Monday, January 16, 2012

The "Jewish" Vote

Census data indicates that there is a sizable Jewish minority in the area where I live. Traditionally, Jews in this country vote, and as a general rule they tend to vote Democratic. So some political observers have difficulty understanding why the district keeps electing Republicans. The answer is that this is a relatively well-off community, and a lot of Jews, like a lot of non-Jews, vote according to what they think is in their own financial interest instead of letting their religious affiliation guide their voting.

Nationwide, Jews got a reputation for being politically liberal when they were recent immigrants. They tended to live in cities like New York and Chicago, where they worked sewing garments, rolling cigars, peddling goods, and in various other low-wage occupations. They supported unions, public education, non-discrimination, and other positions that are now considered “liberal,” both because those positions were relevant to their daily lives and because their religion taught them to be charitable, concerned with other people, and welcoming to other peoples.

Some Jews who moved from the factory floor to factory ownership tended to view unions differently once they achieved their successes. And when they moved from the crowded cities into splendid suburbs, some of them started to view other issues differently, too. The more money they accumulated, the more they worried about being forced to share their good fortune by paying taxes. As nouveau rich, they tended more towards Republican values, just as their non-Jewish counterparts did.

The problem they had was that they were embarrassed to admit to their Republican leanings when so many of their friends retained their democratic allegiances. It was difficult to be a Republican Jew, because Republicans had become the party of the greedy rich. Israel solved their problem.

Republican Jews found they could vote for and contribute money to Republican candidates without having to admit that they were Republicans simply by claiming that the Republicans whom them supported would be good for Israel. Once they invoked the name of Israel, no one dared to question their motives for supporting Republicans, because it could be made to seem that the questioner was not a supporter of Israel.

Jewish Republicans could therefore be against unions, tax equity, public schools, health care, and even peace, without becoming social outcasts, so long as they could find Republican candidates who claimed to be pro-Israel. It was never difficult to find Republicans who supported Israel, because nearly all candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties supported Israel.

If the Jews in this area had followed the route taken by other people who have moved from modest means to wealth, they would simply have switched over to the Republican party. But Jews have been slow to do so, because making that switch would have alienated them from friends and family. It was easier to pretend to subscribe to traditionally Jewish values while actually supporting the other side.

As another election approaches, we should keep in mind that although the new district boundaries appear to favor Democrats, there may not really be as many Democrats as it would appear. Some of the people who have been voting in Democratic primaries, where they have had to publicly declare their party affiliation, have actually been voting for Republicans in the general elections all along and will likely continue to do so. Among those Republican voters will be some Jews who will continue to pretend to be Democrats and will continue to use Israel to camouflage voting against taxes and schools and unions. Any Democratic candidate who thinks he can appeal to those voters just by being pro-Israel is in for a surprise. Although there is a small group who don't care about anything except Israel, for a much larger group of voters Israel isn't really the issue at all. Money is.

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