From a New York Times review of Norman Podhoretz’s new book, Why Are Jews Liberal? In the book, Podhoretz — a conservative — wonders why most Jews are liberals (in recent presidential elections, an average of 75% of Jews have voted for the Democrat), when in his view we should all be conservatives.
Anyhow, I liked the conclusion or the review:
Podhoretz’s book was conceived as the solution to the puzzle that Milton Himmelfarb wittily formulated many years ago: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” I have never understood the reputation of this joke. Why should Jews vote like Episcopalians? We are not Episcopalians. The implication of the joke is that political affiliation should be determined by social position, by levels of affluence. In living rich but voting poor, the Jews of America have failed to demonstrate class solidarity. Never mind that parties of the right in many Western countries have always counted on the poor to make the same betrayal, and support causes and candidates that will do nothing to relieve their economic hardship but will exhilarate them culturally or religiously or nationally.
It is not a delusion, not a treason, to vote against your own economic interest. It is a recognition of the multiplicity of interests, the many purposes, that make up a citizen’s life. When, in the Torah of Judaism, Moses commands the Jews to perform acts of social welfare, he sometimes adds the admonition that they were themselves strangers and slaves. The purpose of this refreshment of their memory is plain. The fact that we are no longer strangers and slaves is not all we need to know. We may not regard the world solely from the standpoint of our own prosperity, our own safety, our own contentment. We are proven by the other, not by the same. The question of whether liberalism or conservatism does more for the helpless and the downtrodden, for the ones who are not like us, will be endlessly debated, and it is not a Jewish debate; but if the answer is liberalism, then the political history of American Jewry is neither a mystery nor a scandal.
I might add that voting “liberal” these days — especially when the alternative is the American Republican Party — might not even be “against your own economic interest” for the vast majority of American Jews.
The current right-wing proposals (even the American “center” beloved by Clinton) so heavily benefit (and have benefited) the very very rich, that voting for even the most moderate redistributive changes will likely benefit the bottom line for nearly everyone — even middle- and upper-middle-class Jews.
Reminds me of the book I wanted to see for last year’s election, jumping off Thomas Frank: “What’s the Matter with Goldman Sachs?”
It’s just the flipside of Frank’s puzzlement with why Kansans would vote against their economic interest: many voters nowadays vote in a culturally expressive fashion, not based on which party seems more likely to support their economic interest.
I’d like to see a study of this across generations for particular groups of immigrants as well. In my own observation, first generation immigrants who become financially successful in the U.S. tend to be Republicans, because they don’t vote in a culturally expressive way (simply because they don’t feel a strong cultural tie to any particular groups in the U.S. other than their own) but instead for the candidate who seems most likely to minimize their tax burden (particularly for immigrants who own small businesses). In contrast, the “1.5” and “second” generations are more likely to feel culturally allied with other minority groups and thus to be Democrats.
ETA: And of course nowadays, the Episcopalians are seen as “liberal” too.
Gotta love the casual stereotyping of one group while you’re complaining about stereotyping another. Especially when I’m a member of the group.
I’m what’s called a “cradle Episcopalian”, which means that I was born, baptized and confirmed in the Episcopalian church instead of being a convert from another denomination. Dad was a Vestryman and Warden, Mom sang in the choir (her 1940 Hymnal with her name in her then-elegant handwriting is now in my choir stall), I was an acolyte and my brothers were acolytes and crucifers. Back in those days the stereotype was that the Episcopalian Church was “the Republican party at prayer”.
Times have changed, as Amp well notes. But there’s plenty of Episcopalians who aren’t exactly marching in gay pride parades. And while there’s some well-to-do people in my parish they are certainly a minority. I can’t think of anyone who’s wealthy, and there’s plenty of people in it who are economically no higher than lower middle-class. One young couple lives in our rectory (the priest would rather own his own home and build equity) and partially offsets what would otherwise be rent by working around the church building and grounds. And there’s lots of people in lots of parishes around the country like us. I see plenty of them every year when I go to the Diocese of Chicago’s annual convention, especially when I talk and listen to parishioners of our urban parishes, many of which are either black or Hispanic majority.
