November 18, 2004
Why the Left-Wing Hand-Wringing?
I should have known better than to forward an e-mail recommending a boycott of French products for France's anti-Israel stance and willingness to tend to Yasser Arafat on his deathbed.
In an age of e-mail overload, forwarding e-mail is already a risky proposition, and usually I am more careful. But the real whopper was sending it to two of my Jewish friends who are Democrats.
One replied with a line lifted directly from the Democratic Party playbook: "We can't continue to alienate every country on the globe over issues that have always been settled diplomatically in the past," this friend noted. My other friend's response was more unsettling: "I can't support a group that uses Bush and Cheney as a drawing card. They sicken me. That's the least offensive thing I can say about them."
This hatred of President Bush comes from people who I know to be otherwise thoughtful and intelligent. Unfortunately for them, their "anybody but Bush" mantra helps to explain the Kerry defeat. Negativism and name-calling is not a winning political strategy.
These friends' angry and contemptuous post-election sentiments are part of a larger mass hand-wringing among the left. On an Internet-based writers' discussion board that I belong to, more than 150 messages were posted the day after the election, 90 percent of them expressing shock, dismay, deep mourning and sheer embarrassment. The sky-is-falling responses included plans to move to Canada and predictions of the destruction of the world environment, obliteration of all civil rights, and a looming Christian-based theocracy. That's quite an agenda for only four years! Wonder if W can pull it off?
One writer likened President Bush's religiosity to mental illness: "It's a sad day when a man claiming to follow God's instructions prevails in an election. Prominent people who hear voices include the Son of Sam and all those schizophrenics on lifetime medication."
Most Jews would not, I hope, make this odious comparison. Nonetheless, many of them, including my friends, worry that President Bush's overt faith is somehow dangerous. "I can't think of anyone worse for the Jews than Bush," said one of my e-mail recipients.
Just what are they so afraid of? After four years of a Bush administration Jewish life in our country is thriving and free. The United States has not been attacked again since Sept. 11 despite the efforts of known terrorist cells throughout the world and in the United States -- including Los Angeles. Why the refusal to give credit for keeping us safe from further terrorist attacks? The Bush agenda also fights aggressively for the democratization of the Arab world, believing, in contrast to many on the left, that they are capable of democratic self-government. President Bush has also been a stalwart supporter of Israel's right to defend itself and refused to deal with Arafat, recognizing him as the terrorist and mass murderer that he was.
I wished I could have engaged my friends on these issues, but with emotions running so high I didn't dare push it. I value my friendship with them more than I value the highly unlikely chance that I might sway their opinions.
That's why as a religious Jew, I am not threatened by the president's basic Christian values. I am more threatened by the moral relativism of the left, which questions the war on terror, where third-trimester abortions are coyly framed only as a woman's "right to choose," and where those who fight to preserve the institution of marriage are instantly called bigots, shutting down any further discussion.
Many Jews respond that Christian support for Israel is self-serving: the second coming of Jesus cannot happen until Jews are safely in Israel. But it's only a small minority of Christians whose support has ulterior motives. I am friends with several religious Christians who have had many opportunities over the years to try to get me to "come over to their side." They never have. Instead, they have participated in missions to Israel where they helped shore up flagging tourism even during the darkest days of the intifada. Most religious Christians support Israel because they take seriously the Torah's promise of God to Abraham: "Those who bless you I will bless; and those who curse you I will curse." Perhaps if more Jews realized how much Christians have also suffered at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who have committed mass murder of Christians in the Philippines, Pakistan, East Timor, the Sudan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the West Bank, they would be less suspect of Christians' motives in supporting Israel.
I admit that until I was in my mid-20s, I myself was a proud Jewish liberal. In fact, when I met my husband-to-be in 1984 and learned he was planning to vote for President Reagan's re-election, I nearly wrote off the fledgling relationship. Dating a Republican felt like a violation almost as severe as dating out of the faith.
It took "four more years" for me to finally believe that Republican values of lower taxes, strong defense and support of traditional family values were in the best interests of American society and more consistent with my Jewish values of justice and compassion. Like so many other Jews, I had been deeply emotionally invested in my Democratic affiliation.
Polling pundits claim that in this election, Bush claimed 25 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent in 2000, although Jewish support in Florida and even the hotly contested Cuyahoga County in Ohio were thought to be significantly higher. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic, surmised that Jewish support for the president was even higher, but that many Jews just couldn't bring themselves to admit they voted for a Republican.
I'm pretty certain that my friends were not among those voting Republican and just unable to fess up. But I hope that in the next four years, the good effects that I expect from President Bush's policies for the entire country will at least make me seem less vexing to my Jewish friends on the left.
Judy Gruen is a humorist and author of "Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout." Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.