Posted by Steven Windmueller
A new book, entitled Herbert Hoover and the Jews was recently released; its authors, Sonia Wentling and Rafael Medoff, posit that the 1944 elections represented a potential transformative moment in American Jewish political behavior. Fearing the loss of support for President Roosevelt related to his inaction on behalf of European Jewish refugees, Democratic leaders and Jewish representatives made numerous overtures to the White House, seeking action by the administration to offset such criticism. In part, they argue, the War Refugee Board was established to offset such criticisms.
Realizing that the Jewish vote might be in-play, Republican leaders moved to take action at their Chicago convention by inserting a platform plank endorsing “unrestricted immigration and land ownership” and a “free and democratic Commonwealth” in Palestine.
The writers conclude: “The Republican move put strong pressure on the Democrats, for the first time, to compete for Jewish sympathies and treat the Jewish vote as if it were up for grabs.” The 1944 election may well represent a transformative moment in American Jewish political affairs. Over the years that have followed both parties have been particularly mindful of the importance of being responsive to Jewish voters.
The authors also point to the 1980 elections (Reagan vs. Carter) as a “watershed year for the GOP and Jewish voters,” arguing that for the first time since 1920 that the “Democratic nominee did not win a majority of Jewish voters.”
In light of the current criticism directed at the Obama administration in its management of US-Israel relations, are we likely to see a statement reflecting such concerns emerging from the Republican Party Platform Committee and might we see next fall as well some voter disengagement from the Democratic Party?
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May 29, 2012 | 10:12 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
Religious and social values of our Presidents have defined their ideas and shaped their public policies. Herbert Hoover’s Quaker ancestry, Bill Clinton’s Southern Baptist orientation, Jimmy Carter and his “born again” faith reflect but a selection of American Presidents who held strong religious beliefs that would also frame their presidencies.
In 2012 the American electorate are being introduced to two personalities with clearly distinctive social positions. President Obama can best be described as a Christian progressive, while Governor Mitt Romney is identified as a Mormon. While the President appears to be less public about his religious engagement with a particular church at this time (previously while living in Chicago, the Obamas’ were members of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ), his religious values are very much in play.
Where Obama’s religious progressivism and political pragmatism make him comfortable to endorse same-sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion, Romney’s Mormon faith gives definition to his positions on these policy questions, where his views differ from those of the President.
While some critics of the President describe him as a socialist, his philosophy is more about cementing and perfecting social and political changes. His political roots appear to be tied to such notions as “open-minded experimentation”. He has been described as someone drawn to the ideas of “civic republicanism or deliberative democracy”, where the focus of the discussion is about advancing the common good. Taking his cue from Madison, Mr. Obama writes in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope that the constitutional framework is “designed to force us into a conversation,” that it offers “a way by which we argue about our future.” Beyond political philosophy, the President has noted: “There is no doubt that the residue of Hawaii will always stay with me, that it is part of my core, and that what’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii.”
In turn, the Governor’s views on American exceptionalism are likewise tied to his church’s view that this nation was chosen by God to play a special role in history, with its Constitution “divinely inspired.” The notion of “higher purpose” offers another explanation of how Mitt and Ann Romney understand their lives and mission.
Those who have studied Mr. Obama’s writings and speeches have suggested that his ideas reflect the work of Weber and Nietzsche, Thoreau and Emerson, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. He appears to have been influenced by such intellectuals as historian Gordon Wood, philosophers John Rawls and Hilary Putnam, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, and the legal theorists Martha Minow and Cass Sunstein.
Mitt Romney appears to have been influenced by Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich. This text introduces the idea of the New Thought prosperity doctrine, which notes that the universe contains “infinite intelligence” into which one can tap and in turn achieve whatever one sets out to achieve. The book was introduced to Romney by members of his Mormon community and tend to reflect his social views and economic priorities.
If one is to fully understand the frames of reference that define both President Obama’s and Governor Romney’s perspectives on this nation, it is essential to unpack their ideological and religious root systems.
Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College. His complete writings can be found at www.thewindreport.com
May 9, 2012 | 10:43 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
In this forthcoming Presidential election, only about a fourth of American Jewish voters will truly have anything to say about the final outcome! As a result somewhat less than 1,300,000 Jews will have any meaningful impact in shaping the 2012 results. While election day is still six months away, in contemporary American politics, the contest is clearly understood to rest with a specific set of undecided voters in a select number of states.
Currently, only nine states are classified as “toss-up” contests for this year’s election; everything else, at least at the moment, is resolved, with Democrats assured of victory in states with 182 electoral votes and leading in three other states with a total of 35 electoral delegates. Republicans currently hold a solid 159 electoral slots with an additional 47 electoral votes “leaning Republican” in four contest states. By way of a reminder, a candidate for President must receive 270 electoral votes.
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It is conceivable that these 109 Electoral Votes will determine this fall’s Presidential contest. In light of how close many pollsters are projecting the results for this election campaign, the small yet significant Jewish voter base, especially in the swing states of Florida, Pennsylannia, and Ohio, with a combined 67 electoral votes, could be of particular importance.
The focus given to these in-play voters will be significant and may well define each campaign’s “Jewish” strategy. Particular attention ought to be given to how the SuperPacs along with the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council will seek to engage these target populations.
As we move through the final primaries and into the convention process, one might expect to see a continued high-energy effort to cultivate these voters.
This is one of a number of 2012 election commentaries offered by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D., who is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles campus. See his website for a full posting of his writings, www.thewindreport.com
May 9, 2012 | 10:41 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
Younger voters (those between the ages of 18-30) will be a target audience for both political parties this fall.
With the economic picture being bleak around job creation, higher gas prices, and the student loan debate, many younger voters may well be searching for political answers that meet their specific needs and concerns.
A recently released Harvard study noted that the President had a significant advantage over John McCain in appealing to this voting sector in 2008. That may not be the case however in 2012, as support for the President within this age cohort has dissipated.
For younger Jewish voters the economic crunch will most certainly be a factor in their political thinking. Yet, as we have come to appreciate some of these voters have specific single issue concerns within the public policy arena. Among the priorities of Gen X’ers and Y’ers are the environment, human rights (Darfur), economic justice, education and foreign affairs.
Unlike their parents’ or grandparents’ generation, younger Jewish voters seem not to hold the same level of party loyalty. This may have some significant implications over time with regard to the traditional ties that Jews have had with the Democratic Party. Similarly, there is some evidence that younger Jews are not registering and voting with the same intensity as their folks.
Historically, nearly 90% of eligible Jewish voters were engaged with the election process; this high percentage rate of participation appears to be declining. Yet, among ethnic and religious voting blocs, Jews still retain the highest levels of political engagement.
Several sub-groupings of younger Jewish voters seem to be in play in this election cycle. In addition to the single-issue constituencies, one finds an emerging entrepreneurial class of voters who are highly focused on business opportunities and financial investment options, concerned about the constraints of government regulatory policies that might impede access and growth.
A new sub-set involves radicalized voters who can identified on both ends of the political discourse, the tea party conservatives on the one side and the “Occupied Wall Street” crowd on the other.
This data surrounding these generational social and demographic changes corresponds to the larger redistribution of voting patterns now seen across the political spectrum.