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Ajcommittee Calls on Politicians to End Bigotry in Campaigns

May 18, 1992
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Bigotry is used in election campaigns because it works, according to a new study by the American Jewish Committee.

But neither the Democratic nor Republican Party has done enough to eliminate its use, not just by extremists but by mainstream candidates as well, the study said.

Its findings are contained in a 31-page booklet titled “Bigotry and Politics,” by Kenneth Stern, the AJCommittee’s program specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism. The report was released by the AJCommittee at the start of its 86th annual meeting here last Wednesday.

“Everyone, including candidates, has a First Amendment right to express bigoted opinions,” Stern pointed out. “But the First Amendment does not obligate our parties and leaders to do next to nothing about hate and hateful expressions,” he said.

Stern noted that party officials and the press ignore extremists when they run for office and do poorly.

But if they do well, the news media offer rationalizations such as “low voter turnout, rejection of party-endorsed candidates, economic frustration, place on ballot, stupidity, ignorance, non-ethnic sounding names.”

Stern argued that the parties must find a mechanism to identify extremists seeking to run on their ticket and help local officials devise strategies to counter their messages.


He said community groups have to work together to discourage politicians from pandering to bigotry. Politicians should be encouraged to adopt messages promoting intergroup harmony, Stern added.

He recommended reconsideration of the federal election and tax laws which have hampered tax-exempt, non-profit organizations from countering bigotry in election campaigns.

The AJCommittee’s New York chapter helped form the Committee on Decent Unbiased Campaign Tactics (CONDUCT) in 1981, an independent organization composed of respected public figures representing various religions, ethnic groups and races.

The group was designed to “shame those who employed racially divisive tactics into better behavior,” Stern explained.

CONDUCT trained observers to recognize manifestations of bias such as racist “code words.”

AJCommittee chapters in St. Louis and Chicago have also helped establish CONDUCT committees.

Stern believes that while CONDUCT works best on the local level, broad-based groups can also be useful during presidential primaries and state elections because “it would create a political risk” for candidates to appeal to prejudice.

Stern also proposed a reevaluation of campaign advertising to see how to curtail the sophisticated use of bigotry and to bring persons hurt by prejudice to the public’s attention so it can see the impact of hateful campaign rhetoric.

“It is time that we start recognizing the danger that the germ of bigotry holds for the health of the American body politic,” he said.

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