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OTHER ITA SITES:
A Republican Jew (No, It's Not an Oxymoron)
In the wake of the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, and the news that approximately 24% of American Jews (an increased, but still relatively small percentage) voted for George W. Bush, it is, I believe, an appropriate time to examine (not for the first time, of course) the phenomenon of longstanding blind Jewish loyalty to the Democratic Party,
I was raised in a time and a place (the New York Metropolitan Area of the 1960's) in which Jews were Democrats, period. Rabbis routinely preached politically liberal values from the pulpit and, although, in retrospect, some in the pews must have harbored some resentment for that, the consensus was so overwhelming that most, if not all, of those who dissented, did so privately, and chose to be silent. Astonishingly, not that much has changed. In those days, the only Jewish conservative I had even heard of was Norman Podhoretz, and he was roundly vilified by the Northeastern, liberal Jewish intelligentsia for bucking the tide. The prevailing attitude, I may say, without much exaggeration, was that voting Democratic was de'orraitah (Aramaic for from the Torah).
Even today, there is an attitude which I sense in the American Jewish Community in which the suggestion that one might consider support for the Republican Party, is considered fundamentally "un-Jewish." After all, the unspoken reasoning goes, the Democratic Party is the party of "working families" (whatever that means), and social justice, while the Republican Party is an uneasy alliance of wealthy, coupon-clipping, Daughter of the American Revolution, Mayflower-landing Wasps, on the one hand and trailer-trash, ignorant, fundamentalist Christian yahoos, who would ban abortion, start the school day with a rousing rendition of "Onward Christian Soldiers," and shoot--with automatic assault weapons, of course--all homosexuals on sight, on the other. (I can fairly visualize liberals reading this and nodding in agreement).
During the course of the recent and very contentious presidential campaign, many of my Jewish friends and family members expressed their pro-Democratic leanings in terms of their fear of domination of this country by Christian Fundamentalists. There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever that such fear is well founded, except that many Christian Evangelicals supported George W. Bush, because, I presume, he is known to be a man of deeply-held Christian faith. I know that many Jews, four years ago, were attracted by the presence of Joe Lieberman, a committed Jew, on the Democratic ticket. I don't think I ever heard anyone suggest that we were in danger of a mandatory "Daf Yomi" (daily Talmud study), compulsory donning of tzitzis and forced consumption of P'tchah (believe me, you don't want to know what that is). Parenthetically, the fear of Christian Fundamentalists also negates, in the minds of many Jews, the attractiveness of President Bush as a strong supporter of Israel. Evangelicals, they say, support Israel only because of Jesus-based Messianic zeal, which requires, in their prophecies, that the Jews prevail in Israel as a prelude to the Second Coming.
In a world in which Israel has precious few reliable friends and allies, I believe we should be grateful for those we have, and treasure them. Let the "End of Days" take care of themselves.
For the most part, in any case, I don't "vote Israel" in presidential elections. In a rare exception, I did do so in 1992, when I voted for Bill Clinton, having been very disappointed in Bush Sr.'s statements and relationship with Israel, and my antipathy toward James Baker, in particular, who was reputed to say of the American Jews: "F---- 'em! They didn't vote for us, anyway." Baker strongly denies having said this, but I have my doubts. In this recent election, Bush Jr. has a strong positive track record on Israel, and many commentators observed that Kerry, while having an excellent pro-Israel voting record, was, in his zeal to "mend fences" with European Allies, likely to put untoward pressure on Israel to make risky concessions. We will, of course, never know about Kerry's policy toward Israel. Nevertheless, I considered Israel to be largely a neutral issue as between the candidates. I had, however, many other good reasons to support Bush, so that the Israel issue did not resonate much with me this time around. This, however, did appear to increase, albeit slightly, Jewish support for Bush in this election. Interestingly, support for Republicans has increased dramatically in the Orthodox community, to the point where Republicans can now boast majority support there. This is of limited value in presidential elections in which the Orthodox population centers tend to be found in "blue" states (where, as I am fond of saying, the Democrats could run Joe Stalin without much risk), and are, at least currently, insufficient to turn the tide. But this is a highly relevant development for State and Local elections. Much of the Orthodox support for the Republican Party is based, not only on Bush's support for Israel, but on the Orthodox empathy for some of the social agenda items, such as, for example, opposition to gay marriage, which, ironically, is precisely what motivates much of the non-Orthodox Jewish Community to eschew the G.O.P.
The irony of the continued Jewish commitment to the Democrats is that many Jews are no longer voting either their philosophies or their pocketbooks. In the course of my discussions recently with many Jewish Democrats, it has become apparent, on an issue-by-issue basis, that they had much more in common with the Republican Party, both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts. Many support reduction, or at least containment of expensive social programs, and see that many have been wasteful failures. Many support the war on terror, and even the policy in Iraq, although they are distressed at the profound errors which have been made in its implementation (so am I). Many support tax relief and oppose multi-lateral foreign policy decision-making. These are all core values of the Republican Party. The social agenda which frightens many of them (and with which I, myself, mostly disagree) is, in the opinion of this writer, not shared by a high enough percentage of Americans to be a real threat. If it ever becomes so, it won't matter what party is in power. Ultimately, we have no choice but to rely on the Constitution to protect us. I know that some fear the appointment of right-wing judges to the Federal judiciary and Supreme Court in particular, as a danger. But I take much comfort in the fact that the protections afforded by the Constitution have served us well for many years, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations. Roe v. Wade, the seminal abortion rights decision, was, after all, penned by Harry Blackmun, a Nixon appointee. Besides, the confirmation system is such that "extreme" judges simply don't get appointed….anybody remember Robert Bork? Historical evidence strongly suggests that Federal Judges, with lifetime tenure, tend to rise above the political motives of their proponents, once they are in the job.
It has been 93 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. FDR has been dead for 59 years; Emma Goldman, for even longer. We have effective labor laws and civil rights protections in this Country. Those issues and people should not be trivialized. They were important in their time, but America is not the same country anymore. Jews are not an ostracized underclass. We are, in fact, very much entrenched into the mainstream structure and, I daresay, the power elite in this Country. And yes, I know that the same was true, to an extent in Germany. But I believe that, as much as we must be vigilant and wary of our enemies, who are real, we ought not to conduct ourselves in America as though a pogrom were right around the corner. That would be an insult to a country we love and which has been very good to us.
Thus, although we should always consider social justice and values beyond our own parochial interests, our voting patterns should not be reflexive, Pavlovian responses; rather, they should be reasoned measures, predicated on our beliefs. Those Jews who truly support the weltanschauung of the Democratic party should continue to vote accordingly. But voting Democrat is NOT de'orraitah. It is not a sufficient reason to do so because Bubbie and Zaydie did it. I look forward to the day in which Jewish support will be based on issues, not on mere party affiliation.
Reprinted from the Canadian Institue for Jewish Research, December, 2004. Copyright 2004.
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