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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish vote’

A Question For The Ages

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
In this week’s Jewish Press front-page essay, Uri Kaufman takes a look at the seemingly unbreakable bond between American Jewry and the Democratic Party. It’s something that’s been pondered, discussed, debated, and written about for decades, and still the question remains: Why are Jews wedded to the Democrats, years after it stopped making any economic or political sense for them to remain in the marriage?
There really is no single answer. The most commonly heard explanation, one routinely offered up in “analysis” pieces by lazy journalists and High Holiday sermons by Reform rabbis, is that the liberalism espoused by the likes of a Barack Obama or a Barbara Boxer comes straight from Jewish tradition – that if Moses were alive today, he’d be a dues-paying members of the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way and the National Organization for Women.
Such nonsense is belied by the fact that the more Orthodox a particular Jewish neighborhood or community, the more likely it is to vote for Republican candidates. Conversely, areas with a heavy concentration of secular and assimilated Jews vote almost without exception for liberal Democrats. If the explanation cited above held any water, the opposite would be true.
Another line of reasoning one encounters is that Jews gravitated to the Democratic Party because it best served their interests. But surprising as it might seem from our vantage point, the Jews who came to the U.S. prior to the great waves of immigration from Eastern Europe tended to look askance at the Democratic Party, which was identified in the popular mind with Tammany-style political bossism, support for slavery, and an agrarian populism that often seemed indistinguishable from the rawest anti-Semitism.
That attitude changed with the arrival of the Eastern European Jews who crowded into the big cities at the turn of the century and quickly learned that their very livelihoods were dependent on the good will of those Tammany-like political machines, which were inevitably Democratic and invariably corrupt.
Although the dominance of the big city bosses was an inescapable fact of life for the new Jewish immigrants, the pressure to vote the party line was felt most keenly in local elections. When it came to presidential politics, Jews were far less wary of voting their conscience.
In 1916, for example, Republican candidate Charles Evan Hughes received 45 percent of the Jewish vote, and four years later Republican Warren Harding actually won a plurality among Jews – 43 percent as opposed to 19 percent for Democrat James Cox and 38 percent for Socialist Eugene V. Debs.
That last figure – nearly 4 in 10 Jews voting for the Socialist candidate – tells a story in itself, one not to be ignored when seeking to understand Jewish voting habits. Many of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe came to America with a passionate belief in one form or another of socialism, and those Jews tended to vote for third party left-wing candidates when offered the choice. Though their candidates were, with the exception of some local races in immigrant neighborhoods, roundly unsuccessful, Jewish socialists and communists left a seemingly indelible stamp on the collective political identity of American Jews.
It was in 1928 that Democratic presidential candidates first began polling big numbers among American Jews, as New York governor Al Smith, a Roman Catholic of immigrant stock, captured 72 percent of the Jewish vote. Despite his overwhelming Jewish support, and the equally strong backing of fellow Catholics, Smith carried only eight states against Republican Herbert Hoover and failed to win his home state of New York.
The nascent trend of lopsided Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates solidified four years later when another New York governor, Franklin Roosevelt, won the votes of better than 8 in 10 American Jews. Roosevelt, whom Jews idolized more than any other politician before or since, went on to win 85 percent of the Jewish vote in 1936 and 90 percent in 1940 and 1944.
And so it has remained, with Democratic candidates routinely winning landslide support among Jewish voters in elections on all levels – municipal, state and federal. The relatively rare exceptions only prove the rule – a John Lindsay, for example, who captured the hearts and minds of liberal New York Jews because, though a Republican, he was more of a liberal than many Democrats, or a Rudy Giuliani, who drew large majorities of the Jewish vote because even New York liberals were sick and tired of the blight and crime that reached their culmination in the Dinkins years.

If anyone has a thoughtful – and preferably original – explanation for Jewish voting habits, please drop the Monitor a line.

 

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Bush, Jews And Democrats (Part XI)

Wednesday, January 1st, 2003

There is every reason to believe that had Bill Clinton been on the ballot in the 2000 presidential election, American Jews would have voted in overwhelming numbers to return him to office for a third term.

With the possible exception of Orthodox voters, who exhibited, as the Clinton era drew to its merciful close, an increasing dislike and distrust of the administration’s Middle East policies, Jews were supportive of Clinton in a way they hadn’t been of any American president since they paid collective and shameful obeisance to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the thirties and forties.

