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Norman Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberal? Not Good Enough
After 40 years as a leading spokesman for the Neoconservative takeover of the conservative movement, former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz admits in his new book Why Are Jews Liberals? that Neoconservatism has failed utterly at what would seem its most basic task: persuading Jews to vote Republican.
While Podhoretz recounts his role in key steps in the Neocon ascendancy over the GOP, such as helping drive former National Review stalwart Joe Sobran into penury ("to encourage the others") and organizing denunciations of then-National Review editor John O'Sullivan, he confesses that the Neocons' growing power over the Republican Party has proven useless at converting Jews to the GOP.
According to Podhoretz's numbers, in the 1928 Presidential election, Al Smith received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. Eighty years later, Barack Obama's share of the Jewish vote was … 78 percent. I've graphed the data here:
If this trend continues, by 2088 the Democrats will be down to 78 percent!
In recent elections, the Neocons have moved beyond claiming a veto over who gets to make a living as a conservative writer to furnishing the Republican Presidential candidates with a readymade grand strategy:Invade the World / Invite the World / In Hock to the World.
Yet American Jews have remained dubious.
Neocons did perform some service to the U.S. and to the GOP in the 1970s. Unfortunately, in this decade their policies and politics have failed the country and the Republican Party very badly. Isn't it about time to put the Neocons—first and second generation—out to pasture?
Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberals? is a combination of history of the last 2,000 years of Jewish victimization, voting analysis of 20th Century Presidential elections, and latest rendition of Podhoretz's autobiography, all from a single, relentless perspective: Is it good for the Jews?
Podhoretz scoffs at Jews' rationalizations for their liberalism, such as the claim, popular among Reform rabbis, that what the Old Testament and the Talmud are really all about is "social justice". As Podhoretz trenchantly replies, "If the theory were valid, the Orthodox would be the most liberal sector of the Jewish community". He goes on to point out:
"… the egalitarianism behind the liberal conception of social justice is altogether foreign to the Torah. Unlike the New Testament, which consistently favors the poor over the rich and sees money as the root of all evil, in the Hebrew Bible riches are just as consistently considered a blessing. Furthermore, as Steven H. Cohen and Charles S. Liebman take pains to point out, the poor to whom Jews are commanded to do justice "are primarily other Jews [American Jewish Liberalism: Unraveling the Strands Steven M. Cohen; Charles S. Liebman The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 3. (Autumn, 1997), pp. 405-430.]".
Podhoretz more or less implies that Judaism is, in essence, a faith focused upon one lineage, a religion of race. In his concluding chapter, he argues that liberalism threatens racial suicide for the Jews:"fashionable conceptions of what constitutes progress and how to define justice … could be tantamount to committing suicide".
With prophetic fury, Podhoretz thunders:
"The Torah of liberalism puts itself radically at odds with the very commandment that comes closer than any other (certainly than tikkun olam ['perfecting the world']) to encapsulating the essence of the Torah of Judaism, and the observance of which for more than three thousand years is probably the single best explanation of the mystery of Jewish survival:
'I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.' [Deuteronomy 30:19]"
Podhoretz certainly avoids New Testament universalism. For unapologetic ethnocentrism, it's hard to beatWhy Are Jews Liberals? Podhoretz's book addresses itself solely to Jews, and assumes that, morally, Jews should care only about Jewish ethnic interests.
Thus, Podhoretz finds the persistent Jewish alignment with the Democrats irrational. First Jews tend to be wealthy, and the GOP tries to be even nicer than the Democrats to the rich. Second, Republicans tend to be even more gung-ho on Israel. Third, Republicans are, at least theoretically, more skeptical about racial quotas, which Jews aren't eligible for. And fourth, the left has for the last four decades been more anti-Semitic than the right.
Podhoretz's arguments for why Jews ought to be Republican are sensible, yet unimaginative. For example, Podhoretz suggest that the Republicans are good for the Jews on pocketbook issues. Still, are the Democrats really all that bad for the Jews economically?
Imagine that one party was running upon a "national capitalist" platform modeled upon the policies of the industrial powerhouses of East Asia: retention of our industrial base through tariffs and import quotas, restrictions on outsourcing jobs and insourcing immigrants, and a cooling of financial speculation.
Then, sure, it might make sense to vote on economics. Yet, in the real world, neither party offers thisBuchananite platform—as Podhoretz has labored to ensure (he details his machinations against Pat Buchanan on pp. 224-232). Since both parties are for globalism, how much difference does Republican v. Democrat make economically?
