Jews and the Democrats: Reflections on the 2004 Election

 November 25, 2004

The conventional wisdom put forward by the punditocracy is that the Republicans won the election because of the importance given by voters to moral and religious values. Voting on the basis of cultural issues is nothing new of course. In fact, that’s the big story of Jewish voting where the old saying has it that Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. Since the 1920s there has been a gap between Jewish voting behavior and their economic interests. This pattern was repeated on November 2 when an overwhelming 75% of Jewish voters voted for John Kerry. More Jews voted for Bush this time around (25% versus 19% in 2000), but the results were far less than the Republicans hoped.

 Indeed, the vast majority of America’s Jews continue to vote for Democrats even as their neoconservative brethren have achieved a stranglehold on the foreign policy of the Bush administration and even as the organized Jewish community has played an important role in the success of this effort. Jews voted overwhelmingly for Kerry despite the strong pro-Republican bias of recent Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union and the defection of the majority of Orthodox Jews hoping for federal subsidies for Jewish education.

 The strong vote for Kerry occurred despite the fact that the welfare of Israel is a deep concern for the vast majority of American Jews and President Bush is widely seen by Jews as the most pro-Israel and most pro-Jewish president in history. And they voted for Kerry despite the urgings of some liberal Democrat Jews like former New York mayor Ed Koch, and The New Republic editor Martin Peretz that a vote for Kerry would be bad for Israel. Peretz wrote in the L.A. Times (Oct. 17, 2004), “Like many American Jews, I was brought up to believe that if I pulled the Republican lever on the election machine my right hand would wither and, as the Psalmist says, my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth. . . . Now although there are many reasons one might want to vote for John F. Kerry, remembering Jerusalem — remembering to stand up for the state of Israel — is not among them.” Of course, Kerry promised to support Israel “100%” and actively courted the Jewish vote, so Jews may have believed that Israel was not about to go under if Kerry was elected. But in any case, these numbers place the mainstream secular Jewish voter pretty much in line with Black voters in their overwhelming support for the Democrats.

 So if it’s not economics and it’s not Israel, what is the deep psychology that leads the great majority of American Jews to support the Democratic Party? In a nutshell, it has to do with cultural values that are the direct opposite of those that seem to be surfacing with ever greater clarity in the vast bulk of the land mass of the United States: The red states and counties. When the average Jewish voter thinks of Christian fundamentalism, their main emotions are fear and disdain. Nothing horrifies the mainstream Jewish voter more than the thought of Christian fundamentalists with their agenda of prayer in public schools, their commitment to traditional sexual mores (including opposition to abortion), and, most basically, their living in their homogeneous white communities and wanting to stay that way.

 As argued in The Culture of Critique, the organized Jewish community has been the most important force favoring unrestricted immigration to the U.S. There are several reasons for this, the primary one being the belief that Jews are safer in an ethnically diverse, post-Christian America. As prominent neocon Elliott Abrams acknowledges, the mainstream Jewish community “clings to what is at bottom a dark vision of America, as a land permeated with anti-Semitism and always on the verge of anti-Semitic outbursts.” From this perspective, diversity and immigration means safety for American Jews: As Abrams notes, the result is that Jews have taken the lead in secularizing America.

This culture clash between Jews and the idea of a white, Christian America was described some time ago by Charles Silberman who noted that American Jews believe that “Jews are safe only in a society acceptant of a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, as well as a diversity of religious and ethnic groups. It is this belief, for example, not approval of homosexuality, that leads an overwhelming majority of American Jews to endorse ‘gay rights’ and to take a liberal stance on most other so-called ‘social’ issues.” American Jews continue to be on the left of this cultural divide, and it is this liberal stance on social issues that puts Jews firmly in favor of the “bluing” of America. And the Democratic Party is not about to change its attitudes unless it wants to alienate its Jewish constituency. As Marc Stern, assistant executive director of the American Jewish Congress, phrased it in a recent Forward article, "Most Jews are much more liberal than the rest of the population. On abortion, on homosexual marriage, on premarital sex, Jews are fundamentally different than everyone else except the most secular. There's nothing the Democrats can do to appeal to people who are religious without alienating that part of their base."

