ORIGINAL POST: The September issue of Commentary has a symposium in which six writers discuss Norman Podhoretz's latest book, Why Are Jews Liberals? A few excerpts:
Since nature abhors a spiritual vacuum, Podhoretz concludes that the religion of liberalism—that is, faith in the powers of government -- has replaced Judaism in the hearts of Jews. . . .The order of the symposiasts has been re-arranged to allow Medved to have the last word for a reason: He's nailed it.
Why, asks Podhoretz, do Jews cling to this belief if it no longer serves our interest? . . .
If I may be allowed so vast a sweep of generalization, Republicans, conservatives, are the party that feels comfortably at home. We need not attach a value to this observation; you may approve of this sensibility or not. But for Jews, unease is our mother tongue. . . .
-- David Wolpe
Jewish liberalism endures, Podhoretz concludes, because turning conservative, in liberal eyes, is nothing short of heresy—or worse, apostasy.
-- Jonathan D. Sarna
Most American Jews, on the other hand, seem to have learned from an early age that to be Jewish is to be a liberal Democrat, no matter what. . . . [T]he loyalty of American Jews to the Left has been unaffected by the failure of the Left to reciprocate that loyalty.
-- Jeff Jacoby
In many cases, Podhoretz notes, left-wing politics took the place of a Judaism that felt to new American immigrants like a business suit on a beach: conspicuous, constraining, ridiculously out of place. . . . On this reading, emotional, facts-be-damned Jewish liberalism is a gravestone marking the death of religious faith.
-- David Gelernter
But my own tentative personal resolution, reached after reading Why Are Jews Liberals?, is this: I'm going to stop worrying about American Jews. They're not worth the headache. Either they’ll come to their senses or they won't, and there's not much I (or anyone else, I suspect) can do about it.
-- William Kristol
For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn't solidarity with Israel; it's rejection of Christianity. This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz's book. Jewish voters don't embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity -- especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded "Christian Right."
-- Michael Medved
The demonization of the "Religious Right" was a project developed by Norman Lear and others during the Reagan era, after Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority played such a key role in the 1980 election, and this theme has defined the politics of the Democratic Party ever since.
As a political tactic, it is both amazingly effective and fundamentally false. The Republican Party is chiefly devoted to political policies having nothing specifically to do with evangelical Christianity. Yet there is an entire industry of liberal propagandists who specialize in seeking out various outre pronouncements of "Religious Right" leaders and presenting these views as if they would become firm policy in the next Republican administration.
Sophisticates vs. the Benighted
Thus, for the past several years, we were treated to endless liberal jeremiads against "abstinence education," as if the sex-ed curriculum in public schools were the single most important issue in national politics. The propaganda purpose of this liberal campaign was to suggest to people who think of themselves as sexual sophisticates that the GOP is actively promoting ignorance.
If you wish to identify the source of the Republican Party's electoral weakness among under-30 voters, this is it -- even though, as I say, this perception of the GOP as "anti-sex" (or "pro-ignorance") is strictly a function of liberal propaganda. GOP leaders have failed to recognize the damage inflicted by this propaganda, have failed to clarify the policy issues involve and have, at times, unwittingly played to the negative stereotype of Republicans as uptight, repressed, and clueless about sex.
Depicting the "Christian Right" as an especially benighted and menacing component of the Republican Party has, as Medved notes, a particular value in discouraging Jewish Democrats from reconsidering their political loyalties. To any liberal, the conservative is always the Other. But by depicting the GOP as dominated by the "Christian Right," the Otherness of conservatism is effectively doubled -- if not, indeed, magnified exponentially.
Never mind that evangelical Christians are overwhelmingly pro-Israel and philo-Semitic. The liberal propaganda depiction of evangelicals as backward ignoramuses, taking their marching orders from a handful of TV preachers, accomplishes its intended purpose -- to evoke a distinctive cultural revulsion among Jews, and to conjure up nightmare visions of an American Kristallnacht.
Town and Country
This effect is compounded by a factor which, whether or not Podhoretz discusses it in his book, I didn't notice mentioned by the symposiasts, namely the town-and-country divide in American politics. Although the trend to suburbanization has somewhat ameliorated this generalization, most American Jews are fundamentally urban in their orientation, while most American conservatives are fundamentally rural.
Think of Reagan, riding horses and clearning brush at his ranch -- it is an image that appeals to the "country" side of the town-and-country divide, embodying as it does the antique ideal of the American frontier homesteader.
This "rugged individual" ideal, the self-sufficient property owner zealously guarding his freedom, is intrinsic to what American conservatism is all about, and it is an ideal quite alien to the urban lifestyle. The city-dweller is inherently dependent on public services. He doesn't draw his water from a well, doesn't go out with a chain-saw to supply firewood for the winter, doesn't augment the grocery budget by hunting deer or growing his vegetables.
Also, and I think this is an important point, city people can't drive worth crap. A country boy learns to drive by hot-rodding along winding backroads, often well before he's old enough for a license. Because his home is sometimes quite distant from the places where he works, shops or goes to school, the rural youth has typically driven many hundreds of miles before he turns 18.
The rural American's natural love for the internal combustion engine, and his pride in his automotive skill, has a lot to do with his active hatred of environmentalist wienies who want him to limit his fuel consumption by driving a hybrid or -- God forbid -- taking public transportation. "I drive, therefore I am" is the existential truth of the rural American, a truth that the city-dweller can never truly appreciate.
People tend to vote how they live and, despite the particular cultural differences that influence the politics of American Jews, I suspect that lifestyle has a lot to do with the persistence of liberalism in Jewish politics.
If Messrs. Podhorhetz, et al., wish to promote conservatism among American Jews, let them find some way to encourage Jewish families to move to small towns in the Heartland, where their kids can grow up hunting, fishing and hot-rodding the backroads. A guy with a gun rack in the back window of his four-wheel drive truck may occasionally vote Democrat, but he's extremely unlikely to be an out-and-out liberal.
UPDATE 9/10: Oh, for crying out loud, now I've been linked at The New Republic and the New York Times (liberals never link me when I'm bashing RINOs, you might notice). Thanks to this publicity, I suppose that henceforth I shall be known to liberals as The Great Ruralizer.
Meanwhile, I reply to Ron Rosenbaum's Joan-Baez-Made-Me-Do-It defense of liberalism at the Hot Air Green Room. Perhaps this would not be the best place to mention the (strictly hypothetical) scenario of Israel's first Gentile prime minister, but once you poke your thumb in the eye of liberalism, it's usually best to go ahead and use both thumbs.
If anyone named Podhoretz is reading this: You're welcome for the free publicity. The liberals were politely ignoring your symposium, until The Great Ruralizer stirred things up. Feel free to hit the tip jar now.