March 2, 2012
Jewish Identity: Is Mitt Romney Dogged by Wealth?
No, this is not about the story of Seamus, the Romney family Irish setter, riding in a carrier on his car roof for a 12-hour family trip. Yes, its tza’ar ba’alei chayim, or preventing suffering to animals. Jewish values would rather the dog ride in the carrier rather than one of the five Romney kids. I think that people are scratching their heads as to why someone so ostentatiously wealthy would crowd five kids into one car rather than getting a more commodious vehicle.
The electorate’s inability to understand that Mormon family composition and family culture supersedes Romney’s perception of what his money can buy him, space and convenience that most Americans take for granted, is perhaps why this story has gone viral. American society is going solo, that is remaining single, often never sharing a sleeping space with anyone else since birth. NYU sociology professor Eric Klinenberg has written a new book called “Going Solo,” which explores the increasing phenomenon of adults living alone. He describes the change as a huge demographic shift. Klinenberg points out that “going solo” is primarily for the middle class and wealthy who can afford it. Others, of lesser means must share living quarters or take roommates.
So, Romney, rather than being attacked for his family culture, is being attacked for his wealth in the current environment of people taking a harder look at the 1% who control much of American resources and personal characteristics are also coming under greater scrutiny.
There is an undercurrent of mistrust of the rich which is inviting attacks even by other Republicans on Romney achieving his wealth and his paying of paltry taxes that was recently deemed as Republican “class warfare” by many pundits.
It used to be that Jews were specifically singled out for scrutiny, even those without wealth.
We are used to seeing Jews as exemplars of honesty that worthies, such as Mark Twain have waxed eloquently about. Even Bernard Madoff was recently unable to remove the shine of historical probity from the general Jewish community.
While the recession is still very much with us, there are Jews among the Jews who remain wealthy. One in decline, but attempting to gain wealth through a new book, Jack Abramoff, former lobbyist and convicted felon speaking at his local alma mater, Beverly Hills High, shared with the students that his fall, he said, was not a result of setting out to break the law, but rather of an arrogance that led to the belief that the laws did not apply to him.
Recently UC Berkely researchers found that the rich were more likely to cheat. Because rich people have more financial resources, they’re less dependent on social bonds for survival, the Berkeley researchers theorized. As a result, their self-interest reigns and they have fewer qualms about breaking the rules. The caveat is that the researchers also discovered that anyone’s ethical standards could be prone to slip if they suddenly won the lottery and suddenly became wealthy.
It may be that wealth has less of an effect on many Jews’ ethical standards. I did find that Jews were overrepresented among millionaires who signed a public petition to increase their taxes, though not in Los Angeles. Perhaps that’s why many Jews continue to look like Episcopalians and keep on voting like blue collar African Americans and Latinos. In contrast, Mitt Romney is more similar African American and Latinos in terms of family size and culture and votes like an Episcopalian.
Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography, Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work, Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (I was recently notified that with 40,000 visitors this year the 15 year old study of the LA Jewish populationwas third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: email@example.com To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih