Former vice-president Walter Mondale’s campaign for the presidency took two important steps forward and one step back last week. After the intercession of Senator Edward Kennedy, Mondale and his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Gary Hart, buried their differences in cordial words at a meeting in New York City, raising expectations that the party would mount a united challenge to President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign. At the same time, U.S. interest rates rose by half a point to 13 per cent, the highest level since October, 1982, presenting the Democrats with a tempting target as they prepared to turn their invective on Reagan. But a controversial outburst by Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, a close associate of the third contender for the Democratic nomination, Rev. Jesse Jackson, threw the party into confusion and threatened to alienate the Democrats’ traditional support in the Jewish community.
In a Chicago radio broadcast early last week to his 10,000 followers in The Nation of Islam, Farrakhan denounced Judaism as a “gutter religion” and described Israel as an outlaw nation. Last March, Farrakhan vowed to kill a black Washington Post reporter who revealed that Jackson had privately referred to New York Jews as “hymies.” Farrakhan later denied through an aide that he had made the broadcast comments and offered to pay $10,000 to anyone who could prove that he had. But the Chicago SunTimes, which broke the story, had Farrakhan’s remarks on tape. The broadcast brought an immediate outcry from Jewish community leaders. Howard Friedman, president of the American Jewish Committee, urged Jackson to “denounce the bigot.” And Henry Siegman, national director of the American Jewish Congress, called on the Democratic presidential aspirants to “screw up enough courage to break with Jesse Jackson unless Jackson repudiates, clearly and unequivocally, the political support of his racist and anti-Semitic friend.”
In response, Mondale denounced Farrakhan’s comments as “venomous, bigoted and obscene.” For his part, Jackson angrily turned on a CBS interviewer during a visit to Cuba and said: “I don’t understand what he said. I feel no obligation to respond to it. Don’t keep putting me in the middle of that.”
That comment did nothing to silence the furore. New York Mayor Ed Koch urged Mondale to disown Jackson unless Jackson repudiated Farrakhan. If Mon-
dale failed to do so, Koch warned, “He will have troubles in November.” Koch’s clear allusion to the possible alienation of the Jewish vote put Mondale on the spot because he also will need Jackson’s help to turn out the black vote against Reagan. As a result, the former vice-president issued an urgent appeal to his Democratic rival. Said Mondale: “It is crucial that all of
us—including Rev. Jackson—repudiate Farrakhan.”
Mondale’s pleading was impossible to ignore, and Jackson finally issued a disclaimer through his Washington campaign office. He called Farrakhan’s outburst “reprehensible and morally indefensible” and added that “such thoughts have no place in my campaign.” Added Jackson:“I will not permit Minister Farrakhan’s words , wittingly or unwittingly, to divide the Democratic party.”
For Mondale, rapprochement with his bitter primary rival Hart came slowly. For days the two men had circled each other as warily as prizefighters, while the Democratic leadership pleaded with them to conclude a truce. But neither would take the initiative, leaving Kennedy to break the deadlock. After endorsing Mondale at McGuire’s Inn, near
Mondale’s home at North Oaks, Minn., Kennedy placed a call to Hart in Washington. When the call came through, Kennedy simply handed the receiver to Mondale, who immediately invited Hart to meet him at the fashionable Upper East Side town house of businesman Arthur Krim, a leading Mondale backer, in Manhattan.
At the same time, Mondale and Hart workers made conciliatory gestures at a meeting in Washington of the committee that frames the rules for the July 16 convention in San Francisco. Hart aides dropped a threat to challenge 669 delegates pledged to Móndale, a move that
had threatened to turn the convention into a major exercise in bloodletting. For their part, Mondale aides accepted Hart’s sweeping, 12-point “democracy package” for future party conventions. The package’s principal thrust is to relate the number of delegates allotted in primary elections more closely to the popular vote. Jackson representatives would not endorse the package, but the following day all sides accepted a compromise proposal. In return for dropping a claim to an allotment of more delegates—Jackson has just nine per cent of the delegates, though he got 19 per cent of the votes in the primaries —Jackson forces won rules committee agreement to his demand for the creation of a commission to revise the rules for selecting a nominee for the 1988 election. Said Jackson campaign manager Preston Love: “One step does not do it
all but this is a real step forward.”
The Hart-Mondale session over bacon and eggs maintained that spirit. After an hour and 40 minutes, the two emerged smiling from Krim’s East 69th Street home with an agreement that they would work together to return the White House to the Democrats. Hart said that he would not drop his bid for the presidency before the convention, in deference to Democrats who had voted for him. He added that Mondale had not offered him the No. 2 slot on the ticket. But it is clear that Hart will not press his candidacy further, and one of his key advisers urged him to accept an offer —if Mondale makes one—to become the vice-presidential candidate. For his part, Mondale said that he had made no offer and added, “We are both agreed that the things that divide us are modest compared to the things that divide us from Reagan.”
The half-point increase in interest rates further revived the Democrats’ spirits, while it embarrassed the Reagan camp. In the opening barrage of Reagan’s estimated $20-million election advertising campaign, designed to highlight U.S. prosperity, one ad features the reassuring voice of Hal Riney, known for his Gallo Wine ads: “It’s morning again in America.... With interest rates about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes.” Administration critics quickly pointed out that last week’s increase, the fourth in as many months, means that rates are only 7.5 points away from the 1980 peak of 20.5 per cent. Not only that, but the current mortgage rate, 14 per cent in the United States, is only three per cent below the peak reached under former president Jimmy Carter. Defending the ads, John Buckley, press secretary for the Tuesday Team, the group of high-powered ad agents who are planning Reagan’s campaign, noted that they had run before last week’s interest rate increase. He also said that none of the ads mentioned mortgage rates, although he claimed that “the housing mortgage [situation] under Reagan has been dramatically improved and this is something we would be foolish if we did not point out.” However, housing starts fell 10.5 per cent in May, according to department of commerce figures, compared to 19.7 per cent in April.
Still, Farrakhan’s racist rhetoric dominated the week of Democratic politics and will continue to haunt the party as it prepares for the nominating convention in San Francisco next month. Indeed, many Democrats feared that Jackson’s eventual reprimand to his ally might prove to have been too equivocal and too late to still the anger of Jewish supporters. -DAVID NORTH, with Sterett Pope in New York.
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