Consider Goldman Sachs, a firm which, as Podhoretz informs us on p. 84, was founded by Marcus Goldman after his arrival in America from Bavaria in 1848. Goldman Sachs is far from an all-Jewish company today, but it would be fair to describe it as a firm at which numerous Jewish-Americans find gainful employment.
How was business for Goldman Sachs under the Democratic Clinton Administration?
On the whole, not too shabby. Having former Goldman CEO Robert Rubin as Clinton's Treasury Secretary didn't hurt.
How was business for Goldman Sachs under the Republican Bush Administration?
Not bad, but a little dicey in the late going. Fortuitously, former Goldman CEO Hank Paulson (who was raised as a Christian Scientist) happened to be Bush's Treasury Secretary, so all's well that ends well.
How has business been for Goldman Sachs under the Democratic Obama Administration?
So far, Goldman is forced to make do with merely having a Goldman alumnus as chief of staff to the Treasury Secretary, rather than as the Treasury Secretary himself. But in these hard times we've all got to make sacrifices, and Goldman will likely get by okay. Joe Nocera of the New York Times reported on October 23 that Goldman "had put aside $16 billion so far this year for employee bonuses", so the children of Goldman workers probably won't go hungry this winter. (Goldman was excluded from the pay cuts recently announced by the Obama Pay Czar.)
To put it in the terms Podhoretz like to think in: Is Republican power good for Goldman Sachs?
Is Democratic power good for Goldman Sachs?
Overall, it's hard to see that Goldman Sachs does much worse under Democrats than under Republicans, or vice-versa.
I have to imagine that a lot of Jewish-Americans feel that they'll do all right with either party in power—so why get greedy and vote Republican just to shave a few points off their marginal tax rates?
After all, back in 1987, Jews made up 92 of the Forbes 400 richest people in America, according to Nathaniel Weyl's 1989 book, The Geography of American Achievement. This month, however, after 22 years in which power at the federal level has been fairly evenly split between the two parties, Jacob Berkman, who covers Jewish philanthropists for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, estimated that in the newly released 2009 Forbes 400:
That's an increase of about one-half over 22 years.
Hence, Jews, who comprise about 1/50th of the population, are 1/3rd or more of the Forbes 400. On a per capita basis, Jewish-Americans are roughly 25 times more likely than other Americans to be billionaires.
Even if the Republicans had won all the intervening elections, how much better could it be for the Jews?
Perhaps the typical Jewish-American feels it would be churlish to complain.
Similarly, many American Jews aren't quite as obsessive about Israel's security as Podhoretz (who, for instance, devotes pp. 191-194 to rehashing the Neocons' 1981 dispute with the Reagan Administration over Caspar Weinberger's decision to sell AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia).
Strikingly, Podhoretz himself showed little interest in Israel up until its security was assured by its successful 1967 attack on its menacing Arab neighbors.
Noam Chomsky, a Jewish disputationist of opposing ideology but comparable tenacity, notes:
"And you can date the beginning of the enthusiastic support for Israel in the culture pretty well, since 1967. Before 1967, the intellectual community was skeptical about Israel or uninterested in it. That changed. If you look at Norman Podhoretz's book Making It, a kind of self-advertisement that came out in 1967, there is barely a mention of Israel. ..."
I haven't read Making It, but I have read Breaking Ranks, Podhoretz's next autobiography (like Philip Roth and Barack Obama, his preferred mode is semi-autobiographical). According to Breaking Ranks' index, the word "Israel" doesn't come up until over halfway through … in 1967.
Why? As General Patton liked to say, "Americans love a winner". Who wants to invest your ego in something likely to fail? After the Six Days War, Israel became for many American Jews what the Notre Dame football team had been for American Catholics.
Also, Podhoretz has, last I checked, four grandchildren living in Israel, so his worries are, for understandable reasons, more intense than the average American Jew's.
Nevertheless, the fact is that many American Jews now see Israel's security as less parlous than Podhoretz does. After all, Israelis have not only American Neocons looking out for their welfare, but their owngovernment as well!
Earlier in this decade, for instance, Israel was subjected to a horrific campaign of suicide bombings by Palestinians crossing into Israel proper from the West Bank.
So the government of Israel quickly put up a highly effective border fence that solved the problem.
In contrast, the American government recently pushed back the projected date of completion of its "virtual fence"—cameras on poles—from 2009 until 2016.
Rather than complain about how the Neocons view Israel as America's 51st State, I would like to ask if America can please be Israel's 7th Province for the two or three years it would take the Israeli government to construct an effective fence along our southern border?
