Day 2 (Paul Gottfried): Is it Time for Jews to Vote Republican?

From: Paul Gottfried To: Jonathan Gottfried Subject: American Jews are not so assimilated as you think Jonathan, Reading your spirited, penetrating response, I must admire the genetic endowment that your mother and I have bestowed on you. Despite your verbal … Read More

By / January 3, 2007

From: Paul Gottfried To: Jonathan Gottfried Subject: American Jews are not so assimilated as you think


Reading your spirited, penetrating response, I must admire the genetic endowment that your mother and I have bestowed on you. Despite your verbal adroitness, however, I feel obliged to challenge a few of your points.

Contrary to the attacks made on the Republican Party by former Vice President Gore, the Democrats opposed the Kyoto Accords on global warming as much as the Republicans did. On July 27, 1999, the Senate voted against ratifying those accords by a score of 95 to nothing. That figure included all of the Democrats in the Senate as well as the Republicans on the other side of the aisle. Russia, China, India, and Brazil—all of which are happily polluting the environment—also refused to accept the Kyoto restrictions on fuel emissions. According to the research of S. Fred Singer—the physicist who developed the instruments for measuring the temperature of the ozone layer—the reduction of global warming would be no more than 0.02 degrees even if the Kyoto agreements were put into effect.

From what I recall, President Clinton did not hesitate to engage in his own “nation-building” and did so with brute force in Kosovo. Moreover, his secretary of state Madeleine Albright and his security advisor Sandy Berger organized pressure against Austria in 1999 to keep the rightwing anti-immigrationist Jorg Haider out of its government. (Similar actions, to my knowledge, have not been taken to keep communists out of any Western or Central European government since the end of the Cold War.) Although Clinton did not stumble into any engagement quite as disastrous as the Iraqi War, (bombing an aspirin factory, in order to divert attention from his impeachment proceedings, may have been quantitatively less stupid) he certainly meddled beyond our borders. His would-be successor was the preferred presidential candidate of the New Republic, an honor that devolved on Gore for his deserved reputation as a zealous nation-builder. If Bush has taken over traditional Democratic slogans about human rights for the world, Gore held the same instruction book even earlier.

I’m also not sure that Jewish voters in Alabama are all that similar to their Christian white neighbors. In all likelihood, most Jews in Alabama, like Jews in other states, identify with social positions that are more radical than those held by their Christian co-residents. From looking at Gallup Polls since the 1960s, it seems that American Christians have moved leftward on a wide range of social issues but that Jews have done so even more dramatically.

Going from my liberal Protestant college environment to a synagogue service is like plunging from a gathering of fairly standard left centrists into an editorial meeting of The Nation magazine. The reason for this seems clear. According to Anti-Defamation Leage (ADL) surveys, American Jews believe, without serious evidence, that Christian antisemitism is on the rise in this country. Thus they combat the remnants of a Christian, bourgeois society, presumably as a form of self-protection. (Jews do not act this way out of malice but are reacting to genuine anxiety.)

I suspect that Alabama's Jews, except for the handful of Orthodox ones, are as horrified by the Evangelical Right as are the Jews of the Northeast. This revulsion is undeserved since what is called the Christian Right is effusively philosemitic and passionately pro-Zionist.

Jewish dislike for this group seems based on nothing more substantial than conservative Christian opposition to the use of public education to change sexual mores and to Evangelical resistance to the removal of Judeo-Christian symbols from the public square. Although I am not comfortable with all of the Religious Right’s political positions, particularly its passion for President Bush’s nation-building, the attempts to present it as antisemitic are baseless and even outrageous.

But my larger point, Jonathan, is that American Jews are not as fully assimilated into American society as you suggest. Most continue to think of themselves as marginal and threatened and continue to appeal to public administration and the courts against traditional American religious attitudes. Although Jewish Republicans may suffer from some of the same mishagasim, their switch to the Republican Party indicates a more secure relationship with the white Christian majority. I offer this not as a bill of health for their party of choice but as moderate praise for the Jews who have joined it.

One last point: Orthodox Jews and religious Christians in Alabama do not share the sociological or cultural overlap you suggest. The reconstruction of an Eastern European Jewish communal lifestyle in metropolitan areas does not remind me at all of a Southern rural or smalltown Protestant ambience, even if the Jews and Protestants both occasionally cite Hebrew scriptures. Their only common ground is a sense of being threatened by the moral transformation of the U.S., a process in which the courts and public administration have both played key roles. Religiously traditional groups increasingly support the Republican Party as the national party less likely to push forward revolutionary moral and social changes. Whether the Republicans deserve this reputation is of course a separate issue.


Next: Jews have an interest in a secular society; the Christian Right does not

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