There are some things that are almost a given in this country, and among them, Jews will vote Democratic.
In most years in something approaching an 80/20 ratio. I think it was John Stewart, who I heard quoted this week “What is about being rich and white that Jews don’t get?”
The last Republican to get close 40% of the Jewish vote was Ronald Regan when he destroyed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election, Regan got 39%. Today, I think if you polled Jews on Jimmy Carter vs Regan, or those numbers would soar to like 40% or 41%. And if you were to poll Carter vs Abstain I think in Jewish circles Abstain wins by 90%.
My republican friends are consistently bewildered at how a group of well off white folks, many many of whom come from humble roots, who worked hard, value education and now are living the American Dream can continue to vote against their best interests with the Democrats. It is an interesting question.
There’s been a ton of stuff written about this over the years, personally in my opinion and experience it comes to a few core values on the Republican side that alienate Jewish voters.
The Religious Right.
This is a tricky one. One of my closest friends in the world, who considers himself to be in Religious Right camp, asks me quite often about Jews don’t vote Republican. He doesn’t understand why most Jews don’t see the Fundamentalists as allies given their support Israel, their love of the Bible, Old and New Testaments. You guys should be on board with us…
What he doesn’t have in his experience is Jewish collective memories that nag us around the idea that the past, from the Crusades, to the Reformation to Billy Graham, when our Christian neighbors become more zealous and start wielding political power, it almost never works out well for religions minorities. This experience comes from our being the religious minority of choice for Christians in this country for the last 250 years. Today, I see most religious themed attacks directed to Muslims in this country, but the rhetoric and methods are very familiar. The idea that Muslims are a fifth column waiting to take over or that Muslim’s don’t believe in the same God that “we” do, sounds familiar to us Jews., only 20 years ago the head of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States proclaimed that “God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews” because Jews, in his belief, or as he articulated, are “blasphemers”. Actually replace “Muslims are Terrorists” with “Jews control the Media or the Banks” or whatever you care to add, and the analogies become consistant.
That’s not all, any talk about eliminating the separation between Church and State, makes us uptight. Prayer in school, Intelligent Design, Same Sex Marriage, there is a long list of religiously tied themed issues that are on the opposite side of my world view, and most of my coreligionists. Even the hottest one all, abortion. It’s a religiously based issue that I find myself on the wrong side off from the Right, and since they’re using it a litmus test these days, it’s one I fail and therefore, don’t really feel like I can be a Republican.
While I’m thinking about it, ironically, the other problem with the Evangelicals is not so much their support for Israel, is that their support is typically for the Israeli Right. When biblical paradigms are applies to modern politics, ignoring the situation on the ground, no one wins. Most Jews in the US are not big fans of the Israel and fewer still, in the US and in Israel consider biblical concepts in the same literal way that Evangelical Christians do. As a matter of fact, I find that line of thinking to be quite dangerous, and would lead to Israel’s destruction quite frankly. Not to mention, from a theological point of view, on the FAR right, there’s a Christian specific “End of Times” theology, Armageddon scenarios, that really make me queasy.
So at the end of the day, I, and I’m not alone, get really really nervous about the Religious Right. I’m more happy about what they’re not doing- attacking Jews than what they are doing, supporting us. Support, in my perspective, is fickle.
Immigration, Civil Rights.
The Republican party was founded on the ultimate civil rights platform- emancipation from slavery. Given that in two weeks I’ll sit down with my family and retell the our own experience with slavery 4000 years after the fact leads me to wonder where the Republicans took a right turn on the civil rights platform.
160 years slavery, the Party’s record on civil rights and inclusion is dismal. My friends on the Right hold that there’s nothing more democratic and more empowering for minorities than freedom and economic opportunity. I agree. As would most Jews. And then politics come into play. Gutting the voting rights act. Blocking immigration reform. Opposing GLBT rights. Jews have, for the most part, been active in Civil Rights issues for 150 years. We were early adopters to organized protests for civil rights and economic justice. Back when we were doing it was called the “Labor Movement”. No surprise that one of America’s most vehement Anti-Semites was none other than Henry Ford. My Dad was old enough to remember when Mr Ford argued that “International Jewry” aimed to enslave mankind, when he published in English the Czar’s propaganda hit piece “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and pushed for an expansion of Jim Crow laws include Jews. All of which earned him several awards and citations from the Nazis. Henry didn’t want is workers dictating their conditions of employment.
