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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jewish liberalism and American exceptionalism

A couple of readers sent me Norman Podhoretz's Wall Street Journal article on why Jews are liberals and asked me to comment on it. In the article, Podhoretz writes of his hopes that 'buyer's remorse' will lead some of the 78% of American Jews who voted for Barack Hussein Obama to become conservatives. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that he hopes in vain.

Much of the article is taken up by Podhoretz's description of Liberalism as Judaism. That's an issue I have discussed many times, and he does a nice job of summarizing it. He makes one small mistake about Jewish law. There are three sins that a Jew must allow himself to be killed rather than commit: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations (not just incest) and murder.

But I'd like to discuss something toward at the end of the article.
Of course in speaking of the difference between left and right, or between liberals and conservatives, I have in mind a divide wider than the conflict between Democrats and Republicans and deeper than electoral politics. The great issue between the two political communities is how they feel about the nature of American society. With all exceptions duly noted, I think it fair to say that what liberals mainly see when they look at this country is injustice and oppression of every kind—economic, social and political. By sharp contrast, conservatives see a nation shaped by a complex of traditions, principles and institutions that has afforded more freedom and, even factoring in periodic economic downturns, more prosperity to more of its citizens than in any society in human history. It follows that what liberals believe needs to be changed or discarded—and apologized for to other nations—is precisely what conservatives are dedicated to preserving, reinvigorating and proudly defending against attack.

In this realm, too, American Jewry surely belongs with the conservatives rather than the liberals. For the social, political and moral system that liberals wish to transform is the very system in and through which Jews found a home such as they had never discovered in all their forced wanderings throughout the centuries over the face of the earth.

The Jewish immigrants who began coming here from Eastern Europe in the 1880s were right to call America "the golden land." They soon learned that there was no gold in the streets, as some of them may have imagined, which meant that they had to struggle, and struggle hard. But there was another, more precious kind of gold in America. There was freedom and there was opportunity. Blessed with these conditions, we children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these immigrants flourished—and not just in material terms—to an extent unmatched in the history of our people.

What I am saying is that if anything bears eloquent testimony to the infinitely precious virtues of the traditional American system, it is the Jewish experience in this country. Surely, then, we Jews ought to be joining with its defenders against those who are blind or indifferent or antagonistic to the philosophical principles, the moral values, and the socioeconomic institutions on whose health and vitality the traditional American system depends.
Barack Obama and his friends on the radical left reject the notion of American exceptionalism. By throwing their lot in with Obama, many American Jews also reject the notion that the United States of America is an exceptional place and that it is different than any other country in the World. But as Podhoretz points out, the American Jewish experience has been different than any other Jewish experience in the nearly 2000-year old Jewish diaspora. The Jewish experience in the United States of America is yet another aspect of American exceptionalism.
But there was another, more precious kind of gold in America. There was freedom and there was opportunity. Blessed with these conditions, we children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these immigrants flourished—and not just in material terms—to an extent unmatched in the history of our people.
For an American Jew to deny American exceptionalism and to deny the unique opportunities that the American experience has granted him or her - as compared with what Jews had and have in other parts of the diaspora - strikes me as a lack of hakarat hatov (recognizing one who has done good for us), which may be the most basic Jewish tenet of interpersonal relations.

I would even argue that it is even sinful.

Read the whole thing.

3 Comments:

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

See also, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/why-are-jews-liberals-a-symposium-15223

A lot of interesting theories. There's a grain of truth in all of them.

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger Danny said...

Another stab at this topic over at Pajamas Media:

http://pajamasmedia.com/ronrosenbaum/2009/09/08/why-are-jews-liberals/

As an aside, I would be interested in seeing a poll of liberal/conservative, democrat/republic patterns among Jews who have and have not visited Israel.

Also - another thought. With such a high %age of American Jews attending top universities (a disproportiante share of Ivy Leaguers)--which have liberal tendencies--this shows up voting patterns too. Also, political identification is passed down from parent to child; old hereditary patterns die hard.

 
At 1:14 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

the Jewish voting pattern is not so different from the Xtians. pols from 2008,2004 and 2000 showed that the likelihood of voting rep was directly proportional to the rate of churchgoing. Those who went weekly were strongly republican and once-a-year or never were strongly dem. the same applies for Jews.
Unfortunately 50-80% of white xtians go to church regularly, but only 10% of Jews goto synagogue regularly.

 

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