Wednesday, May 08, 2002
Dick Morris and Fred Barnes think Jews will (may? should? it's not always clear) shift in large numbers to the GOP because of Bush's support for Israel and the left's general hatred of Israel and Jews. I'm not betting on it. Why? A few reasons.
First, this has happened before. Jews backed Reagan in 1980 in historic numbers because of Carter's awfulness. They didn't stick around. When things settle down - and they will, eventually - Jews will move on to other concerns. Those conerns to not typically dovetail with the GOP.
Second, relatedly, the GOP is not solidly pro-Israel, even if movement conservatives (and, therefore, the GOP Congress) tend to be. There's still an old establishment Scowcroft-Baker wing that dominated Bush the elder's foreign policy, and there's still the oil industry, which tilts Republican. Jews may swing behind the current President out of personal affection, but how will that carry over to 2008? Moreover, the Democrats are largely pro-Israel, and the leadership is strongly so. It takes a bit more sophistication to decide whether the Democratic idea of a pro-Israel foreign policy actually benefits Israel, but it is a fact that even most liberal Democrats are rhetorically strong supporters of Israel. This isn't France, the efforts of the New York Times editors and Jimmy Carter notwithstanding.
Third, Jews in America are overwhelmingly secular and liberal in their social views, and the GOP is increasingly religious and socially conservative. Jewish demographics are changing, of course; the Orthodox are a rising percentage of American Jews, and their social views are more in tune with the GOP generally. Some Orthodox and other traditionally-minded Jews have already moved into the GOP camp, but not in overwhelming numbers because these Jews typically live in urban areas, and urban politics is still overwhelmingly Democratic (Giuliani and Bloomberg notwithstanding). Politics is still local. Moreover, even among more traditional Jews there is an understanding aversion to overt Christian appeals in politics, and particularly to efforts to Christianize the public school system.
Fourth, more specifically, Jewish women are the most ardently pro-abortion group of people in the nation, and the GOP is dominanted by anti-abortion views. Barring a major cultural shift in Judaism or in the Republic coalition, this will be an enormous obstacle to any kind of realignment. I suspect that, for many Jews - particularly younger ones - abortion matters more than Israel.
Fifth, Republicans have little reason to court Jews because most of us are concentrated in liberal states. And if they aren't courted, they won't come, at least not in big numbers. Republicans running for President don't need to win New York; indeed, if they do, it's a sign of overwhelming dominance. That makes the Jewish vote less interesting to Republicans than, say, the Muslim vote, which is concentrated in Michigan, a swing state. (Florida is an exception here; the Jewish vote may indeed push Florida out of reach for Democrats in 2004).
Sixth, even now most Jews I know do not understand how inimical to their interests so many liberal views are. Liberal Jews are big fans of the U.N. and the International Criminal Court. These institutions are structurally hostile to Israel, but that doesn't seem to matter. Most Jews are strongly in favor of a liberal sexual ethic in spite of the fact that Jews are suffering from a demographic collapse and an epidemic of divorce. The list goes on. I respect the historically strong Jewish support of social-welfare legislation; even where I think these programs are counter-productive, I know the motivation behind their support is a sincere desire to help the less-fortunate. But Jewish support for liberal nostrums that are directly counter to Jewish interests is exasperating.
Seventh, and most sadly, President Bush is probably not going to get all the credit he deserves from the Jewish community for his support of Israel, because at some point he's going to put pressure on Israel, and the most vociferous pro-Israel voices in the Jewish community will denounce him for it. Hopefully neither will happen, and, indeed, Sharon has been extremely good so far at keeping things on an even keel. But there's a war on, and a lot of conflicting pressures will come to bear on the situation. It is still possible that Israel and America get into a real confrontation over Arafat. I hope not; such an eventuality would be a strategic disaster for both countries. But it could happen. And all the good will that Bush has earned could go up in smoke.