And it’s not likely that the Democratic Party would want to alienate its Jewish base. As political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg has pointed out, “Without Jews there isn’t much of a Democratic Party and [if they nominate a presidential candidate Jews don’t like] they’d better start saving their nickels and dimes because they’re not going to get as many Jewish dollars.” Indeed, it’s not just that Jews vote for the Democrats because of their vision of a multicultural, post, Christian, non-European America. The Democratic Party is fundamentally a Jewish party in the sense that Jews are absolutely necessary to funding and organizing the Democrats. Ten years ago Jews reportedly donated half of all the funds contributed to the Democratic Party, and it’s undoubtedly higher now, with several estimates in the 60% range. A very prominent Jewish donor to the Democrats has been George Soros who, in the words of Christine Iverson, Republican National Committee spokeswoman, “purchased the Democratic Party” by donating $27 million to pro-Democratic Party political organizations to oust President Bush. (Soros’ friend, insurance executive Peter Lewis, donated another $23 million.) Soros is also well known as a pro-immigration activist whose Emma Lazarus fund provides money for supporting legal immigrants to the U.S.

The confluence of Jewish cultural influence and money for liberal causes is, of course, Hollywood. Hollywood has been very good to the Democrats. The entertainment industry is the largest industry funding Democratic Party causes, with only 20% of its money going to Republicans. The big Jewish donors to the Democrats include Haim Saban who gave $7 million in one donation to the Democratic National Committee and $10 million in all during the 2002 election cycle. Saban hobnobs with John Kerry and he vacations with Bill Clinton, and he unabashedly uses his media empire to promote Israel. (Clinton, of course, has a long association with Jewish Hollywood, beginning when he was a virtually unknown governor of a backwater state who came to Hollywood, hat in hand, to solicit the support of Lew Wasserman. Wasserman, who died in 2002, was the last “king of Hollywood”—the only person a Democratic politician aspiring to be president needed behind him to tap into Hollywood money.) Another Hollywood mogul who donates lavishly to the Democratic Party causes is producer Steve Bing—$14 million in the most recent election cycle and another $8.7 million in the 2002 election cycle. Barbra Streisand, the bête noire of conservative talk radio, was for years the largest fundraiser for liberal causes in the U.S., and, as Eric Alter notes, “the fact is, most people [in Hollywood] agree with what she says, and she puts her money where her mouth is.” Alter’s tour of major Hollywood donors also includes David Geffen, who raised $20 million for Bill Clinton, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Stewart and Lynda Resnick (Sunkist foods), and supermarket magnate Ron Burkle. Besides the donors, there are also the activists like Laurie David (wife of Larry David and “the It Girl of Hollywood progressive politics”) and agents like Marge Tabankin (“the dean, or perhaps the den mother, of Hollywood political consultants”).

In the campaign, Kerry made the mistake of declaring at a movie celebrity fundraiser in New York that "every performer tonight . . . conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country." This played entirely into Bush’s hands: A constantly reiterated theme of Bush’s campaign was that Kerry claims that "the heart and soul of America is Hollywood, but I know it is really found right here in (fill in the blank)." A recent defector, actor Ron Silver, finds that "There's an incredibly unhealthy uniformity of opinion in Hollywood. When you're at a dinner party and the subject of the president comes up, it's just assumed that all 20 people are thinking, 'How are we going to get rid of this [jerk].' I can't think of any colleague in the entertainment community having a serious conversation with someone who's pro-life or a born-again Christian. There's just a real disconnect from the rest of the country" (L.A. Times, Nov. 16, 2004).

It should come as no surprise that ethnic Jews have a powerful influence in the Hollywood elite — far larger than any other identifiable group. In a survey performed in the 1980s, 60 percent of a representative sample of the movie elite were of Jewish background, and the list of major players in Hollywood’s political donation machine certainly does not indicate things are any different now. Michael Medved—himself a conservative Jewish critic of the liberal bias of the Hollywood media, characterizes the values of Hollywood as precisely opposite those of red-state America—nothing less than an all out attack on the traditional American family, patriotism, and traditional sexual mores. But the most obvious focus of attack is on the Christian religion, the most bedrock value of red-state America:

In the ongoing war on traditional values, the assault on organized faith represents the front to which the entertainment industry has most clearly committed itself. On no other issue do the perspectives of the show business elites and those of the public at large differ more dramatically. Time and again, the producers have gone out of their way to affront the religious sensibilities of ordinary Americans.

