I’m often asked this question by other Jews: “You seem to be a nice guy and reasonably intelligent — how can you be a Republican?” I’m used to it, in my own Churchillian, contrarian way. Without his genius or flair, but with equal assurance, I say to the 60 percent of Jews forecast to vote for Obama, “You’re on the wrong side.”
America is British, not French. From any historical viewpoint, our system of government and political philosophies are British. We were founded by British subjects, if ultimately rebellious. British institutions and traditions, imperfect as they may be, are wise, just, and taken as a whole, provide for the common good. The admixture of new immigrants to America has not altered that fact in the least. New arrivals adopted American, hence British, attitudes and beliefs.
Americans prefer these traditions over any lurch toward utopian dreams of re-engineered man and society. Not to say we haven’t had such lurches. Except for periods of social engineering in the 1930s and 1960s, we always return to our British ideas of individual liberty. Unfortunately, we may be about to lurch again.
British ideas work. Once conquered by the Romans, the Brits absorbed the legacy of Western civilization. Britain led the world in developing democratic, power-sharing institutions, from the Magna Carta in 1215 to the Glorious Revolution of 1688; the latter marked the beginning of modern parliamentary democracy. British civilization is a gift to the world. British warships were the first to patrol the seas in opposition to slavery, clearly an example of how they led the world in the development of enlightened standards of humanity.
Our founders came with British ideas. In the luxury of an ocean of distance, they refined them further in their colonial charters and constitutions. They understood the sanctity of individual freedom in the writings of Adam Smith, John Locke and Edmund Burke. They added their own wisdom, most artfully argued in the Federalist Papers. This legacy is, without the slightest doubt in my mind, the most just, efficacious, and beneficent system of governance the world has ever seen. Howard Zinn, take a hike. You’re screwing up my country.
(Zinn is author of A People’s History of the United States, which is widely taught in our schools by far-left professors who teach our children to hate their own country.)
Why Jews are Democrats. Massive waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in America, primarily from Eastern Europe. Many came from Slavic areas never in Roman control, and to this day those societies struggle to achieve a functioning society based on law. Jews from these areas had no reason to believe any civil institutions and traditions were wise, just and worked for the common good because those institutions had terribly oppressed them in their homelands and rigidly held them inferior.
Jews, in anger and frustration, took hope in the radical ideas of socialist and Marxist movements. This experience has determined the liberal Jewish worldview ever since. “Socialism,” “communism” and even “liberal” are now discredited, the words pejorative. “Progressive” euphemistically takes their place. Progressive is sanguine; hopeful. It resonates with long-delayed Jewish desires for respect as equal citizens.
But progressive ideas are contrary to British principles of individual liberty. Rather, they derive from the utopian ideology of French revolutionaries. Progressives have a vision of a more perfect world, and believe in the perfectibility of man. Conservatives do not believe man is perfectible. He cannot be educated or reasoned with to value society at large more than his own self-interest. Therefore, per Adam Smith, let self-interest work for society. And so it has, with remarkable success.
Freedom and Power in America. Liberals value results, and want them to be fair. Conservatives value processes, and want them to be fair. But to determine results is for A to impose his will on B for the benefit of C — an anathema to conservatives — as it should be to Jews. Who decides who is favored, and who must lose their property or freedom? By comparison to free-market societies, nations with intrusive government control are economic failures too numerous to list. Liberal Jews are unbothered by the dangers inherent in the actions they contemplate. If you believe the ends justify the means, you are about to lose your freedom.
Paradoxically for a tradition-loving religion, liberal Jews believe long-standing civil institutions stand in the way of progress. Take nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those guided by the intent of the founders are aggressively opposed. Liberal Jews seek activist judges who ask, as Earl Warren did, “What is good, what is right?” rather than what is consistent with the Constitution. This is wrong to conservatives. It usurps the right of the people to rule themselves through their legislatures, and puts enormous power in the hands of unelected judges.
In the same way, Democrats believe that educated elites should make decisions for the ignorant masses. But Orthodox Jews know that Torah is a lesson in human imperfection. They understand that knowledge accumulates over centuries, seasoned by sages. They know in their bones that institutional knowledge cannot be remotely approached by elites — no matter how brilliant or eloquent they may be.
Jews are attracted to the idea of intellectual elites. Having spent centuries struggling for acceptance, academe was the only path left open. Jews excelled, especially in law. Here was a path to power, and many have taken it. Conservatives deem such concentrations of power as an invitation to tyranny.
Why I am a Jewish Republican. The question is not which party has the best intentions, but which party delivers the best outcomes. Let’s talk about outcomes. Architects of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society were asked why their life’s work amounted to nothing. Their programs were failures. The architects were unrepentant. They meant well. Their intentions were good. The nation spent trillions over decades, yet poverty had not diminished. If anything, welfare programs only succeeded in calcifying poverty. By every measure, social dysfunction among the poor worsened.
Before they were “helped” by liberals, African Americans had rates similar to the general population for illegitimate births, intact families, crime and incarceration, and other measurements of social health. Today the numbers are appalling. But rather than face the failure of their ideas, they recite mantras: We meant well, our intentions are good; it is going to take more money to fix it; and my favorite, who are we to judge someone’s choices in life, when it is precisely those choices that have tethered them to poverty?
Low taxes, less government interference, free markets, free trade, and strong national defense have brought us unparalleled wealth and prosperity. I’m keeping my feet planted in ideas I know are right and good, and that work in the world we live in. I will not trade my birthright for a bowl of liberal porridge, no matter how tasty Senator Obama can make it seem.