Blogs > Cliopatria > Jews v. Republicans

Oct 22, 2004 8:11 pm

Jews v. Republicans

David Bernstein has been soliciting opinions on why American Jews tend to be not only Democrats, but fiercely anti-Republican. There's lots of decent, or at least half-decent reasons, but a lot of them are more presentist explanations than historical ones. So I'd like to offer not an ideological explanation, but a geographic one.

The cities in which most Jews initially settled were heavily Democratic (as most cities seemed to be in early 20c America), and part of the assimilative process would have been integrating with and absorbing the views of local politics. Once those biases were in place, they were sustained by mid-20c Republican positions targeting urban decadence, internationalism, civil rights movements, secularism, leftist politics (not to mention a rhetorical tendency to identify Jews with these positions), which would tend to confirm Jews' impressions of Republicans as hostile to Jewish identity and interests.

That the Jewish-Democratic bond is breaking down is no surprise. Bernstein correctly identifies some issues on which some or even many Jews might now (and most of these positions are pretty recent) prefer a Republican position to a Democratic one. But political affiliation, like Jewishness, is still more inherited than chosen for most people, and it's only recently that heavily Jewish communities have shifted toward balanced or majority Republican positions and Republicans have shifted their positions to be friendlier to Jewish interests.

I realize that it sounds a bit like Jews are chameleons and assimilators: that's not true. Rather, that's not more true for Jews than for any other immigrant group or strongly coherent religious or ethnic identity group. Politics, particularly political identity, is not an entirely rational process; the more we study it, the less rational it seems, in fact. It is tied up with culture, family, community, competing value systems, media and education. In a way, it's remarkable that we're as rational about it as we are....

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Nathanael D. Robinson - 10/22/2004

I am reminded of a commercial that ran in Iowa during the primary/caucus season. Howard Dean had a tentative relationship with minorities of all sorts, and his opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict did not inspire confidence in American Jews. A commercial, which was sponsored by a conservative group, featured an "American" couple complaining about the liberals who "read the NY Times, drink Lattes, ..." and all sorts of other things that could be read as being the traits of American Jews.

Republicans have pushed the image of "real America" so hard that many people easily fall beyond the margins of what a real American is. Even "Senator" and "Massachusetts" are considered suspect, but no one can explain to me what is un-American about either.

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