September 11, 2009

Browsing through Norman Podhoretz’s latest book, Why Are Jews Liberals? (read non-neocon leftists), I was struck by a series of misleading facts starting around page 224. According to Pod’s authorized version of THE TRUTH, certified by the neoconservative hangers-on who blurbed his book, Jews defected in large numbers from the GOP in the 1992 presidential election specifically because Pat Buchanan was allowed to speak that year at the Republican National Convention. On the basis of Pat’s critical comments about Israel, which Commentary attributed to, among other causes, the effect of the German ancestry of one of Buchanan’s grandmothers, Jews were upset that Buchanan was permitted to ascend the podium at the GOP presidential convention in 1992. Never mind that Pat had picked up more than a million votes in Republican primaries running against Shrub I. The neocons just didn”€™t like him, and therefore the GOP had no right to allow this party loyalist (a term that I”€™m using critically here) to make a speech for Republican unity.

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The problem with Pod’s analysis, beside its exuberant invective against an often unnamed rightwing enemy, is that it totally misrepresents Jewish electoral behavior in 1992. In the presidential election that year, according to Frank Luntz’s statistics, the Jewish vote went 80 to 11 percent for the Democrat Clinton. Although this represented an obvious loss relative to the Jewish Republican vote in 1988 (in which 35% of Jewish voters supported Bush), this drop is easily explained by looking at the foreign policy of Jim Baker, who was Bush’s secretary of state. Because of Baker’s announced attempt to be “€œevenhanded”€ with the Israelis and Palestinians, the Bush I administration fell into the shorthairs of AIPAC and the neocon press. By the time the 1992 election rolled around, the Jewish community was incensed against the “€œanti-Semitic”€ Baker and his friend George Bush.

Significantly, in 1996 when the very pro-Zionistic Robert Dole, who boasted about his support for recent civil rights legislation and the Americans with Disabilities Act, ran as the GOP candidate for president, the Jewish vote went to Clinton by 78 to 16 percent. Apparently the zealously pro-Israel, centrist-left Dole did not do much better in collecting Jewish votes than Bush, who had allowed the evil Pat to speak at the Republican convention in 1992. And last year over 80 percent of the Jewish vote went to the black social leftist Obama, who had been thick with pro-Palestinian black nationalists.

Everything being equal, Jews vote for what they perceive as the more left-leaning of the two national parties. But they also deviate at critical points from this pattern. In 1980, when Reagan pulled 39 percent of the Jewish vote against Carter’s 45 percent, Jews were taking it out against Carter’s brother Billy, who had pocketed funds for representing the anti-Israeli Libyan dictator Ghaddafi. But in 1980, Jews had also voted for the Independent (leftist, not centrist) presidential candidate John B. Anderson. That year Anderson, my congressman from Rockford, Illinois, drew 14 percent of the popular vote. The last time the GOP won a Jewish plurality in a presidential race was in 1919. Then the German-Jewish (Republican) vote was still numerically important, and so 43 percent of votes cast by Jews in 1919 went for the Republican Harding. But, equally relevant, 19 percent of Jewish voters in 1919, almost all of whom came out of recent immigrant stock, rallied behind the Socialist candidate Eugene Debs.

In what way was the low degree of Jewish support for Bush in 1992 attributable to the GOP National Committee’s not saying “€œno”€ to Buchanan’s request to speak at the presidential convention? From what I can see, this decision had no effect on the percentage of the Jewish vote that went to the Democrats in the presidential contest. Moreover, contrary to the impression suggested by N-Pod, the remarks that Buchanan delivered had nothing to do with bashing Jews. They merely repeated points about America’s cultural wars that Podhoretz had been making since the 1970s. There was nothing Buchanan said on the podium that Pod had not said thousands of times before, in a previous incarnation. I challenge those who rave about Pod’s brilliance on the dust jacket to provide countervailing evidence.    


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