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Armey's Remarks Assailed

Politics: Lawmaker's comments were a 'personal attack' on Jews, Democrats say.

September 25, 2002|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), the No. 2 leader in the House, has come under fire for comments that Democratic critics said amounted to a "personal attack" on American Jews who do not share his conservative views.

Armey, speaking at an event in Florida on Friday, was quoted by a local paper as saying: "I always see two Jewish communities in America: one of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.

"Conservatives have a deeper intellect and tend to have occupations of the brain in fields like engineering, science and economics," Armey said, while liberals flock to "occupations of the heart."

Armey, who is retiring from Congress this year, is known for his blunt-spoken, often controversial commentary. His Florida comments came during a discussion on the Middle East, in response to a question about why the Jewish American community seemed divided along ideological lines.

Two Democratic Party leaders issued a statement Tuesday condemning Armey for what they called "disparaging comments ... about the millions of Jews and other Americans who happen to disagree with his right-wing ideology."

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), former chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a blistering statement: "Seldom has the Congress become a better institution due to the departure of a member of the House leadership. However, it has become clear that the House will become a more civil and decent institution the day Dick Armey retires."

Asked to respond, Armey said his comments were not offensive to Jews, but simply reflected a long-held view about all liberals compared to conservatives: "Liberals are generally not very bright, and conservatives are deep thinkers."

He said the Lowey-Frost criticism was "a partisan deal" and motivated by their frustration at what Armey said is growing support for the GOP within the ranks of Jewish voters.

But Lowey and Frost said Armey's comments were an indication of "why the GOP's countless outreach efforts to minority communities always fail."

"Rather than show true respect to our communities by addressing our concerns, Republicans merely repackage their far right-wing agenda," the Democrats said.

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