Wednesday, September 16th, 2009
I’ve mostly tuned out all the deep analysis over Norman Podhoretz’s new book asking “Why Are Jews Liberals,” mostly because the whole discussion seems to me be about finding fancy ways to say the obvious. Talk about deju vu; this argument has been going on for decades, and we’re mostly still hearing the same blather.
It seems to me the answers are really pretty simple. Conservatives say Jews are betraying their own economic interests by sticking with the Democrats – but a lot of Jews don’t see it that way at all. Beyond that, many see their social interests threatened by a Republican party that is perceived – accurately or not – as skewed to the ideology of the religious right.
That’s not just me; it’s what most political scientists who study the Jewish community say.
Conservatives make the case that Jews should be more concerned about Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda on the Democratic left – but apparently most Jewish voters don’t connect these figures to the Democrats the way they connect the Pat Robertsons, the John Hagees and of course the National Rifle Association to the Republicans. If they did, a lot of election results would look different.
And let’s face it: while conservative analysts talk about the economic anomaly here – Jews earning like Episcopalians but voting like Puerto Ricans – the conservative approach to Jewish voters has always started and ended with the false premise that Israel is the only issue most Jews care about. So they’re making their pitch to a relatively small segment of single-issue, pro-Israel voters who are already less tied to the Dems.
Sure, there’s our history as an immigrant community, our self-righteous memories of involvement in the civil rights struggle, our historic affinity for the New Deal and Eleanor Roosevelt, but really, I think a lot of that is beside the point. People don’t hang on to political affiliations because of warm fuzzy memories of the past, but because of a gut reaction to the present.
And for now, at least, the collective Jewish gut is telling voters that progressive Democrats have more in common with us than conservative Republicans.
Nor do I think it has a lot to do with perceptions of what Jewish teachings say about today’s issues – or, as Podhoretz says, a misperception. I doubt very seriously whether a majority of Jews – the same majority that has little connection to Judaism or to organized Jewish life – thinks very much about Jewish law and tradition when they go into the voting booth.
Is that good for the Jews? Maybe not; you can make a good case that communities thrive when their vote is up for grabs and both sides come a’courtin.
On the other hand, last time I looked a Jewish community that continues to vote Democratic and think liberal wasn’t suffering from a lack of clout.