Tommy Thompson – a former governor of Wisconsin and potential Republican presidential contender in 2008 – made a damaging verbal gaffe while addressing Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center earlier today.
“I’m sort of a reform public servant, 38 years in the government,” said Thompson, according to a transcript provided to the Forward by the Religious Action Center. “I’m in the private sector and for the first time in my life I’m earning money. You know that’s sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that.”
After the conclusion of his address, Thompson was reportedly pulled aside privately by the RAC’s Rabbi David Saperstein, and then returned to the podium to issue a clarification:
“I just want to clarify something because I didn’t in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things,” Thompson said, according to the RAC’s transcript. “What I was referring to ladies and gentlemen is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that and if anybody took what I said wrong I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that.”
According to one Democrat who attended the address, which was held at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington D.C., the audience was “aghast” when Thompson made his initial remark, but clapped in response to his clarification.
According to the Democratic source, Thompson made several remarks that seemed off-kilter during his address. He reportedly boasted of being the governor of the first state to buy “Jewish bonds,” when he probably meant to say “Israel bonds,” and he referred to his friend, Marty Stein, as being a big supporter of the “Jewish Defense League,” when he probably meant to name the Anti-Defamation League. (The JDL is a notorious militant group.) Thompson also reportedly referred to Winston Churchill as being the first leader of Israel and the region.
The RAC has yet to issue a statement in response to Thompson’s speech, but it should be out later this afternoon.
UPDATE: Here’s the statement:
“We are pleased that Governor Thompson made time in his schedule- like many other policy makers- to address the 2007 Consultation of Conscience,” said Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
The Consultation of Conscience is a three day conference bringing together the Reform Jewish Movement’s top social justice advocates for meetings and briefings with top policy makers in Washington, D.C.”