Is Rush Limbaugh right about the Jews?
Limbaugh chats with a caller who identifies herself as a Jewish woman and McCain supporter who can’t understand why her co-religionists aren’t as concerned about Obama’s associations with Wright, Ayers, etc. What follows is actually a very interesting discussion on party loyalty (transcript via the L.A. Jewish Journal’s Bloggish blog):
RUSH: Okay, so you don’t have any Jewish friends that are voting for McCain, yet they are still your Jewish friends?
CALLER: Not very close friends. They’re more of just, you know, associations, acquaintances that I know through a temple. Close friends, no, I don’t have any Jewish close friends, for that very reason. I’m a conservative person. I like to surround myself with like minds.
RUSH: That just illustrates my point even further. It’s not only an emotional attachment and the Democrat Party or liberalism comes first, it also is a determining factor in who they will associate with and who they will be friends with. This is all liberals and Democrats. This is not just related to Jewish people or black people.
CALLER: No, I agree. And when I have brought up, you know, the fact of Jesse Jackson or Reverend Wright or Bill Ayers, you know, they really just rationalize it away and say, “Oh, well, he didn’t really know, he was just a passing acquaintance,” and we all know that’s untrue.
RUSH: See, now, the explanation for that is that they know they’re lying to themselves on that. They have built this little cocoon of security in which they live. Something like that would shatter the cocoon and the alternate reality that they’ve set up. They don’t want to be challenged with that, they don’t want to think they’re wrong, so they make excuses for the guy. Again, this is all emotional.
Rush’s point is that Jews vote for Democrats out of emotional habit, not rational decision-making. [UPDATE: Of course the caller makes the very same point about conservatives: she too "like[s] to surround myself with like minds.”]
A new survey by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner actually says something very similar, as we’ll see. But first look at how the survey begins to deal with the question of “Jewish electoral exceptionalism” :
What can explain “Jewish electoral exceptionalism,” or their readiness to support the Democratic candidate far more than other Americans show, particularly other white Americans? A similar question has been asked of Jews’ political leanings generally: If they are as a group so affluent, then why are they also so liberal and Democratic?
Now I would assume that more Jews vote Democratic because their values are more in line with the left’s than the right’s. If there were no differences between the major parties, then you can chalk their vote up to blind loyalty or “emotion.” But as long as there are clear splits on major issues, isn’t it rational to vote for the party you agree with?
And sure enough, the survey suggests that when it comes to health care, government largesse, and the military, to name three issues, “Jews’ political values incline them to support Obama.”
And yet (and here’s where it appears Rush Limbaugh is on to something) the survey also suggests that the Jewish affinity for the Democrats “cannot be well-explained by their differences in political values.” In fact, “they are more liberal and more Democratic than their values would statistically predict.” In other words, other white voters with similar positions on the issues vote for Republicans in greater numbers.
So what’s with the Jews?
“To us, these results speak to the power of political identity as a driving force behind Jewish vote intentions and political activity more generally,” commented the study’s authors. “Values and interests alone cannot explain why Jews will be voting so heavily for Obama on November 4. Rather, for Jews, as for other Americans, electoral behavior is very much a reflection of political identities as Democrats or Republicans, and as liberals or conservatives.”
“Ironically,” they added, “Jews and other highly educated voters often view other Americans as responding to instinctual, historic habits, to their political heritage, if you will. People like to think of themselves as totally rational and driven by carefully considered values.
“In fact, Jews in the upcoming election also respond to their identities. In their case, they will be reflecting their long-held, multi-generation attachment to the liberal camp in America, and to the Democratic Party.”
In other words, “my father was a Democrat, my grandfather was a Democrat….”
Or, as Limbaugh put it, “emotional attachment and the Democrat Party or liberalism comes first.”
Of course, a Jewish Democrat might also argue that such loyalty was earned in the course of party history. By this theory, Jews were attracted to the Democrats not just on specific issues, but thanks to a general attitude toward Jews that they saw as more welcoming and an underlying philosphy that seemed more in synch with the worldview of the Jewish majority in the 20th century.
For clues to why Jews may see the Democrats as part of their identity, remembert the “paleocons” and their anti-Semitism. Remember Gerald L.K. Smith (originally a Republican) in the 1930s and the unabashedly anti-Semitic movement he represented. Look at FDR’s Jewish brain trust at a time when Jews were struggling for a toe-hold in corproate and academic life. Look at Pat Buchanan’s habit of Jew-baiting. Look at how McCain and especially Palin are campaigning against the “elites” — educated, coastal, academic, the media etc. — as opposed to the “real America.” That’s not anti-Semitism, but it’s certainly not friendly to a Jewish population that is disproportionately educated, clustered in the blue states and cities, and over-represented in academia and the media.
The counterargument that Jewish Republicans would make is that the tide is shifting, and it’s the Republicans — most especially the pro-Israel evangelicals — who are philo-Semitic, and the Democrats, with a Jimmy Carterish wing that is hostile to Israel, who are becoming increasingly bad for the Jews.
If that is true, however, it looks like the GOP has its work cut out for it. Changing the Jewish vote will be like turning a battleship, and there are powerful historical currents pulling it in one direction at the moment.