The experience of 2000 years of being a religious and cultural minority means that now Jew identify
very strongly with the rights of minorities in society. Until 1948 we were just that in every country where we lived. As a result, today I and we find it nearly impossible to align with a political party that on the surface at least, appears to be willing to sacrifice Civil Rights for political gain. Vote suppression for example, a big issue in the last election, huge issue for Jews given that so many Jews were deeply involved in registration drives and urban get out the vote campaigns.
Gun rights- Jews typically don’t own guns. We’re an urban folk with very little connection to rural lifestyles. We didn’t grow up hunting and for us, most exposure to guns is the urban environment which means crime. Most folks I know wouldn’t own a gun, we don’t see it as a viable option for self-defense. So when the NRA and Republicans support conceal and carry and liberal registration laws, Jews in general are strongly opposed. They see this as putting more guns on the street which exacerbates the problem of urban violence. I’m not arguing the merits of the discussion here, I’m simply pointing out why they’re where they are.
Tax Reform- For whatever reason, right or wrong I’ve honestly never heard a discussion about taxes being too high in my political discussion with other Jews. To the contrary I tend to hear more discussion about supporting social programs, and doing so from a government perspective.
And this is where we diverge. The discussion of Israel and support for Israel at the moment is at the heart of the alignment gap between American Jews and the left wing of the Democratic Party. Between the BDS Movement and the war against Hamas over the summer the Palestinians and Anti-Zionist talk track is getting a ton of attention, specifically on College campuses where it’s starting to bleed over into blatant Anti-Semitism. (See UCLA last month) I’m not going to get into the discussion about the merits or mistakes of their arguments today, I simply want to point out at that as an agenda item, the more traction this gets in the Democratic party the more uncomfortable Jews, myself included, feel in that party. When I go to a local Caucus to talk about state legislature candidates and the first speaker proposes an “Israel is an Apartheid State” resolution, which has happened twice now in my experience, I’m heading for the door. And, I’m likely throwing the baby out with the bathwater on all the other liberal issues where we do have alignment.
Personally for me my big epiphany came this summer when I was sitting in a shelter near Kiryat Gat for the second time in 20 minutes waiting for Hamas rockets to explode nearby. That experience, and then going to watch the news and hearing John Kerry and Barak Obama talk about Israel’s inappropriate response to the rocket fire… Watching Kerry talk about “investigations” needed because Israel bombed a UN school in Gaza. Regardless of the stores of weapons underneath it. Or the UN offices near Rafa in Gaza where Israel was condemned for attacking with troops despite the fact that the building was a terminus for a tunnel that extended into Israel, the army was in hot pursuit of gunman who had just attempted to abduct a hostage, one who’d been killed in the process, and were returning fire to the building.. I remember thinking “I’ll never vote Democrat again”. Now I’ve tempered a bit.. but Netanyahu’s visit has me wondering again.
BTW the Senators who wrote the letter to Iran.. At best, not helpful. At worst, flat out treason. I’m not sure where I come down even though I agree with the general premise.
Like the speech, I found not one thing to disagree with. Don’t like the timing, or the methods but the speech itself, I agree with. And my faith in this administration to negotiate hard with Iran? Zero.
Sub Zero. I see us caving just like the worse president in US history, James Carter did in his negotiations with the same country and essentially the same group of people.
Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish religious affiliation in the US wrote a scathing article in Ha’aretz last week about Bibi’s speech and basically saying that Jews will never defect from the Democratic Party or support for President Obama. Honestly I think Rabbi Yoffie has lost touch with his congregations and his community. While I don’t see a mass defection in 2016, I do think that for the first time in a generation or two there’s daylight for the Republicans to make real inroads in the Jewish community. And the way they do that is by nominating someone from the Center Right who can reach out to Jews and not pull a Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann like persona.
I can do conservative these days, I can’t do meshuggah.