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February 22: The Liberal Stalwart

Lawrence Bush
February 22, 2017
Abraham Ribicoff, a liberal stalwart of the Democratic Party who served as Congressional representative, senator, Cabinet secretary of health, education, and welfare, and the first and only Jewish governor of Connecticut, died at 87 on this date in 1998. Ribicoff became best known as a confidante and advisor to John F. Kennedy (he turned down being attorney general and instead recommended President Kennedy's brother, Robert, with whom he is shown conferring in the photo above); for turning against President Johnson over the Vietnam War; for allying himself with Ralph Nader to create the Motor Vehicle Highway Safety Act of 1966; and for his nominating speech for George McGovern at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago — "With George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago," declared Ribicoff, which prompted Mayor Richard J. Daley to shout, "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch," according to numerous lip-readers across America. Ribicoff was also a strong advocate of school desegregation, civil service reform, and, early in his career, the Marshall Plan. "I listened to the leading Irish Catholic politicians object to Kennedy. They did not think the nation was ready for a Catholic, they said. Speaking last, I said, 'I never thought I'd see the day when a man of the Jewish faith had to plead before a group of Irish Catholics about allowing another Irish Catholic to be nominated for the position.'"--Abraham Ribicoff

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.