Politics

“I didn’t expect to feel [This] Way”: an afternoon of making matzah with Doug Emhoff

“How do you know when it’s right?” Emhoff asked a student who stood, like the others, behind a white folding table with mixing bowls, measuring cups, rolling pins and bags of flour on it.

The kid just shrugged. What do you say to the second gentleman when he asks you a question like that? You just know.

The public perception of Doug Emhoff is that he’s just enjoying life. Of the main four, he has spent by far the least time in politics and seems the least overtly interested in it. There is a lack of polish about him which is refreshing. He doesn’t wear dress shoes, he wears kicks. He often doesn’t wear a tie. During his events, he tends to share his own stage directions, like a spectator suddenly propelled onto the set. Sitting inside the Jewish studies classroom on Wednesday, he told the assembled students that he had a script of things to say (which he ignored) and that he had been briefed on their names. Earlier, he blurted out that he was told not to eat matzo (but he did) and openly expressed concern about his punching abilities.

“They didn’t inform me of the pattern of the holes!” he insisted as the fork in his hand, helped by gravity, descended to the dough below.

But beneath this image of a carefree political transplant lies a more intense Doug Emhoff. He is deeply invested in his role and cares a lot about how he does it. He consumes political news, sharing clips with his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he met relatively late in life. Those who have worked with him say he can be extremely protective of the vice president. When I noticed how entertaining his life seemed – a few nights before he had argued in a show trial organized by the Shakespeare Theater Company and that morning he had taught at Georgetown Law – he s is slightly bristling.

“Some of that stuff is a lot of fun, yeah,” he conceded. “But some of these things are serious. I’ve been to 35 weird states. I have been to two countries. I am someone who is by nature I will raise my hand and work hard.

One of Emhoff’s tasks is to try to weave his identity as a Jew with his role as a senior member of a Democratic administration. It may be as simple as noting that progressive ideals and themes of justice and persecution have long drawn Jews to liberal politics. But sometimes it’s harder. At one point on Wednesday, he turned a class discussion about how children tend to fall asleep during the Seder into an allegory of how Jews should remain politically engaged, as evidenced, among other things, by the Republican-led states that override abortion rights. The room nodded.

Among the discoveries Emhoff made upon entering this phase of his life was that he had the skills to make it work. Being a Hollywood entertainment lawyer, he said, provided “great training to be second gentlemen.” He came to Washington, DC, well-suited to a universe defined by showmanship and high-stakes feuds. He also understood the need to make the audience (whether a judge or a room of elementary school students) feel comfortable – to dispel the perception that he, in his position of authority, was somehow high compared to them.


Politico

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