Keep Hate Out of Public Office

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JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIALS

At this month’s march in Washington called to mark the anniversary of last year’s deadly event in Charlottesville, Va., one of the counterprotesters — who greatly outnumbered a paltry crowd of marchers — carried a sign with this message:

“I can’t believe I have to protest Nazis in 2018.”

Sadly, anti-Semitism and admirers of Adolf Hitler are not only still around, they are winning at the ballot box. That’s what happened in the Aug. 7 GOP primary in the 15th Missouri House district near Kansas City, where Steve West overwhelmed three opponents, winning by 25 points.

The problem: West believes that “Hitler was right about what was taking place in Germany. And who was behind it.” That’s what he had to say on his radio show last year, according to the Kansas City Star. 

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West also has a YouTube channel where he takes on the persona of Jack Justice, wearing a wig and fake beard, and has unleashed what the Star calls “an array of bigotry including homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and outright racism.”

Such a successful race by such a despicable candidate raises all sorts of questions:

How can he run a campaign for a state House seat without drawing needed scrutiny? How can the Republican Party let such a candidacy go unchallenged until it’s too late? And how can nearly 1,500 voters cast their ballots for someone who holds such hateful views?

West, since his victory, has not disavowed his earlier comments. He has followed the typical route of people in such situations, claiming his words have been taken out of context. But it’s impossible to come up with any context in which such sentiments would be considered acceptable, particularly when his comments to the Star did nothing but compound his negative views.

Asked about the opinions he expresses on the air, West’s reply was weak: “I’m not running as a radio show host, I’m running for state representative.”

Well, on his campaign website (https://www.stevewest4missouri.com/), he has statements such as this one: “Islam is antithetical to everything this country was founded on.” 

And his defense of his extremist point of view sounds very familiar:

“These assaults on my character coming from the mainstream media and social media are an attempt to distract you from real solutions I am proposing for Missouri. This is typical of liberal strategies for personal destruction and distraction from issues they don’t want to be discussed.”

West also told the Star: “Jewish people can be beautiful people, but there’s ideologies associated with that that I don’t agree with. Jews today are a remnant of the tribe of Judah that rejected Christ.”

When the Star asked him about the effect of his comments on Jews in his district, West simply said, “Well, maybe they shouldn’t vote for me.”

That challenge should be reflected when results are tallied in November, when West will run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Jon Carpenter. Carpenter’s response to the GOP winner was forthright and welcome.

“It is my hope that folks who voted for Steve West in the Republican primary weren’t aware of any of this stuff. I sincerely hope that’s true,” he wrote in an email to the Star. “I can’t think of a single American political candidate in the 21st century who has engaged in this level of hate speech and unhinged conspiracy-mongering who actually won a primary election. 

“I just want everyone who lives in this community to know that they’re welcome here. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, the LGBTQ community, people of all races and national origins, and everyone else Steve West has targeted with hate. His views do not reflect our values. We’ll stand together, and love will conquer hate, as it always does.”

After West’s victory, the state Republican Party lurched into damage control mode, calling the candidate’s views “disgusting,” adding:

“Steve West’s shocking and vile comments do not reflect the position of the Missouri Republican Party or indeed of any decent individual. West’s abhorrent rhetoric has absolutely no place in the Missouri Republican Party or anywhere. We wholeheartedly condemn his comments.”

But the question of how West ran such a strong race remains a mystery. Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that unfortunately, his candidacy is being replicated elsewhere.

“There is a level of political rhetoric and anger out in the world today that is providing people with more extremist views a comfort to come forward and share those extremist views,” she told the Star

“The fact that Mr. West won the primary should highlight to people: Did they really know what they were voting for? One thing I’ve said for years about extremists is that they’re out on the fringe, and we should keep them there.”

Last week, a coalition of Jewish organizations and officials in Missouri joined the chorus against West, saying in a statement:

“We expect all parties to closely monitor their candidates throughout the state and to demonstrate swiftly and in the strongest possible terms that our Missouri leadership finds all forms of bigotry unacceptable. The custom of parties not intervening in primaries should not extend to those who proudly proclaim discriminatory beliefs.

“Our Jewish values make clear our obligation to speak out against all forms of discrimination. As a minority community intimately acquainted with the dangers of bigotry and scapegoating, we recognize that our own security is inexorably tied to the security of all minorities.”

The weak showing by neo-Nazis at their Charlottesville anniversary march is heartening. Sending a strong message at the ballot box in November will reinforce the view that hatred has no place in public office. Voters can’t let their guard down, or let candidates say one thing and claim they really believe something else. Democracy is too important — and too fragile — to go untended.

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