Posted by Steven Windmueller
As American census data suggests this nation is undergoing a significant and rapid change in its ethnic, racial and social orientation. For the first time in US history, racial and ethnic minorities outnumber caucasians – white births make up fewer than half the children born in the country, according to the US Census Bureau.
Today in the United States, minorities including Asians, Latinos, Blacks and those of mixed-race comprise 50.4 per cent of the overall population, which compares with a 37 per cent ratio in 1990. In four US states – Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas – as well as the District of Columbia, the minority populations exceed 50 per cent.
While the traditional “white majority” seems to be unraveling, an even more significant subset of the traditional elite class of American society seems to be diminishing both in terms of numbers and influence, would be the WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants).
In contrast, one of the few groups that seems to have emerged intact happens to be the Jewish community. While the percentage of Jews in America continues to decline, the social and communal infrastructure of American Jewry represents.
Today, Jews indeed fit all of the criteria that historically defined WASPS. A number of specific characteristics defined their rise to power and prominence:
Clearly, other groups of Americans perceive that Jews have such a level of influence within the political system, and beyond. Yet, as a minority community, Jews certainly don’t “feel” like they fit this definition or image. In reality, a significant number of Jews are important players in framing American cultural, political, and social ideas as they are situated in key industries and professions, holding positions that are contributing to the social environment of America.
With such status, comes the notion of maintaining the status quo or peeling back some of the social initiatives that have produced change within the society or that might undercut a group’s standing or its core interests.
A number of theories are being advanced about some of the implications of this emerging phenamenon as it applies to Jews. A central correlation here is that being a WASP or behaving as one places one as an insider Republican.
For some Jews emulating WASP culture is particularly appealing. If Jews take on the traits and aspirations of this highly valued sector, they gain social credibility and greater access to power. Voting patterns may reflect then one such avenue for garnering such connection and recognition. If WASPS are primarily identified as “Republicans”, then Jews ought to be aligned with that party as well.
Another political perspective suggests the following: If liberalism was an entry point into the American system, then conservative political behavior reflects for this cohort a maturation point. This class of voters holds to the view that to align with the Republican Party best serves the interests of the Jewish community and the State of Israel at this time and that Jews ought to “vote their self-interests”.
As with other Americans, there are today a class of Jewish voters who fear an uncertain economic future for this nation and for their families which in some cases has moved them into the conservative camp, feeling that liberal economic and public policy issues are simply not working.
But voting Republican may well not be the only measure of Jewish “Waspiness”, as Jewish Democrats hold similiar political credibility and possibly even more access at this point. Indeed, by all measures American Jewry has made it!
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June 11, 2012 | 9:43 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
The decision by Temple Israel of Miami to cancel an invitation to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) to speak at Friday evening services appears to be in response to the objections and threats of an influential Republican congregant. This sideshow may have signaled the beginning of the 2012 political campaign within the Jewish community.
We are likely to see the deep and angry political divide that we know is present within our community surface in multiple ways over the course of the next five months. In 2008 we would document an array of political attacks and counter attacks launched by Jews against their co-religionists over party politics, candidates and even Israel. Four years ago, the focus of many of these political actions occurred, as did in this case, in Florida, where the Jewish vote will again clearly be in play during this election cycle.
The idea of hearing different political viewpoints or creating conversations around candidates and their policies in recent years has given way to the silencing of voices with whom we disagree. For Jews there is an added layer of political tension. Once the issue of Israel is introduced into the mix, one finds a sharpening of lines among the players, as J Street and AIPAC adherents are likely to tangle with one another. Passions run high in our community, not necessarily a bad indicator, but when we leave no room for a shared dialogue, then the atmosphere moves from the prospects of thoughtful debate to a contest of personal invective.
The Schultz Affair however points to another dimension to what is happening within Jewish life, the growing disconnect between Jewish liberal expression as articulated frequently by our institutions and its leadership and the growing voice of Jewish conservative dissent. It is becoming increasingly more complicated in the course of Jewish political and communal expression to suggest that there anyone can “speak for the Jews”. Indeed, a significant majority of Jews remain liberal in their social values, a fact borne out by last week’s Workman Circle’s study (http://circle.org/wcnationalpoll2012/) on Jewish political attitudes, yet for those who do not find themselves in this camp, there is a growing frustration over “who speaks for me?” As a direct result, it is not surprising to see a significant number of national agencies and community federations, pulling back from asserting public policy positions.
