Goldwater’s supporters thrilled to what they perceived to be their man’s unusually blunt and honest oratory, but the rest of the country was decidedly unimpressed. Johnson was returned to office with 61.1 percent of the popular vote.
Among Jews, the Democratic party’s most loyal group of voters, the results were even more one-sided as Johnson equaled Franklin Roosevelt in his heyday, pulling 90 percent of the Jewish vote to Goldwater’s 10 percent.
Republicans did somewhat better among Jews in 1968 when former vice president Richard Nixon, never a popular figure in the Jewish community, garnered 17 percent of the Jewish vote (actually a point down from the 18 percent he received when he ran against Kennedy in 1960).
This, too, was an easy election to predict in terms of Jewish preference, not simply because Nixon was Nixon, but more so because the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey – a classic cold war liberal whose type would become nearly extinct by the mid-1970’s – enjoyed an unusually close relationship with most of the leading organizational figures in American Jewish life.
Once again, Jews hardly reflected the thinking of the country at large, as Nixon (43.4 percent) squeezed out a victory over Humphrey (42.7 percent). George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, won 13.5 percent of the vote as a third-party candidate. (Jews gave Wallace 2 percent of their votes, a figure that, low as it was, still came as something of a surprise, considering what Wallace stood for.)
The 1972 presidential election proved to be one of the more interesting – and instructive – elections in terms of Jewish voting behavior. During his first four years in office, Nixon had compiled a generally solid record on Israel. U.S. policymakers began to take seriously Israel’s value as an American asset in the region, and military aid to Israel rose to unprecedented levels.
Israel’s prime minister at the time, Golda Meir, was an unabashed admirer of Nixon’s, and the Israeli ambassador in Washington, a former IDF chief of staff named Yitzhak Rabin, raised the hackles of liberal Jewish organizations when he all but endorsed Nixon for a second term.
Running against Nixon in ’72 was an extremely liberal senator from South Dakota named George McGovern, a leading “dove” on Vietnam and a man who had not exactly carved a name for himself as a defender of Israel. McGovern exemplified the type of guilt-driven, anti-defense liberalism that captured the Democratic party that year and would lead it to electoral disaster in four of the next five presidential elections.
(That this “Blame America First” liberalism, as Jeane Kirkpatrick memorably tagged it in the 1980’s, is still very much alive among Democrats – despite Bill Clinton’s alleged success at bringing them “back to the center” – can be seen in the almost visceral opposition to any military action against Iraq currently being voiced by many of the party’s elected officials, activists and rank and file members.)
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org