Political parties don’t reflect religious ‘values’ at all

A fellow TOI blogger, Mr. Greg Rosenbaum, has just published a piece entitled “Democratic Party Continues to Reflect Jewish Values”.  It’s nicely written, but the basic thrust of the piece, which is clearly and succinctly expressed in the title, is (if you’ll pardon the expression) pure baloney.  Here’s why.

If you read Mr. Rosenbaum’s essay, you’ll see that what it establishes is not that the Democratic Party—as opposed, I guess, to the Republican Party—reflects Jewish values.  Rather, it establishes that, over the last 24 presidential elections, more Jews voted for the Democratic candidate than voted for the Republican candidate.  This is a matter of plain historical fact.  It is also a fact, cited by Mr. Rosenbaum, that the Pew Research Center has reported that 70 percent of American Jews lean toward the Democratic Party, while 22 percent lean toward the Republican Party.  Additionally, Mr. Rosenbaum goes through a laundry list of hot-button issues—gay rights, welfare, abortion, environmental regulations—on which Jews tend to embrace the ‘liberal’ side of each one, as does the Democratic Party.  What does all that say about the ‘religious values’ reflected by the respective parties?  In a word: nothing.

Black Americans tend to vote for Democratic candidates in even higher percentages than do Jewish Americans.  I wonder if that proves to Mr. Rosenbaum’s satisfaction that Black Americans are more faithful to Jewish religious values than Jewish Americans?  If voting for Democrats is a test of one’s fidelity to Jewish religious values, then the answer to that question would have to be ‘yes’.  This is just one illustration of how silly it is to equate votes for candidates of one party or another with an expression of religious values.

Moreover, if voting for Democratic candidates were indeed a reflection of Jewish values, then those American Jews who are in the 22 percent who tend to vote for Republicans are, it would seem, less faithful to Jewish values than their sisters and brothers who vote for Democrats.  So, if you vote for a Republican, you’re not as good a Jew as those who voted for the Democrat(!)  This is a juvenile perspective that no serious, intelligent person would have the chutzpah to entertain.

Mr. A votes for a candidate who promises to increase payments to those who are on welfare, because Mr. A’s religion—whether Judaism, or Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism, or whatever—teaches him that the poor should be comforted.  Mr. B, who is of the same religion, and who also believes just as strongly that the poor should be comforted, votes for a different candidate who will not increase welfare payments.  Mr. B casts that vote because he believes that a government system of welfare is a lousy way to comfort the poor; it is kinder and more efficient, he thinks, to have private charitable organizations do that work.  So, Mr. A and Mr. B both have equally strong beliefs, based on their shared religion, that the poor should be comforted, but they have different views as to the best means to accomplish that worthy end.  There is no rational reason to conclude that Mr. A’s vote reflects more strongly the value of their shared religion than does Mr. B’s vote; only a bigoted person would insist otherwise.  They simply have different ideas about how to accomplish a shared goal.

Political issues are not moral issues; nor are they religious issues.  They are, almost without exception, issues about either (1) how we should try to achieve a goal that virtually all of us agree is desirable, or (2) which branch of government should decide an issue that is contentious and controversial.  An example of the first category is, as we have seen, the welfare state.  Almost all of us will agree that society ought to be arranged so that everyone has sufficient access to the necessities of life, but we might have sincere disagreements about the best way to accomplish that end.  If Judaism permits only one view—that government, rather than private parties, must be the agency through which all necessities are provided—that is something I never learned in Hebrew school.

An example of the second category is the recent Supreme Court decision requiring every State to recognize same-sex marriage.  I believe that that decision was wrongly decided as a matter of constitutional law, and that recognition of same-sex marriage should have been left to each State to decide, as was the case before the Court handed down its decision.  If there’s anything in Judaism that teaches that the Supreme Court’s decision was not an instance of judicial overreach, I’d like to know about it.

Again, Mr. Rosenbaum is correct in noting that American Jews have tended historically to vote for Democrats, although a not insubstantial minority have voted for Republicans.  That does not prove that the Democratic Party reflects Jewish values, while the Republican Party does not.  What it proves is that American Jews have tended historically to vote for Democrats.  Jews who vote for Republicans are not, for that reason, inferior as Jews to those who vote for Democrats.  A vote is a political choice, not a religious choice.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973