Are Jewish liberals out of step with America?
November 10, 2010
The 2010 midterm elections are now in the record book. The Republican tsunami, predicted more than a month prior to Election Day, did actually take place.
As of the writing of this column, according to Real Clear Politics, in the House the Republicans gained 61 seats with eight races undecided. In the Senate the Republicans gained six seats. Of the 37 gubernatorial races, the Republicans took 23 state houses, a gain of six. Additionally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Republicans picked up 680 seats.
Who supported this massive shift in power? As The New York Times framed the question, “How bad was it for Democrats last week? By nearly every demographic measure, the party lost ground, significantly in some cases.” Here is the Times’ summary:
For the first time since 1982, when exit polls began measuring support for Congressional candidates, Republicans received a majority of women’s votes.
Catholics, independents, and voters age 60 and older also sided with Republicans by margins not seen since 1982.
Independent voters, a key to President Obama’s election two years ago, turned sharply to the G.O.P.
Republicans also won more support than usual from reliably Democratic constituencies: less affluent and less educated voters, urbanites, and voters from the nation’s East and West.
The Times’ summary concluded, “A notable exception was black voters, who continued to support Democrats in strong numbers.”
Strangely, the Times, which likes to keep an eagle’s eye on Jewish political trends, did not mention how Jews voted this election. I wonder why. The data were available and suggested that Jewish voters, like black voters, were also a “notable exception” to the national trend.
Jews have overwhelmingly voted liberal and Democrat. This prompted Commentary essayist Milton Himmelfarb, puzzling why Jews remain liberal even as they become affluent, to quip, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”
Former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz recently wrote a whole book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, to explain Himmelfarb’s bon mot. Podhoretz summarized his analysis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews,” he wrote. “Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right.”
It is not my purpose to defend or comment on Podhoretz here, but to keep his observation in mind when looking at the Jewish vote in 2010.
The Republican Jewish Coalition conducted a series of exit polls to measure the Jewish vote in two key Senate races and three bellwether House races. According to the RJC poll, Republicans received 30.7 percent of the Jewish vote in the Pennsylvania race, and 32.3 percent in Illinois.
From these polls, RJC concluded, “The GOP continues to make inroads in the Jewish community and we look forward to that trend continuing in the years ahead.”
Jewish liberals pointed out that while the GOP made “inroads,” the shift was hardly tectonic. Polling by J Street and J Street PAC suggested, like the RJC, that 31 percent of Jews voted for Republican candidates for Congress (compared to the 22 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008). After admitting that the overall election results “aren’t pretty” and acknowledging that they represent “one of the starkest shifts in partisan political fortunes in a century,” the J Streeters conclude, “The American-Jewish community took no part in this shift, remaining a fundamentally liberal and progressive constituency and deeply suspicious of political conservatives, of the Republican Party, and of the Tea Party movement.”
M.J. Rosenberg, senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network, looked at the RJC polling data and wrote, “By now, they are getting used to a pattern that was established in 1928. Two out of three Jews vote Democratic because they are liberal. One out of three Jews vote Republican because they are conservative.”
Rosenberg went on to give credence to Podhoretz: “Jews voted Democratic because they agree with Democrats on the issues,” he wrote. “Liberal Jewish attitudes, not surprisingly, also extend to political figures and movements.”
Assume that all the observations about Jewish voting are correct, that Jews are liberal and progressive, and agree with the Democrats, and that Jewish liberalism is akin to a religion. Given these observations and the nationwide results of the 2010 midterm elections, there seems to a political gulf, more like a chasm, between Jewish Americans and their fellow citizens.
After the results were in, many political pundits stated that the United States is basically a center-right country, and after the aberration of the 2008 election, the country’s equilibrium was reasserting itself.
This past election a number of significant demographic groups shifted political alliances, basically because of the current and long-term outlooks for the economy and employment. I recall an old college friend saying, “If you are able to keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, then perhaps you don’t understand the gravity of the situation.” Is there something that our fellow citizens recognize, that is escaping the viewpoint of Jewish Americans? Is there a disconnect with the new American majority?
Jews like to tout diversity, but it seems when it comes to politics, diversity — approximating the statistical political profile of the United States — does not exist.
Jared Silverman, a West Orange attorney, is a self-described conservatarian. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.