Politics

Truth or Trope?

March 13, 2019

Truth or Trope?

Once again, 2019 headlines appear contrived to vindicate my old ideas.

For instance, last week’s amusing face-off between freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, leader of the Congressional hijab caucus, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over Omar’s tweets about the influence of Jewish campaign contributions on American foreign policy was a classic illustration of my theory that the Democrats are a coalition of the fringes who can overcome their loathing of each other only by cultivating their mutual hatred of core Americans.

Just how much Jewish Democrats give to politicians I approximate below.

Omar, the fearless Somali bumpkin from North Dakota State U., outraged influential Jewish donors and their loyal politicians by repeatedly going all Black Hawk Down, daring to mention the long unmentionable: the impact of Jewish donations on Washington’s pro-Israel slant.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, sputtered at the Islamic upstart: “It is shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’”

“Trope” is an increasingly fashionable term out of deconstructionist literary theory. The word basically means “cliché” or “stereotype,” but it is intended to obviate your tiresome quibbles about whether or not a particular cliché or stereotype is true by assuming away the relevance of truth.

The use of “trope” signals a faith in the lit theory that the concept of “reality” is irrelevant, perhaps fictitious, and definitely oppressive. There’s no such thing as nature, only social constructs, which can presumably be deconstructed out of existence by socially reengineering the discourse.

To a limited extent, that’s true. What goes unsaid tends to eventually go unthought. Before Omar, for instance, a remarkable fraction of liberal Jewish pundits seem to have never even noticed that the logic of their constant castigations of “white privilege” could be turned against their own supposed “Jewish privilege.”

In real life, however, Foucault’s dismissal of nature didn’t keep nature from having the last laugh over him: The philosopher was one of the first decadent celebrities to die of AIDS. But that irony has done little to slow the spread of Foucauldian sophistries, in part because they are so useful to the powerful, such as big campaign donors.

If you are taught that nothing really exists except the power to impose ideas, then the evidence that Jewish-Americans on average seem to be blessed with more money and influence can be dismissed out of hand as a trope.

“Today, the rich are looked to by the press as the salvation of the nation.”

For example, the bumptious Republican ex-governor of Maine, Paul LePage, was much criticized this week for criticizing Omar for disloyalty to her Jewish Democratic donors:

“The Jewish people in America have been great supporters of the Democratic Party,” LePage told WGAN-AM. “In fact, that’s where their money comes from for the most part.”

LePage was much hooted at for making the same mistake as Omar, but it would seem intriguing to me to test his assertion that over half of the Democrats’ money comes from Jews.

Likewise, Pelosi tried to get Omar to grasp that she can’t say that American Jews give a lot of money to politicians because…well…because American Jews do give a lot of money to politicians.

Personally, I think both making a lot of money and giving away a lot of money are largely admirable traits. That Jews tend to be leaders in both wealth creation and philanthropy is commendable.

Of course, you haven’t been privileged to talk about these numbers if you aren’t Jewish. But what if you are intensely diverse, like Ms. Omar?

When the feisty Muslim failed to submit, Pelosi demanded a House resolution condemning Omar’s “anti-Semitism.” Many Democrats, however, rebelled. After all, Omar, being black, Muslim, and a refugee, possesses more intersectional privilege than the white and Catholic Pelosi.

In response, the Democrats altered their resolution to instead reunite around blaming white Christian Americans for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and basically everything bad that has ever happened in the United States, including the Dreyfus Affair (which you probably were under the impression occurred in France). White gentile Americans should just be happy that the House of Representatives didn’t also officially blame them for the Spanish Inquisition, I guess.

The essential strategy of the Democrats is that, while they once represented core American constituencies such as Northern factory workers and Southern rednecks, they’ve recently found it more profitable to promote interests who feel alienated from basic Americans, such as Rep. Omar, whose beloved grandfather was a high-ranking minion of the brutal Somali dictator Siad Barre.

