Why do so many of my fellow Jews stay in the Democratic Party’s pocket?
The story has it that during the George H.W. Bush administration, James Baker proposes to his boss an idea that would go against Israeli interests. “The Jews aren’t going to like it,” President Bush says. Mr. Baker replies: “They don’t vote for us anyway—screw ’em!” Fast forward 15 years, when Rahm Emanuel proposes a different idea to his boss that would also go against Israeli interests. “The Jews aren’t going to like it,” President Obama says. Mr. Emanuel replies: “They vote for us anyway—screw ’em!”
Such, one might say, are the advantages of bloc voting for ethnic groups. Just as Democratic politicians assume the support of black voters, the Jews have been in the pocket of the Democratic Party at least as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and though there are few Jews alive today who were old enough to have voted for FDR, they, the Jews, are still in that pocket. This despite the fact that we now know that FDR was not such a grand friend to the Jews, for he did nothing to stop or even slow the Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II, and instead, when told by Rabbi Stephen Wise of the death camps, counseled silence on the subject.
The best face that can be put on this unwillingness, bordering on a genetic-inability, of Jews to vote Republican is that Jewishness, if not Judaism, has at its center a hatred of injustice and a concomitant yearning for equality. All this, presumably, has been ingrained in Jews by their own long history as the scapegoats of tyrants. Being underdogs, the Jews ipso facto are themselves for underdogs. Republicans, traditionally, have been top dogs. Don’t, something in most Jews tells them, go there.
Older Jews, of whom I am one, have memories of so-called “restricted” neighborhoods and clubs—restricted meaning No Jews Allowed. They remember quotas against Jews put in place by private universities. I recall the writerClifton Fadiman telling me that when he applied to graduate school at Columbia, he was told it wasn’t a good idea, for the English Department there already had accepted his undergraduate classmate, Mr. Trilling, the implication being that one Jew was enough. Large corporations in those days did not hire Jews, or if they did it was made clear that their chances for promotion were greatly limited.
All these arrangements against Jews—real-estate covenants, university quotas, job restrictions and more—were thought to be the handiwork of a WASP establishment that was, with only rare exceptions (FDR, Dean