Predicting Jewish Vote for President

GOP Fails To Comprehend Link to Liberalism

Jews and Liberalism: Despite the complaints of a small minority, Jews are likely to back Barack Obama by the same large margin they did in 2008.
getty images
Jews and Liberalism: Despite the complaints of a small minority, Jews are likely to back Barack Obama by the same large margin they did in 2008.

By Leonard Fein

Published August 26, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Republican Party has a death wish, and has for at least the last 32 years and longer.

No, I am not talking here about the passing episodes of outright stupidity or sophomoric high jinks we have recently witnessed. I am talking about a fundamental and even willful misunderstanding of the connection between Jews and liberalism. How do I know this? Buried deep in my files are the results of a symposium conducted by Commentary in 1980, before the parties had settled on their nominees, back when it seemed that Ted Kennedy or perhaps even Pat Moynihan might displace Jimmy Carter as the Democratic candidate and when both John Connolly and Ronald Reagan were being prominently mentioned as Republican possibilities. The subject of the symposium? “Liberalism and the Jews,” and Commentary’s evident hope was that most of the 52 participants would, as many did, find liberalism wanting and the Jewish disposition towards liberalism an anachronism.

I admit that it may seem an exaggeration to claim that a party then on the verge of controlling the White House for 20 of the next 32 years was the victim of a death wish. So let me be more circumspect: With regard to the prospect that a mass defection of Jews from their traditional liberal stance was imminent — a claim with some currency on this, the eve of another fateful election — we may fairly say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What agitated the end-of-Jewish-liberalism symposiasts back in 1980 — some more strident, others more ruminative — was not, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, the familiar liberal preferences of most American Jews. It was, first and foremost, a caricature of the Jewish stance, a bruising critique of the Jewish far left, ostensibly still in the thrall of the Soviet Union, gung-ho for quotas, indifferent to anti-Semitism, sympathetic to the PLO, indulgent toward crime, annoyed by claims of particular Jewish interests.

That there were such people, no one can doubt. But that they ever represented mainstream Jewish liberals, no one can responsibly claim. And indeed, some of the more ruminative assessments argued not that Jews had abandoned liberalism, but that liberalism had abandoned the Jews. We remained passionate advocates of civil rights and civil liberties, of affirmative action (but not quotas), of church-state separation — but liberalism itself had fractured into a mélange of interest groups, and it was often difficult to connect the disparate dots. Nonetheless, Eugene Borowitz, who began his essay by saying: “I do not recognize the Jewish liberals the symposium statement mentions. I know Marxists, radicals, and pseudo-radicals who support quotas, turn from Israel, flirt with the PLO, and condone black anti-Semitism. Such views are generally anathema to the Jewish liberals I know …” concludes with “Liberalism may not be the Messiah — but it remains our best Jewish way of living with less sin.”

So then, so now. Here and there, barricades to be mounted, occupations to excite, but most of all, and especially after nearly four years of Barack Obama, an obstinate fealty to traditional liberal verities, a firm intention to live with less sin and a recognition that the lackluster Republican candidates offer only a rationale for sin compounded. I believe they radically misunderstand America, misstate both its urgencies and its possibilities. And with one troubling exception, that is where most American Jews are and determines how they will vote in November.

The exception? An acquaintance who regards Obama as “a monster,” no less, and who speaks with some authority for a rising constituency of Orthodox Jews, a constituency convinced beyond reason that Obama is anti-Israel, that scorns Ehud Barak’s repeated assertion that Obama has done more to enhance Israel security than any of his predecessors, that is seduced by the prospect of federal aid to religious schools, that by and large is prisoner to Jewish particularism. Together with some number of the one-percenters, whose motives may be more directly mercenary, these will likely reduce the 78% support for Obama in 2008 to closer to 67% — a disappointment, but hardly shameful.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.