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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘1972’

Remembering Milton Himmelfarb

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

Milton Himmelfarb died earlier this month at age 87, and chances are you never heard of him if, like most Americans, you tend not to be a devotee of intellectual and political journals. But Milton Himmelfarb — Mendy, as he was known to his family — was, by virtue of temperament, history and family, a seminal figure in the development of neoconservatism as one of the country’s most influential political forces.

Serving in various capacities at the American Jewish Committee for better than 40 years, Himmelfarb was the longtime editor of the AJC’s American Jewish Yearbook and a contributing editor to Commentary, which under the editorship of Norman Podhoretz became, in the late 1960′s, the flagship journal of the emerging neoconservative movement.

“Himmelfarb,” wrote the exemplary New York Times reporter Joseph Berger in an obituary the Times incomprehensibly ran a full week and a half after Himmelfarb’s passing, “was a member of an astonishingly accomplished intellectual clan with working-class and liberal roots that evolved into neoconservative royalty. His younger sister, Gertrude Himmelfarb, is a historian of Victorian thought…. His brother-in-law, Irving Kristol, is a founder of neoconservatism; and his nephew is the founding editor of the influential conservative periodical The Weekly Standard.”

A writer with a penchant for turning a memorable phrase, Himmelfarb, describing the curious political habits of American Jews, once observed that “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” The line became an instant favorite with academics and journalists, quoted over the years in countless articles and studies on Jewish voting patterns.

In a symposium on “Liberalism and the Jews” in the Jan. 1980 issue of Commentary, Himmelfarb elaborated on his dismay with the American Jewish voter. Looking back at the Nixon-McGovern presidential contest of 1972, he scoffed at the notion that Jews were on the brink of switching party loyalty:

Before the 1972 election there was hardly an issue of a news magazine without its revelation about the new Jewish conservatism. Though the Democrats were, then as now, the majority party, and though the Republican nominee was unattractive, about 69 percent of white Christian voters voted against the Democrats. Of Jewish voters, about 65 percent voted for him. That is what Jewish conservatism means: giving a two-thirds vote to the most unpopular Democratic candidate in memory. Compulsive smokers know that smoking is not good for them but they keep smoking. Most Jews are compulsive Democratic voters….

Himmelfarb’s assessment was just as fresh nine years later in an April 1989 Commentary article — sardonically titled “American Jews: Diehard Conservatives” — on the 1988 presidential election:

Most whites once voted for Democratic presidential candidates but have long since changed to voting for Republicans….Practically alone among white voters, Jews have changed hardly at all…. Clinging more than most to old attachments and habits, American Jews may fairly be called more conservative than most.

For all of Himmelfarb’s political perspicacity, it was when he wrote about specifically Jewish subjects that one got a glimpse into what was intrinsically important to the man. Though long removed from the Orthodoxy of his youth, he peppered his articles with references to biblical and rabbinic literature. His deep and abiding sense of Jewishness was on eloquent display in an exultant October 1967 Commentary article titled “In the Light of Israel’s Victory”:

Each of us Jews knows how thoroughly ordinary he is; yet taken together, we seem caught up in things great and inexplicable. It is almost as if we were not acting but were being acted through….The number of Jews in the world is smaller than a small statistical error in the Chinese census. Yet we remain bigger than our numbers. Big things seem to happen around us and to us….
When the Psalmist says “I,” the pronoun is singular and plural, individual and collective, personal and referring to the children of Israel — as in another verse from the last of the Hallel psalms: “I thank Thee, for Thou hast answered me, and art become my salvation.”

Bush, Jews And Democrats (Part V)

Wednesday, November 20th, 2002

We left off last week in the midst of the 1972 presidential campaign, one of the more interesting in terms of Jewish voting behavior. On one hand you had the incumbent, Republican Richard Nixon, whose relationship with Israel during his first term was quite solid; on the other you had his Democratic challenger, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, a leading dove on Vietnam with a not especially inspiring record on Israel.

Israeli leaders left no doubt about their preference; Prime Minister Golda Meir considered Nixon the friendliest U.S. president since the creation of Israel in 1948, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, the former IDF chief of staff and future prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, made it clear in public statements that his government was hoping for a Nixon victory.

None of that seemed to matter to the bulk of American Jewry. Certainly there were defections from Democratic ranks – an organization calling itself “Democrats for Nixon” was a predominantly Jewish affair, and several wealthy big-name Jewish contributors who normally gave to Democrats were this time around writing checks to the Nixon campaign – but most Jews still feared that pulling the Republican lever would cause their right hands to lose their cunning.

“Official” Jewry – that dizzying network of committees, councils, conferences and leagues staffed by liberal flunkies whose Holy Writ is the platform of the Democratic Party and whose daily spiritual sustenance comes from New York Times editorials – was represented in the McGovern campaign by Jewish liaison Richard Cohen, who after the election returned to his job as public relations director at the American Jewish Congress, and campaign director Frank Mankiewicz, a former employee of the Anti-Defamation League.

As in past elections, individual organizational leaders, such as Washington fixture Hyman Bookbinder, made no secret of their Democratic sympathies. Not surprisingly, Jewish celebrities were highly visible McGovern supporters: Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, Alan King, Peter Falk and scores of other household names enthusiastically gave their time and money to the Democratic candidate.

As Stephen Isaacs described it in his 1974 book Jews and American Politics, “despite problems with affirmative action plans-cum-quotas, the ‘urban fever zone,’ scatter site housing, community control of schools, an inept Democratic presidential campaign – despite all these things and more – the Jewish bloc vote did hold up” for McGovern, who won the votes of 65 percent of American Jews – this while Nixon was crushing McGovern among the general electorate with a landslide of historic proportions.

Nixon defeated McGovern by a count of 60.7 percent to 37.5 percent, 49 states to 1; more tellingly as far as Jews were concerned, he won nearly 70 percent of the white vote.

Nixon did double his share of the Jewish vote from the paltry 17 percent he received four years earlier, but the startling fact remains that McGovern actually did better among Jews than Adlai Stevenson had in 1952 and 1956.

Given Nixon’s record on Israel and the plaudits of Israeli leaders, his moderate domestic agenda, and an unimpressive opponent with no strong ties to the Jewish community, the 1972 election was as clear a signal as any that it was a combination of old habits and a religious-like devotion to dogmatic liberalism that drove the majority of Jewish voters, not any primary concern for Israel or narrowly defined Jewish interests.

A year later, as the Yom Kippur War raged, Nixon went against the State and Defense Department bureaucracies and directed the massive military airlift to Israel that literally saved the Jewish state from near certain defeat. It should never be forgotten that had it been left up to two-thirds of American Jewish voters, the man sitting in the Oval Office during Israel’s time of unprecedented peril would have been President George McGovern.

(Continued Next Week)

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/media-monitor-64/2002/11/20/

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