March 24, 2010
Jews and Big Government
Why do most American Jews support the president’s and the Democratic Party’s health care plan?
Ask most American Jews and they will tell you that it is a moral imperative, that it is a shame on the republic that 40 million Americans do not have health insurance.
I take my fellow American Jews’ word for it. Unlike my ideological opponents, I do not ascribe nefarious motives to those I differ with.
But the reason for their support goes deeper than a desire to see more Americans insured. Those of us who opposed this plan also want to see more Americans insured.
The deeper issue, as President Obama has acknowledged, is the size of government. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” last fall, Obama said, “What’s driving passions right now is that health care has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in the economy.”
Exactly right. Jews and other Americans on the left believe deeply in the state as the greatest single force for good in society. Those of us not on the left fear the state’s growth.
Why Jews believe so deeply in the state is a real puzzle. It is not as if the powerful state has been a friend of the Jews. If Jews were often persecuted and killed by religion in the Middle Ages, they — not to mention many millions of Chinese, Koreans, Cambodians and Rwandans — were persecuted and slaughtered en masse by the (secular) state in the 20th century.
One reason Jews have fared so much better in America than anywhere else is that the state has been weaker here. In Europe, where the modern welfare state originated (in anti-Semitic pre-Hitler Germany, as it happens), Jews have fared poorly in comparison to America — not only in the first half of the 20th century, but today. Since World War II, Jews have done far better in America with its Judeo-Christian values, its reliance on the individual and its weaker central government than in Europe with its far larger governments. As a rule, the bigger and stronger the state, the worse it has been for Jews.
Likewise attitudes toward Israel: The further left the ruling party, i.e., the more government control, the less supportive that country has been of Israel. Conservative governments from Spain to Canada are far more supportive of Israel than leftist governments in those countries. Just as in America, Republicans and conservatives are more supportive of Israel than liberals and Democrats. And there is far more hostility to Jews and Israel on the left than on the right everywhere in the Western world.
But none of this matters to most American Jews who hold liberal/left views as strongly as believing Christians hold Christian beliefs or Orthodox Jews hold their beliefs.
Of this I am sure: One day, the descendants of this generation of American Jews will regret what their ancestors supported. As difficult as it is for many Jews to imagine, American Jews will not be on the left forever. Two hundred years ago, few Jews would have imagined that most Jews would one day abandon Judaism. And if Jews could abandon Judaism, their own religious and moral system for thousands of years, they can certainly abandon leftism, their 200-year-old foreign import religion.
If this bill is not eventually repealed, our descendants will wonder why generations of Americans prior to 2010 had more personal liberty, a higher level of medical care, shorter waits for doctors, and why America was so much more influential in the world than in their generation. They will wonder why America decided in the beginning of the 21st century to move dramatically closer to Europe and expand the power of the state to an unprecedented degree.
Health care aside, they will live in both a weaker and morally inferior America.
Morally inferior because as the state expands, people do less for other people. The state takes over the job of taking care of other people. That is one reason Europeans give less charity per capita and per income, and volunteer less time than Americans — the bigger the state, the less people do for other people. As I have put it in lectures and repeatedly on my radio show, the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Why should citizens do much for others when the state will do it for them? And theoretically, at least, do it better?
America will be weaker because it will have neither the will nor the money nor the military power to continue leading the world. Thanks to leftist policies it will cede authority to international institutions such as the United Nations. That Jews should yearn for a world in which the United Nations has more power than the United States is so foolish as to border on the suicidal. A strong, indeed a dominant, America has been a blessing for the world, for liberty and democracy — and for the Jewish people. The United Nations, on the other hand, is a moral wasteland. How could it not be? It is composed largely of countries ruled by thugs.
Jews who had not already adopted left- wing views fell in love with big government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They attributed the end of the Depression to his policies and, of course, they were deeply moved by his stirring wartime leadership. As it happens, however, his economic policies actually prolonged the Depression, as most non-ideological economists now acknowledge. And while his anti-Nazi and anti-Japanese policies and rhetoric were magnificent, he did almost nothing for the Jews of the Holocaust.
Those of us Jews who oppose the expansion of the welfare state and cry at the thought of America becoming like Western Europe can only say to American Jews yet unborn, “Try to forgive your leftist Jewish ancestors. They meant well.”
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is dennisprager.com.