Why Jews are liberals

Subtitle: Why Norman Podhoretz is wrong as usual.

Podhoretz began his political life on the Trotskyite left but swung sharply to the right and edited the conservative magazine Commentary for more than three decades. His latest book is called "Why Are Jews Liberals?", and he published a few thoughts on the subject in the Wall Street Journal this week.

All the other ethno-religious groups that, like the Jews, formed part of the coalition forged by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s have followed the rule that increasing prosperity generally leads to an increasing identification with the Republican Party. But not the Jews. As the late Jewish scholar Milton Himmelfarb said in the 1950s: "Jews earn like Episcopalians"--then the most prosperous minority group in America--"and vote like Puerto Ricans," who were then the poorest.

Jews also remain far more heavily committed to the liberal agenda than any of their old ethno-religious New Deal partners. As the eminent sociologist Nathan Glazer has put it, "whatever the promptings of their economic interests," Jews have consistently supported "increased government spending, expanded benefits to the poor and lower classes, greater regulations on business, and the power of organized labor."

As with these old political and economic questions, so with the newer issues being fought out in the culture wars today. On abortion, gay rights, school prayer, gun control and assisted suicide, the survey data show that Jews are by far the most liberal of any group in America.

After the jump I'll offer my thoughts about why many Jews are liberals and, equally important, why many Jews who are not liberals vote for Democrats anyway. Podhoretz is convinced that more American Jews should identify with political conservatives, but today's Republican Party makes that unlikely.

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This Sums it up Nicely....

Want to know the state of things in Western Kentucky? We have a very right-wing radio station which plays lunatics such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck during the day. Their views are broadcast daily, and since Republicans own the airwaves and the printed news around here go uncontested in successfully propogandizing the masses.

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I dodged a teachable moment last week

I've been taking my children to political rallies, receptions, and house parties since they were babies. Many Iowa Democrats have claimed not to recognize me without a small child riding on my front, hip or back.

At the same time, I've avoided exposing my kids to political scenes likely to turn confrontational, such as anti-war demonstrations. An article I read years ago in Mothering magazine persuasively argued that because young children cannot understand abstract political concepts, they are likely to be disturbed by the anger they encounter at a protest rally. (Sorry, no link--they don't put most of their content online.)

I've also been influenced by my mother-in-law. In her 30 years as a preschool teacher, she learned that young children are easily confused by upsetting images. After 9/11, some of the kids in her class did not understand that television networks kept showing replays of the same scenes. They thought that another plane was crashing into another building every time they saw tragic footage from that day.

Living in the Des Moines suburbs, it's usually no challenge to keep my little ones from volatile political scenes. They get that not everyone votes the same way, but politics to them means coming with Mommy or Daddy to hear a candidate speak, help deliver yard signs or vote on election day.

When Fred Phelps and his clan from the Westboro Baptist Church planned a trip to central Iowa this month, it occurred to me that sheltering my children from their hatred might not be an option.

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Progressive Democrat Issue 213

I have recently joined the co-op board of my building. It was a contested election, so I was a bit surprised to have gotten elected. But it is a tough position since many shareholders in the building are unhappy with how things have been run and are expecting new board members like me to make things better. Not sure I can do much better than the past board members, but I do think it is important to try. And that means I may have to cut back somewhat on the effort put into this newsletter. More on that below.

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When Should Bible Quotes Bother Us From Politicians?

In making the case for his recovery plan today, Barack Obama quoted the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount that a storm can destroy a house build on sand, but not a house built on a rock.  The way Obama used the quote reminded me of a debate a few years ago between Sojourners' Jim Wallis and Americans United's Barry Lynn where Lynn said the problem with politicians quoting the Bible is that unlike quotes from other literature, quotes from the Bible are appeals to the author's inherent authority rather than to the author's particular insight.  In other words, biblical quotes are used to support your argument based on who said it (God says don't oppress strangers) rather than why they said it (because you yourself have experienced slavery).  I think Lynn is making an insightful distinction, but it cuts against his argument.

In a multireligious democracy, we should be concerned when politicians' arguments rely on appeal to the authority of their particular religious texts (especially if theirs are shared by a religious majority).  But contra Lynn, not all Bible quotes are appeals to divine authority.  "The Bible says not to steal wages from your employees" is an appeal to biblical authority.  "Let's not copy Moses' mistake when he hit the rock instead of talking to it" is an appeal to biblical wisdom.

I bring this up because I think it explains why, as a non-Christian (in a democracy with a Christian majority), I'm not bothered on a gut level when a Christian President quotes the New Testament parable about building your house on sand or on a rock to make a point about our economic recovery.  The plain meaning of Obama's speech is not that the Bible commands us to make new rules for wall street, investments in education, etc... His plain meaning is that this metaphor from his tradition, which may be familiar to many listeners, illustrates well why it's urgent and worthwhile to do so.

This is not always a clear-cut distinction.  But I think it's a useful one.  Maybe a useful thought experiment in assessing what kind of appeal to religious text we're dealing with is to consider: Would using this quote in this way still make sense if the speaker's religion were different from the quotation's?

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