That Somali strongman started out as a Fascist policeman under Mussolini’s colonial rule, converted to Marxism-Leninism in the 1960s, and then became an American ally when the Soviets dumped Barre after his invasion of Ethiopia. Rep. Omar’s grandpa was Barre’s superintendent of lighthouses. This might sound like a pretty easy job, but considering the outburst of Somali piracy after the Omars fled, I’m willing to imagine that Omar’s grandpa did a competent job keeping the coast quiet for the despot.

The Omar clan had to vamoose from Somalia when their genocidal boss fell in 1991 and the country dissolved into anarchy. In the time-honored Somali tradition, Barre’s victims turned on those they saw as their oppressors.

That Rep. Omar’s clan had to flee for their lives from the people back home who knew them best is widely seen today as granting her superior moral standing over you traditional Americans. After all, what can Americans teach a Somali about political wisdom?

Between the 2010 Citizens United decision and the election of Donald Trump, we were repeatedly advised by the press that the imminent threat to democracy was rich guys spending on politics. The New York Times, for example, ran a breathless article about how a Republican investor named Foster Friess had, like a GOP Dr. Evil, given Rick Santorum’s 2012 campaign one…million…dollars!

Now, though, you don’t hear much from the media about the ills of campaign donations because the Democrats are receiving so much, with Hillary raising twice as much as Trump. Today, the rich, like the Deep State, are looked to by the press as the salvation of the nation.

All this naturally raises the question of just how much do the Democrats and Republicans actually raise from Jews and gentiles. It seems like an interesting thing to know, but few have asked that question recently.

To answer it, I went to the OpenSecrets database of political donations maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, a bipartisan organization founded in 1983 by former senators Hugh Scott (R-PA) and Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who led groundbreaking investigations into the Deep State in the 1970s.

I took the OpenSecrets list of the 50 top individual contributors in the 2018 election cycle across all types of “federal candidates, parties, political action committees, 527 organizations, and Carey
committees.”

Like The Count on Sesame Street, I love counting. The fundamental idea behind my exercises in counting is to start with a list that wasn’t dreamed up for my purpose. The OpenSecrets database was started long ago for good government purposes, so it’s an unbiased source to use in answering the Omar vs. Pelosi question.

The biggest 2018 donor was casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who gave $123 million to Republicans and conservatives. As a reward, Adelson got to sit next to Donald Trump last November as the election returns came in, which probably started out more fun than it ended up as late returns tilted Democratic.

In second place was former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $95 million, virtually all to Democrats this time around.

Third was California hedge fund manager Tom Steyer at $73 million, all to the left side of the ledger.

Fourth was Lake Forest, Ill., businessman Richard Uihlein, who gave $40 million to Republican causes.

For each of the top 50 donors on the OpenSecrets list, I looked up their racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Racially, all 50 biggest donors would be considered Caucasian by the Census Bureau, although one Republican benefactor, Hushang Ansary, is, like Rep. Omar, apparently a Muslim refugee. Indeed, in 1976 Ansary was almost appointed prime minister of Iran by the Shah. In late 1978, however, Ansary was overcome by illness and suddenly had to leave his monarch behind and move to the United States for the sake of his health, where the ex-courtier, now 93, has apparently made a spectacular recovery.

Ethnicity is a little more work to figure out than race, but it isn’t all that hard. Wikipedia typically lists ethnic backgrounds, and there are many other resources, such as wedding and funeral announcements, as well as the Jewish press, which takes a natural interest in Jewish billionaires. Moreover, people in the fund-raising business like to gossip about the ancestral loyalties of the rich, so there is much material available.

Adelson, for example, is proudly Jewish and Zionist. His second wife is from Israel and he takes an intense interest in Israeli politics, founding the biggest circulation newspaper in Israel to promote Bibi Netanyahu.

Bloomberg is likewise from a Jewish background.

Steyer’s father was Jewish and his mother was Episcopalian, so I count his donations as half Jewish and half gentile.

Uihlein appears to be a German-American gentile: His ancestors owned the Schlitz beer company and his mother was an admiral’s daughter.

