WASHINGTON - All of us should be appalled, but none of us should be surprised to find on both sides of great debates a certain number of bigots and ignoramuses.
The two are, of course, not the same. A bigot hates. An ignoramus is simply ignorant and therefore might be salvaged and redeemed by exposure to new information.
Mr. Lott, a Mississippi Republican, found himself apologizing desperately and profusely for his stunning declaration at former Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday that America would have been "better off" if Mr. Thurmond's segregationist Dixiecrat ticket had won the presidency in 1948.
Mr. Moran has apologized just as profusely and repeatedly for his boneheaded suggestion during an anti-war rally that "influential" Jews are pushing America into a disastrous war.
Mr. Moran's statement was toxic on several levels. Politically, it has cost him his elected post as a regional Democratic whip and may cost him his re-election.
Morally, it is poisonous to single out any group of people as having enough power to take America into a major war against its best interests.
Influential Cuban-Americans, for example, are key lobbyists for keeping the embargo against Fidel Castro's government in place, despite the fact that many American businesses and others would like to lift it. African-American lobbyists and members of Congress were influential in persuading Bill Clinton to send American troops to restore Haiti's elected president to power.
But both of those actions are small potatoes compared to the notion that one ethnic group can lead this nation into a major war, despite the objections of major allies.
Of course, some groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, quite openly lobby on behalf of Israel (although not, they would emphasize, at the expense of America's interests). Nevertheless, as anyone in official Washington can tell you, the difference between the influence that lobbyists brag about and the influence they actually have is quite vast.
So, where does the idea come from that "influential" Jews are leading the United States into war with Iraq?
Some observers, including me, may have wittingly or unwittingly contributed to this paranoia by writing about how this war sprung largely from the heads of some conservative and neo-conservative intellectuals.
Some people, such as my fellow Washington-based commentator Pat Buchanan in his new The American Conservative magazine, have used "neo-conservative" almost interchangeably with "pro-Israel" or "Israel lobby" in ways that sound like code words for "Jews" or "the Israel lobby." I don't.
To put it bluntly, you don't have to be Jewish to want to topple Saddam Hussein by force, if necessary. A number of powerful non-Jews such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, just for starters, were pushing to give war a chance long before the current President Bush took office.
And, if anyone has brought the administration's leading dove, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, over to the hawk side, it is not American Jews as much as it is the reckless stubbornness of Mr. Hussein.
Conversely, you do not have to be a non-Jew to prefer peaceful alternatives to war, as many prominent anti-war Jews have shown.
Major polls have found Jews to be just as divided on the war issue as other Americans. At least one major poll conducted by the Pew Research Center from August 2002 to February 2003 found Jews to be substantially less likely than the public at large to support military action against Iraq: 52 percent of Jews favored military action, compared with 62 percent of all Americans.
But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as the old saying goes, especially when your knowledge is very little. The anti-war movement is burdened by a few anti-Jewish voices, just as the pro-war side is burdened by some anti-Islam and anti-Arab bigots. Neither should be allowed to poison the central debate over how America can best make this world a better place for everyone to live in, regardless of race, creed or ethnic ancestry.
Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Fridays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.