Granted, Podhoretz wouldn't be happy if America followed Israel's example by building a working border fence. He sneers at American immigration restrictionists in this book as "nativists"—although, for some unknown reason, he has no criticism of Israel's highly "nativist"immigration policy.
But I would be happy.
Similarly, while the Neocons demand America bomb Iran to prevent it from someday brandishing a few nuclear weapons in Israel's direction, the government of Israel created for its people the ultimate strategic deterrent. Israel acquired five submarines from the Germans and equipped them with cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads from its sizable arsenal.
Hard as it is to imagine—it's almost as if Israel's government sees its chief duty as looking out for the interests of Israel's majority!
What about Podhoretz's third reason why Jews should vote Republican, affirmative action?
To his credit, the 79-year-old Podhoretz is keeping the faith by still denouncing after all these years theracial quotas that threatened his generation of Jewish government employees. Yet it's increasingly a non-issue for younger Jews, who have better things to do than to compete with Non-Asian Minorities for jobs like Fire Lieutenant. (Plus, of course, there's no sign that quotas will be imposed to keep Jewish representation in, say, Ivy League colleges down to their proportion in the population, although quotas are a zero-sum game and this unquestionably means that, for example, white Catholics are crowded out.)
Likewise, American Jews are right to worry about anti-Semitic terrorists. But the most sensible response—make sure you don't let them into the U.S.—conflicts with the open borders ideology inculcated in both liberal and Neocon Jews by generations of ethnocentric Ellis Island nostalgia. The Neocons reason that since we can't not Invite the World (we just can't), we must therefore Invade the World and bomb them until they stop hating us.
After six years in Iraq, the liberal Jews now believe that's dumb. But with border control unthinkable, the best plan they've come up with so far for persuading Muslims hotheads to not come over here and kill us is to elect President a black guy with the middle name of "Hussein".
(You gotta admit, though, it makes more sense than invading Iraq.)
Thus we can see why most Jews don't find Podhoretz's reasons for voting Republican persuasive.
Still, Jewish liberalism goes much deeper than that.
Why, then, are Jews liberals?
Podhoretz contends, plausibly, that liberalism is a substitute religion for Jews. He quotes Dennis Prager:"Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world". When Jews stopped believing in Jehovah, according to Podhoretz, they didn't start believing in nothing; they believed inMarxism.
UC Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine spelled out the appeal of Communism to Jews in The Jewish Century, his history of enthusiastic Jewish complicity in the Bolshevik regime from 1917-1947. Secularizing Jews believed they were discriminated against in 19th Century Europe because of religion, nationalism, and their talent for capitalism. Marxism promised to abolish all three.
Podhoretz contends that when harsh history finally persuaded Jews to stop believing in Marxism, they believed in socialism. When they stopped believing in socialism, they believed in the Democratic Party.
And that's where their theological evolution has ground to a halt, because "beyond the liberal faith there was nowhere to go but into the outright apostasy of conservatism. To them this was asdeeply repugnant, and even horrifying, as conversion to Christianity had been to their grandparents …"
In a symposium on Podhoretz's book in the September issue of Commentary, Michael Medved sharpens this analysis, pointing out that hostility toward Christians—anti-Christianism, you might say—is what keeps Jewish identity going:
"For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn't solidarity with Israel; it's rejection of Christianity. … Jewish voters don't embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity … This political pattern reflects the fact that opposition to Christianity—not love for Judaism, Jews, or Israel—remains the sole unifying element in an increasingly fractious and secularized community. …"
Medved offers a test of his hypothesis:
"What is the one political or religious position that makes a Jew utterly unwelcome in the organized community [e.g., in synagogues]? We accept atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews, and even sanction Hindu-Jewish meditation societies. 'Jews for Jesus', however, or 'Messianic Jews' face resistance and exclusion everywhere."'
Many Jews therefore view enthusiastic Christian believers—no matter how reliably they support Israel and American Jews—as enemies by definition.
Despite anti-Christianism being at least as crucial in explaining modern American politics as its notorious counterpart, anti-Semitism, Microsoft Word's spellchecker informs me that there is no such words as "anti-Christianism"—or Christophobia, VDARE.COM's choice (And as you may recall, in George Orwell's 1984, the appendix on The Principles of Newspeak offers some helpful observations on the importance of who gets to decide what is and what isn't a word.)
My belief is that criticism is good for you. (I've personally experienced a lot of it.) In contrast, people who are treated as being above criticism tend to behave more badly over time.