In the future, many rich donors will likely be part Jewish and part gentile, which will complicate counting. But making big campaign contributions is largely a game played most heartily by old men, so, at present, most massive donors are still of one ancestry or the other.

A minor methodological complexity is that political gifts are often given in the name of husband and wife. Sexistly, I’ve only looked up the background of the husband unless the wife is an entrepreneur or an heiress (the latter is not uncommon: Political giving tends to run in families). For example, the $7 million given to Democrats by Paul Skjodt (a retired hockey player) and Cynthia Simon Skjodt (daughter of the late shopping mall tycoon Melvin Simon) is therefore listed as half gentile and half Jewish. (Cynthia’s sister Deborah Simon is also in the top 50.)

I’m sure I didn’t get the backgrounds of each of the 50 donors precisely right, but my errors and oversights may more or less cancel out.

Of the $675 million the top 50 contributors gave, according to OpenSecrets 53 percent of the money went to Democratic candidates or to liberal causes, 44 percent to Republicans or conservatives, and 3 percent to independent or bipartisan concerns.

The biggest donor to the last category was world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, who gave all of his $10 million to a “cross-partisan” PAC that donated to a mix of Democratic and GOP House candidates.

Most big donors give virtually all their money to one side or another. The most bipartisan big donor was Gap retailer Leslie Wexner, who split his $3 million, with 72 percent to the right and 28 percent to the left. High-frequency trader Dan Tierney, who gave 93 percent to Democrats, was the only other big donor to substantially split his giving.

Of the top 50 political donors to either party at the federal level in 2018, 52 percent were Jewish and 48 percent were gentile. Individuals who identify as Jewish are usually estimated to make up perhaps 2.2 percent of the population.

Of the $675 million given by the top 50 donors, 66 percent of the money came from Jews and 34 percent from gentiles.

Of the $297 million that GOP candidates and conservative causes received from the top 50 donors, 56 percent was from Jewish individuals.

Of the $361 million Democratic politicians and liberal causes received, 76 percent came from Jewish givers.

So it turns out that Rep. Omar and Gov. LePage appear to have been correct, at least about the biggest 2018 donors. But you can also see why Pelosi wanted Omar to just shut up about it: 76 percent is a lot.

This is not to assume that each Jewish campaign contributor cares as much about Israel as, say, Adelson does. Moreover it’s likely that this ethnic gap isn’t so disproportionate once you get into smaller contributors than the top 50. There are just a lot more not-rich gentiles than not-rich Jews.

But you can understand Pelosi’s trepidation about the emerging civil war between Jewish and diverse Democrats.

The funny thing, though, is that federal campaign contributions really aren’t that lavish, considering how powerful Washington is in the modern world. While Adelson, Bloomberg, and Steyer spent extraordinary amounts, the 50th-biggest donor, David C. Humphreys, scion of a building-products company in Joplin, Mo., gave less than $3 million in the last two-year election cycle. In a country with as many famously rich people as America, this doesn’t seem like all that much to make the top 50 list.

Political spending in Mexico, for example, appears to be vastly higher in proportion to the size of the GDP (although being Mexico, where investigative journalists don’t have a long life expectancy, nobody seems to publicly know just how much is really dispensed on elections).

Mexican monopolist Carlos Slim, long a major player in Mexico’s big-money politics, thus leaped at the chance to purchase the warmest regards of the apex predator of the American news media, The New York Times, by saving it from financial ruin in 2009 for a mere $200 million.

You’ll notice that you don’t read much bad publicity about Slim in the American press. For example, a few years ago British newspapers reported that Slim was married into the most bloodthirsty Lebanese Fascist dynasty, the Gemayels. But in America that’s news that doesn’t fit.

Since then, Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million, after which his net worth exploded.

So, do billionaires get more bang for their buck out of investing in elections or in media?

As a journalist, my guess is that the choices of smart rich guys like Slim and Bezos demonstrate that spending on journalists offers a better return than spending on politicians.

But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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