The Elephant in the Room

Editorial

getty images

Published June 12, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Eric Cantor was not your typical Jewish Republican, at least as we had come to know them in the past half century.

He was Southern, for one thing, his voice inflected with an accent uncommon in the Northeast and Midwest, from where other Jewish Republicans in Congress once hailed. Cantor’s politics were more strident and unaccommodating, his vision far more constricted than some of his great political forebears: Jacob Javits, Rudy Boschwitz, Warren Rudman, Arlen Specter.

But he could be expected to speak our language, when necessary. Now there’s no Jewish Republican in Congress, and the passing of this era shows why it will be harder than ever for the GOP to attract a critical mass of Jewish voters. The gulf between Jewish sensibility and the new Republican Party may have become too wide to cross.

As David Wasserman, a nonpartisan House political analyst, told The New York Times, Cantor was culturally out of step with a redrawn district that was more rural, more gun-oriented and more conservative. “Part of this plays into his religion,” Wasserman said. “You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”

Andrew Prokop, writing for Vox, listed seven explanations for Cantor’s defeat. No. 6: He’s Jewish.

We’d like to believe that there’s not anti-Semitism at work here so much as an illustration of how the Republican Party is shifting so far away from its 20th-century roots that Jews who might have expected to find a comfortable home there aren’t even walking up the front steps.

Persistent Jewish liberalism is about more than predictably pulling the Democratic lever every four years, despite the millions of dollars a few wealthy Republicans spend in a futile attempt to change that dynamic. As we learned in the Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey, there is a constellation of behaviors and attitudes that illustrate this value proposition.

Jews are more likely than other Americans to empathize with racial, religious and sexual minorities, and are more likely to believe in a bigger government that provides more services. More than half the survey respondents said that “working for justice and equality” was an essential part of being Jewish. Once some of those were considered Republican values. No more.

Instead, the man who defeated Cantor, David Brat, has written, “The government holds a monopoly on violence.” Think that sort of rhetoric will resonate with Jewish voters?

The GOP’s political transformation is not good for Jews, or for America. A Republican Party that is skeptical of overreaching big government, observant of individual freedoms and that calls upon the communitarian impulses undergirding Jewish values could be an attractive alternative in the electoral arena.

Eric Cantor was never the standard bearer for such a party.

Now he’s not even bringing up the rear.


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!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.