In his book Hollywood vs. America, Medved fails to find even one film made since the mid-1970s where Christianity is portrayed positively. Examples where Christianity is portrayed negatively abound, but most of the Hollywood elite was “quick to sneer” at the huge box office success Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. This means that Hollywood would rather leave money on the table than make movies that validate the beliefs of red state America (L.A. Times, Nov. 16, 2004). 

Red state America has a strong attachment to small towns, but Hollywood routinely portrays small towns as filled with bigots and anti-Semites. Media commentator Ben Stein records the hostility of the media toward rural America:

The typical Hollywood writer ... is of an ethnic background from a large Eastern city — usually from Brooklyn [i.e., they have a Jewish background]. He grew up being taught that people in small towns hated him, were different from him, and were out to get him [i.e., small town people are anti-Semites]. As a result, when he gets the chance, he attacks the small town on television or the movies....

The television shows and movies are not telling it 'like it is'; instead they are giving us the point of view of a small and extremely powerful section of the American intellectual community — those who write for the mass visual media.... What is happening, as a consequence, is something unusual and remarkable. A national culture is making war upon a way of life that is still powerfully attractive and widely practiced in the same country.... Feelings of affection for small towns run deep in America, and small-town life is treasured by millions of people. But in the mass culture of the country, a hatred for the small town is spewed out on television screens and movie screens every day.... Television and the movies are America's folk culture, and they have nothing but contempt for the way of life of a very large part of the folk.... People are told that their culture is, at its root, sick, violent, and depraved, and this message gives them little confidence in the future of that culture. It also leads them to feel ashamed of their country and to believe that if their society is in decline, it deserves to be.

At the end of the day, I suppose that the real reason that red-state America voted for Bush was not because of Christian religious fervor but as an aspect of “identity politics” (see Chapter 16 of this volume: “Psychology and White Ethnocentrism”): They voted for Bush because he and his wife and daughters look, talk, and act like them and their families and friends. As one analyst noted, "I think their conservatism is born out of a feeling that Bush looks like a regular guy, and the Democrats are all snots and they are not  addressing my concerns" (L.A. Times, Nov. 22, 2004). Birds of a feather really do flock together, as predicted by J. Philippe Rushton’s Genetic Similarity Theory: People are attracted to other people of their own ethnic group, prefer to live among them, and tend to be like them in just about every way imaginable, from similar attitudes to similar genes.

And a major aspect of their similarity is that they have the same moral and religious values. The white Protestant vote for Bush is at landslide proportions: 69% according to the exit polls for the 2002 Congressional elections, and a lofty 78% among Evangelical Protestants in the 2004 presidential race. An important new demographic category are white families with young children who are moving away from inner-tier, racially diverse suburbs that have been the main destinations for new immigrants. These white voters are people for whom “identification with the GOP has become a kind of cultural and social statement.” It is perhaps but a short step before these people will consciously identify and assert their ethnic interests as an important voting bloc in multiethnic, multicultural America. This is not a development that will be welcomed by the people who run and fund the Democratic Party.

But the good news for Hollywood’s elite and the Jewish community whose values they embody is that red state America will gradually lose its power because of immigration and the other cultural forces they so ardently support. Indeed, despite its mouthing the moral values of the people who elected them, the Bush Administration is  determined to continue their displacement by not doing anything about massive legal immigration and pushing the a new amnesty proposal that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants and act as a beacon for yet millions more. Michael Moore, himself a leftist goy who shares the values of the Hollywood elite and the great majority of Jewish voters, came up with 17 reasons not to slit your wrists with the re-election of George Bush. One of them was “88% of Bush's support came from white voters. In 50 years, America will no longer have a white majority. Hey, 50 years isn't such a long time! If you're ten years old and reading this, your golden years will be truly golden and you will be well cared for in your old age.”

Actually I rather doubt that my children will be well cared for in a non-white America. It’s pretty obvious that the people Michael Moore hangs out with really hate everything traditional about the place, including its people.