To be sure, Clinton had his share of Orthodox supporters right through the end – including one prominent rabbi who appeared on the cover of The Jerusalem Report kvelling like a bar mitzvah boy in Clinton’s embrace and who, even after Clinton left office in disgrace over his pardons of Marc Rich and other persons of dubious repute, continued to try to kasher him in such very public venues as the Letters page of The New York Times.

But it was precisely because Orthodox Jews are generally more hawkish on Israel than the American Jewish community as a whole – indeed, the aforementioned Orthodox rabbi who enjoyed such a close union with Clinton was described by The Jerusalem Report as a “Democratic party activist” and “more dovish on Israeli politics than many Orthodox Jews” – that they were far more likely to sour on Clinton than other Jews.

For most American Jews, however, the Clinton approach to the Middle East was just fine by them. In fact, well before the Oslo accords and the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn that was supposed to herald a new age of peace between Arabs and Israelis, public opinion surveys had consistently shown a large majority of American Jews supporting negotiations with the PLO and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Given that reality, the Democratic candidate for president in 2000, Clinton’s faithful vice president Al Gore, was certain to win the Jewish vote by the overwhelming margin to which Democrats had long become accustomed.

Even if Gore felt any misgivings about the way events were transpiring in the Middle East – and there is not the slightest indication that he did – he and his advisers were well aware that there was no political gain to be had from separating himself from the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy. Not when he was certain to receive at least two-thirds and probably more of the Jewish vote no matter what.

Sure enough, candidate Gore gave every indication that he intended to follow the Clinton approach of making nice to Yasir Arafat while ignoring the Palestinian Authority’s failure to abide by virtually every promise it had made at Oslo and afterward.

And since the 2000 campaign was conducted for the most part before the scales began falling off even the most liberal of eyes (Arafat launched Intifada II in late September of that year, just weeks before the election), the policy pursued by Clinton and endorsed by Gore was still viewed by the nation’s chattering class – whose opinions most Jews faithfully echo – as the enlightened way to go.

If there had been even the slimmest of chances that Gore’s Republican opponent, Texas Governor George W. Bush, could somehow capture more than a sliver of the Jewish vote, it was dashed to pieces when Gore, on the eve of the Democratic convention, chose Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.

The excitement of seeing a Jew on a major party’s presidential ticket – of seeing a Jew with a realistic chance of being a heartbeat away from the presidency of the United States – swept through the Jewish community, causing even Jewish Republicans to reconsider their intentions.

(Continued Next Week)

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Bush, Jews And Democrats (Part VI)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2002

Although it played out more than two years after the fact, the 1976 presidential campaign was overshadowed by the Watergate scandal, with voters still angry over President Gerald Ford’s pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency to escape impeachment.

Ford’s Democratic challenger was Jimmy Carter, a previously little-known governor of Georgia who promised a scandal-weary nation “a government as good and as honest and as decent and as competent and as compassionate and as filled with love as are the American people.”

As treacly as it sounds in retrospect, Carter’s mantra was perfect for the times, as was his much publicized “born again” religious experience and his repeated insistence to crowds along the campaign trail that he would never lie to them. In short, he was the anti-Nixon ? or so he and his aides would have had the country believe.

All was not freshness and light with the Carter campaign, however. A number of voices were raised during Carter’s long march to his party’s nomination and then the White House which, taken together, should have served as an early warning signal of problems to come:

* The respected Atlanta journalist Reg Murphy, who had closely followed Carter’s political career from its humble start, flatly declared that Carter was “one of the three or four phoniest men I ever met.”

* A young reporter named Steven Brill, who would go on to become a major media figure in the 1980′s and 90′s, wrote a detailed expose of Carter’s record in Georgia for Harper’s magazine. The title of the take-no-prisoners article? “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies.”

* Carter speechwriter Bob Shrum, who has since achieved no small measure of renown as a major Democratic strategist, quit the campaign in disgust over what he saw as Carter’s penchant for fudging the truth. (So much for the “I’ll never lie to you” pledge.)

Shrum also disclosed that Carter, convinced that the Jewish vote in the primaries would go to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, instructed his staff to henceforth ignore Middle East-related issues. According to Shrum, this was how Carter put it: “Jackson has all the Jews anyway….We get the Christians.”

By Election Day, Carter’s wide-eyed sanctimony had begun to wear thin with American voters. What had been an immense lead over Ford in the polls throughout the summer and early fall all but evaporated, and Carter ended up with just a two point margin in the popular vote, 50 percent to 48 percent. (Such was Ford’s momentum in the final week of the campaign that pollsters agreed he likely would have won had the election taken place a couple of days after it did.)