Not being familiar with a group does not justify perpetuating stereotypes about it.
What stereotype about Episcopalians did Amp (or Wieseltier) perpetuate? The stereotype that they vote? The stereotype that Himmelfarb says that they earn like Jews? I’m completely missing what you’re objecting to. It seems more like you’re crusading against something that the mention of Episcopalians reminded you of.
I also think you’re misreading the post. It’s not complaining about the casual stereotyping of Jews. It’s noting that just because two groups share, statistically, across the population as a whole, certain socioeconomic characteristics doesn’t mean they’re bringing the same cultural heritage/values to the table. There are plenty of Jews who aren’t rich, and there were even more of them back when that joke was first formulated. That joke also depends on certain idea of the blueblood, high church Episcopalian that long predates the church’s current liberal reputation. It’s like nothing that you’re complaining about is even inferred in the post.
But there’s plenty of Episcopalians who aren’t exactly marching in gay pride parades.
Sure, but all such observations are relative. As a whole, the Episcopalian denomination is more tolerant of homosexuality than, say, the Southern Baptists denomination is. The average Episcopalian, at the time Milton Himmelfarb made his quip, was presumably more well-to-do economically than the average Puerto Rican. And of course the Republican Party at that time was different too, prior to its domination by the South; the Northeastern or Rockefeller Republican has almost vanished from the national scene, and candidates who cannot swear allegiance to the anti-gay, abortion prohibitionist social conservative cause no longer can get on a national Republican ticket, no matter how conservative their beliefs on foreign policy (Himmelfarb and his family were famous originators of the neocon movement) or economics.
Certainly, the implication of “Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans” is that they ought to vote like Episcopalians, that is, Republican.
Anyway, about the actual post/review, I also thought of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Issues of values are just as real as economic interest. There really isn’t a way to tell people they’re voting the wrong way.
There really isn’t a way to tell people they’re voting the wrong way.
Well, except when they have the facts wrong. I’m OK with saying that voting against Obama because you thought he was not eligible to be president due to his Kenyan birth is “voting the wrong way.” But yes, you can’t really tell people what their values should be or how to prioritize them in voting; all you can do is try to give them the facts to accurately inform how those values and priorities will be expressed in voting.
You can if they tell you that they’re voting for X because that will get (1) but voting for X clearly won’t get them (1), in addition to what PG said.
“You’re voting the wrong way.”
“What? No! You can’t tell me that!”
“The right way to vote is by filling in the bubble with the pen, like it says on the sign. You have stapled a chicken to the ballot.”
But yes, you can’t really tell people what their values should be or how to prioritize them in voting; all you can do is try to give them the facts to accurately inform how those values and priorities will be expressed in voting.
Yeah. This is what I meant.
I think any analyses based on “history of the Jews” is misunderstanding the scope and direction of the movement.
Historical, Republican Warren Harding got 43% of the Jewish vote in 1920. Ike got 40% in 1956. Nixon got 35% in 1972; Reagan got 39% in 1980. Jews were a Dem-leaning swing constituency right up through Reagan. It is only in the last two decades that Republicans have truly “lost” this group.
And the “75% average” now understates the scope of the loss. CNN Exit Polls gave McCain 21% of the Jewish vote, but only 16% of the “White Jewish” vote (83% for Obama). (I don’t know who the self-defined Republican non-white Jews are, but I’m guess a lot of ultra-Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern heritage.) The only more pro-Obama groups in any part of the exit polls were Blacks, Democrats, and Liberals.
So, an analysis of Jewish voting patterns has to consider that the Republicans aren’t just failing to pick up Jewish votes as they grow wealthier — the are, in fact, LOSING those votes.
It may go back to communal memory of community.
It is only in the last two decades that Republicans have truly “lost” this group.
The takeover of the party by the Christian right was seriously alienating to the few people in my family who used to be reliable Republican voters.
I was thinking exactly that, Chingona. The change in the attitude of the Jewish community with which I’m familiar once the Moral Majority and its like got going was both swift and decisive.