But tell me,” Danforth continued, “when is the last time someone sidled up and whispered in your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?  Tom saw it correctly as using anti-Semitism to gain political advantage.

“I told Tom that it is important to combat any whiff of anti-Semitism, but I said that he should not be the public face of doing that.  “I told him that if he were to go public, the story would be all about him, and not about the evil he wanted to fight.  I said  that I was concerned about his political future, that his focus should be on winning election as governor,  and that the best approach would be to have someone feed the story to the press and let the press won with it.”

Danforth added that “the other message for the rest of us is to face the fact that politics has gone so hideously wrong, and the death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.  I believe deep in my heart that it’s now our duty, yours and mine, to turn politics into something much better than its now so miserable state.”

   It is our duty to turn politics into something better. It used to be that political campaigns began on Labor Day.The campaign for Missouri governor began two years before the election.  I have never seen an anti-Semitic campaign, and anti-Semitism is always wrong.”

Danforth also decried an anonymously placed radio ad that made fun of Schweich’s physical appearance, calling him a little bug who would be crushed. “That can be described with just one word:  bullying, and the person who would do such a thing a bully,” said Danforth. “We have all heard about cyber-bullying, which caused some teenage victims to commit suicide.”

Danforth said that “some people say that such things are just politics, and someone running for office should be able to take it.  Such statements really blame the victim and not the bully. And indeed if this is what politics has become, what decent person will want to seek office in the future?  The bully should get the blame and not the victim. We often hear that words can’t hurt you, but we know that they can.”

Continued Danforth: “Let’s decide that such tactics in a political campaign are not acceptable.  Let’s pledge that we will not put up with any whisper of anti-Semitism.  We will stand against it as Americans because our faith demands it.  We will take the battle Tom wanted to fight as our own cause.  We will see anonymous bullies for what they are.  We will stand up to those who would resort to such tactics.  This will be our memorial to Tom.  We will get in the face of our politicians and tell them we are fed up and that he will not take it anymore.”

Danforth’s speech was met with a sustained round of applause at the conclusion of his remarks.  Then the crowd filed out of the church in stunned silence.  “It is a sad day for Missouri,” said former St. Louis County Councilman Betty Van Uum as she left the building.