In contrast to their fellow Americans, the preference of Jewish voters was never in doubt. Even the relatively small percentage of Jews for whom Israel and Jewish issues were top priorities – and whose knees therefore didn’t automatically jerk for the Democrats – found it difficult to work up much enthusiasm for Ford, whose Mideast policy, crafted by Nixon holdover Henry Kissinger, was widely seen as reverting back to the even-handedness that had defined the U.S. stance from the late 1940′s to the early 1970′s.

Carter swept the Jewish vote by 71 to 27 percent – not quite the lopsided margin that had once been the norm for Democratic presidential candidates, but several points better than George McGovern’s showing four years earlier.

Carter rewarded his Jewish supporters just weeks after assuming office by becoming the first American president to call for a “homeland” for the Palestinians – this at a time when the PLO had not even gone through the motions of rejecting terrorism or abrogating its call for Israel’s destruction.

Carter’s pro-Palestinian statement set the tone for what would become an increasingly rocky relationship between his administration and the American Jewish community. For once, Jews were politically in sync with the rest of the country as Carter’s approval ratings plunged below those of Nixon’s at the height of Watergate.

(Continued Next Week)

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Bush, Jews And Democrats (Part III)

Wednesday, November 6th, 2002

The presidential election of 1928 is seen by most political historians as something of a demarcation line in the history of Jewish voting loyalties.

It was in that election that the Democrats first began polling landslide numbers among American Jews, as New York governor Al Smith, a Roman Catholic of immigrant stock (whose campaign manager happened to be Jewish) captured 72 percent of the Jewish vote.

Despite his overwhelming Jewish support, and the equally strong backing of fellow Catholics, Smith carried only 8 states against Republican Herbert Hoover and failed to win his own home state of New York. (Jews throwing their support in large numbers to presidential candidates who were decidedly unpopular with the general electorate would become something of a political phenomenon in the 1970′s and 80′s, when the country as a whole shifted to the right.)

The trend of lopsided Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates solidified four years later when another New York governor, Franklin Roosevelt, won the votes of better than 8 in 10 American Jews.

Roosevelt, whom Jews idolized more than any other politician before or since, went on to win 85 percent of the Jewish vote in 1936 and 90 percent in both 1940 and 1944.

Harry Truman was the next Democrat to benefit from Jewish party loyalty, though his share of the Jewish vote in 1948 slipped from the Rooseveltian 90 percent to a “mere” 75 percent, thanks to the third-party candidacy of Henry Wallace, whose left-wing campaign attracted those 15 percent of Jewish voters for whom Truman apparently was not liberal enough.

Whether Roosevelt or Truman was deserving of such Jewish support is a painful question that most Jews were reluctant even to ask until relatively recently. As the journalist Sidney Zion wrote several years ago, Roosevelt “refused to lift a finger to save [Jews] from Auschwitz…. Then, in 1948, the Jews helped elect Harry Truman, who recognized Israel but immediately embargoed arms to the Jewish state while knowing that the British had fully armed the Arabs.”

The Republican share of the Jewish vote – an embarrassing 10 percent in 1940, 1944 and 1948 ? improved significantly in the 1950′s as Dwight Eisenhower won the support of 36 percent of Jews in 1952 and 40 percent in 1956.

Eisenhower’s opponent in both elections was Adlai Stevenson, a one-term governor of Illinois whose persona of urbane intellectualism set a new standard for the type of candidate favored by Jewish liberals.

Actually, Stevenson was not at all what he seemed: his biographer, John Barlow Martin, conceded the fact that Adlai hardly ever cracked open a book, and the historian Michael Beschloss, in a New York Times op-ed piece (“How Well-Read Should a President Be?” June 11, 2000), noted that when Stevenson died, there was just one book found on his bedside table – The Social Register.

Fortunately for politicians, though, perception is at least as important as reality, and John Kennedy followed in Stevenson’s footsteps as a non-intellectual who, with the help of compliant reporters and academic acolytes like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., managed to come across as a Big Thinker – in marked contrast to his well-earned reputation as an intellectual lightweight that dogged him throughout his years in Congress.

Despite the fact that his books were ghost-written (the journalist Arthur Krock was in large measure responsible for Why England Slept, while Kennedy speechwriter Theodore Sorensen was the primary author of Profiles in Courage) and his choice of reading material ran mainly to spy novels, Kennedy like Stevenson benefited from the perception that he was made of sterner intellectual stuff.

This was particularly true when it came to Jewish voters, who gave Kennedy 82 percent of their votes in 1960 and continued to support him in similarly high numbers for the duration of his presidency.

(Continued Next Week)

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/media-monitor-62/2002/11/06/

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