One of the casualties associated with this freeze on Jewish social engagement will be the dismantling of key ethnic, racial and religious relationships that have evolved over decades of community outreach. This network of contacts is an essential tool of organizing for any community and in the course of our community’s apparent effort to reposition itself politically, it would be a costly and problematic outcome related to our core interests to have us unilaterally disconnect from these partnerships. Recognizing our collective and shared interests related to ensuring Israel’s political support with key influential players and communities in our society, such efforts to uncouple us from these significant connections will over time be fundamentally detrimental to our foreign policy priorities.
May 29, 2012 | 11:35 pm
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?
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.
|State:||Jewish Pop.||Perc. of Pop.||Electoral Count|
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.
April 9, 2012 | 11:12 am
Posted by Steven Windmueller
A survey entitled, Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012 was released this week (April 3rd) by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute. The results suggest that “a majority of American Jews are welcoming of immigrants, favorably disposed towards American Muslims, support legalizing same-sex marriage, favor legal abortions and oppose overturning the recent health care law.”
The economy represented the main issue for Jewish registered voters during this election year (51 percent), with all other issues trailing well behind. Fifteen percent cited the growing gap between rich and poor, 10 percent cited health care, 7 percent the federal deficit and only 4 percent listed Israel. As could be imagined, the significantly lower ranking for Israel evoked some interesting commentaries from Jewish leaders across the political spectrum.
“Among the surprising findings was that fully 87 percent of Jews said the Holocaust was somewhat or very important in informing their political beliefs and activities… Some 85 percent said they were influenced also by the opportunities for economic success in America, 70 percent cited the immigrant experience and 66 percent cited the fact they are a religious minority here.”
An equal number (36%) of those surveyed expressed satisfaction with President Obama as those who indicated their dissatisfaction with the current administration; yet only 3% of all participants in the study indicated any excitement for this President.
Some 61 percent said they have very a favorable or mostly favorable view of President Barack Obama and 62 percent said they would like to see him re-elected — more than twice the number who support a Republican candidate (30 percent). Among those who indicated their intention to vote Republican, 58 percent endorsed Romney compared to 15 percent for Rick Santorum.
A total of 1,004 self-identified Jews age 18 and older participated in this online survey between Feb. 23 and March 5, with a sampling error of 5 percent. According to its authors and sponsors, this was the first major study of its size, comprehensiveness and scope conducted by a non-Jewish group.
The survey findings also reflected another characteristic found in the general American population — younger Americans are “likely to be less religiously affiliated.”
For a complete analysis of this study, see:
This is one of more than a dozen blogs focusing on the 2012 elections prepared by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. (a faculty member of Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles campus) and now available both through the Jewish Journal and the Wind Report, www.thewindreport.com
March 18, 2012 | 7:07 pm
Posted by Steven Windmueller
Two leading political scientists, Robert Putnam and David Campbell, have recently released their findings related to the connection between religious affiliation and voting patterns. Their study released this month in Foreign Affairs magazine suggests that “church attendance has become the main dividing line between Republicans and Democratic voters.”
In their article, “God and Caesar in America” they conclude that “politically moderate and progressive Americans have a general allergy to the mingling of religion and party politics.” Tracking voters between 2006 and 2011, these researchers found that Democrats were much more likely not to be involved with churches or synagogues than were Republicans. Liberal voters, they suggest, hold the following viewpoint: “‘Well, if religion is just about conservative politics, than I’m otta here.’”
Correspondingly, younger voters (the millennials) are moving away from religion in strikingly high numbers. If nearly 20% of the affiliated-church (synagogue) attendees were leaving America’s pews between 2006-2011, that number appears to be five times higher among those under 30 years of age.
Over the history of this nation one of the key centers for political organizing and social activism were our religious institutions, both liberal and conservative. Today, liberal denominations face serious challenges in reaching constituencies that at one time where a part of their membership base. This also has a profound impact on Democratic Party grass roots organizing as there maybe fewer points of connection available.
While the study primarily focuses on denominational groups within Christianity, comparative data on synagogue affiliation patterns exists within the Jewish community. Indeed, multiple factors are contributing to the decline of membership within America’s synagogues but the political element must not be excluded from this scenario. If the same imagine does exist within Jewish life, namely that much of American Judaism is seen as the bastion for conservative political values and beliefs than such data will have a striking impact on recruiting and engaging younger Jews to feel at home within the walls of our synagogues.
Clearly, many younger Jews already hold an array of negative views regarding many of our established organizations. In part, such ideas have sparked the emergence of a counterculture of Jewish activism and organizing, often occurring outside the framework of the mainstream institutions.
The alignment of an individual’s religious values with their political passions has been one of the entry points for engaging young people over time to join synagogues and to participate in communal institutions. The Jewish community has a great deal at stake if we lose this opportunity to embrace the next generation, both religiously and politically.
Steven F. Windmueller, Ph.D.
Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor
Los Angeles Campus