For example, criticism by Jews of Christian anti-Semitism has no doubt greatly improved Christian attitudes and behavior. If our culture were to permit it, criticism by Christians of Jewish anti-Christianism would likely have a similar socially salutary effect.
I'd like to offer three additional explanations for why Jews tend to vote Democratic.
Although political correctness is usually marketed on the grounds that we must protect Non-Asian Minorities from learning facts about themselves, the media figures actually doing most of the enforcing of political correctness tend to be members of a high average IQ group that seems to believe that the peasant majority will come for them with pitchforks if anybody smart ever clues them in on the facts about IQ. For example, only one of the Atlantic 50 ranking of most influential pundits is NAM, while half are Jewish.
Jewish organizations have striven tirelessly to make Americans more poorly informed and more naive. Thus LA Times columnist Joel Stein laughed last year about an Anti-Defamation League survey:
"I have never been so upset by a poll in my life. Only 22% of Americans now believe 'the movie and television industries are pretty much run by Jews,' down from nearly 50% in 1964. The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping. Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood." [How Jewish is Hollywood?, December 19, 2008]
Second, the Democrats are more the party of"minoritarianism", which appeals to America's most powerful minority.
"Minoritarianism" is another one of those non-words (although John Derbyshire used it in 2002)."Majoritarianism" was a great enthusiasm of the left from, say, Tom Paine onward—think of all those Marxists ranting about "the masses". Yet, since the 1960s, minorities have been portrayed as much more glamorous and deserving than the majority.
Third, the Democrats are the party of victimism, and ethnic self-pity is the default mode of 21st Century Jewish thought, including Podhoretz's.
Jews are the great storytellers and mythmakers of our time, and they make up their own most credulous audience. Thus the first 117 pages of Podhoretz's book are devoted to Jewish history over the last 2000 years. In Podhoretz's retelling, Jews are, overwhelmingly, the passive victims of two millennia of gentile prejudice. Jews seem to be a people almost without qualities of their own, soft clay molded solely by gentile bigotry.
When he was editor of Commentary, Podhoretz would have laughed if anyone dared submit a manuscript that portrayed African-Americans so one-sidedly. (Here's Podhoretz's controversial 1963 article about black violence against Jews, such as the young Norman Podhoretz: "My Negro Problem—and Ours").
In Podhoretz's history, Jewish victims are everywhere, while Jewish villains and Jewish victors are not. Podhoretz's index lists poor Captain Dreyfus on seven pages, while murderous Comrade Trotsky and triumphant Prime Minister Disraeli appear on none.
Indeed, Disraeli, Queen Victoria's favorite, had much to say on Podhoretz's topic of why Jews should be conservatives. Disraeli constantly argued that Jews should be conservative traditionalists because they have such a rich tradition to conserve. (Disraeli famously, if intemperately, replied to Daniel O'Connell,"Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.")
But Podhoretz can't be bothered with Jewish historical figures who would make for a more three-dimensional version of their history.
A fact almost unknown in the U.S. is that, for most years in the last millennium, the median Ashkenazi Jew in Central and Eastern Europe was much richer than the median gentile. While writing their groundbreaking 2005 paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence", Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending would frequently encounter academics who had never heard anything like this, whose awareness of the Jewish experience seemed largely limited to Fiddler on the Roof. (The poverty that many Eastern European Jews faced by 1900 was due to their ancestors' tremendous Malthusian success at growing their numbers beyond that which could be employed in traditional finance-related occupations.)
As I noted in my VDARE.COM article The Cuban Compromise, Jews, like Cubans, have earned the right to special privileges due to their political power. Just as Cuban exiles have controlled American foreign policy toward Cuba and won their relatives unique status as refugees rather than immigrants, America can afford to let Israel push around the Palestinians because it pleases a domestic bloc.
And, in the unlikely event of something terrible happening to the Jewish state, we would no doubt grant refugee status to Israeli Jews.
But what America can't continue to afford is the pervasive unrealism imposed by the current code of silence about Jewish power and interests.
Thus Jewish demonization of immigration reform patriots appears to have two motivations:
An reasonable concern about Israelis, which can be assuaged by special accommodations
An unreasonable form of ancestor worship, which couldn't survive satire, but is protected by the current taboos
And this demonization is the single most important reason that America's immigration disaster is still above criticism, long after it has become obvious that it is a disaster, and despite the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are strongly opposed to it.
Jews will do fine when they compete openly in the marketplace of ideas. They don't have to rig the market as well.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]