The victory of Republican Bob Turner in New York’s 9th Congressional district is significant for several reasons, among them that the defeat of the observant Jewish Democrat David Weprin represents a coming-of-age of the Jewish electorate. In this heavily Jewish district, where Democrats outnumber
Republicans three-to-one, and which had never had a Republican representative in its current boundary, Jews – especially Orthodox Jews – overcame the lure of tribal affiliation, and Democratic Party sycophancy, and voted Republican in large numbers, powering Turner to office.
For Orthodox Jews, the Republican vote was not surprising. The Orthodox have long voted majority Republican. For example, in the two districts in which most members in our synagogue reside – in heavily Democratic Bergen County – John McCain won handily in 2008 averaging 60% of the vote. But the results here, as well as the huge number of yarmulkas seen at Turner headquarters on election night, are a watershed, because it means that Orthodox Jews voted not for the Orthodox candidate but for the Roman Catholic candidate who better reflected their views, values, and particularly their dislike of President Obama. Although Weprin did not live in the district, itself a reflection of the good old party politics in Queens that won him the nomination from the party bosses, he is well known and a member of an Orthodox synagogue in an adjoining neighborhood. And yet, the Jews said no, along with many other registered Democrats.
The causes are multi-faceted, as well as instructive, and might only presage a greater electoral maturation across the Jewish world. Clearly, Obama is unpopular. Start with the economy. The blame-Bush theme has grown tiresome, and his economic recovery plans equally so. This week’s much-touted “jobs” bill reveals again a staggering ignorance of economic reality. Obama’s ideas – leave aside the tax increase that will ostensibly pay for it – are limited to keeping public sector unions – the Democrat base – employed, by funneling federal money to the states for teachers, fire fighters and police officers. It completely ignores the states’ dire need to reduce its workforce with its unsustainable pension and health care obligations. Obama also trotted out the old “shovel-ready” work projects as a sop for the construction unions. For sure,
this will keep the rate of unemployment steadier, and keep people employed at
the public expense who would otherwise lose their jobs.
Of course, this recalls Milton Friedman’s prescription for a nation of full employment: have the government pay half the people to dig holes and the other half to fill the holes. It makes sense, except for the fact that none of them produce anything. States and municipalities that need to reduce their workforces are not benefited by the artificial stimulus of more federal funds that enable them to avoid the inevitable day of reckoning. And Obama’s obsession with “green jobs” led to the Solyndra fiasco, where half-billion tax dollars were poured down the rat hole of a “green” company – that went bankrupt, with the money coming after the Administration knew – or should have known – it was going bankrupt.
Obama further suggested that Congress enact a tax credit for private sector employers in order to induce them to hire more workers. Again, the ignorance is
breath-taking. Employees are hired only to the extent that they can produce
value to their employers greater than the salaries they are being paid. If this
will not happen – say, because their products are not selling well – there is
obviously no incentive to hire anyone who will be a further drag on their bottom
line. Why doesn’t Obama realize this ? Not only because he has never run a
business, but more likely because his advisors, mentors and supporters are
rooted in the union mentality where such inane hiring practices (i.e., hiring
workers you don’t need) are so common it has its own name: featherbedding.
Count this election result as another blow to Obamanomics.
There was also an overt appeal (by Ed Koch, among others) to make this election a referendum on Obama’s anti-Israel rhetoric and policies. (Yes, yes, it is not all anti-Israel – we assume the US will veto the Palestine Authority’s independence bid in the UN – but it is mostly anti-Israel, in word, deed and
especially attitude. Even now, word behind the scenes is that Obama is
threatening Israel not to veto the motion if Israel responds by either
repudiating the Oslo Accords – as is their absolute right, as this attempted UN
proceeding is the type of unilateral action barred by the agreement – or by
annexing Judea and Samaria. Either action on the part of the Israelis would
strengthen Israel and bring much needed clarity to their statecraft.) There are
numerous Jewish Democrats who have vowed to sit on their hands and deny the Obama re-election campaign their largesse. Would that it happened, but I would be stunned if even a hostile, weakened, incompetent Obama did not receive 60% of the Jewish vote. If he receives anything closer to 50%, a Jewish political transformation is in the making, not to mention an obvious defeat in 2012.
That is clearly why the Dems selected Debbie Wasserman & Schultz as their national chair and why Chuck Schumer came around again to campaign for Weprin and try to ease people concerns about Obama. Jews have often fallen for the right words (“security for Israel,” I will never abandon Israel,” “we love Israel”) even when the policies were antagonistic. I personally recall then-Congressman Schumer coming to Kew Gardens Hills to extol the Israel-loving credentials of Jimmy Carter running for re-election against Ronald Reagan. Even then he met a skeptical and unfriendly reception – clearly, Schumer favored party over people. If Jews actually vote based on their perception of a candidate’s attitude toward Israel – by no means a given and traditionally not that significant a yardstick – then the Democrat president is in deep trouble.
So even though Weprin is solidly pro-Israel, he was tainted by his Democrat and Obama associations, as Jews again recognized that a pro-Israel non-Jew can often be as – or more – effective than a pro-Israel Jew.
Finally, it is clear that Weprin was grievously harmed by his support of the NY same-sex marriage bill, even touting his support as rooted in his Orthodox Judaism. He could have bucked the tide (as his colleague Dov Hikind did) or he could have even taken the coward’s out and abstained. He didn’t – and his pro-homosexual marriage vote, indispensable to passage, marked him as out-of-touch with the values of many of his constituents.
One can only hope that gone are the days when eating a kreplach in public and mouthing a few Hebrew words is enough to secure the Jewish vote. But what should really be purged is the entire notion of ethnic voting; Jews, like any other group, are not unidimensional stick figures. It is demeaning, and childish, that people are expected to vote for – or against – a candidate because of his/her skin color (blacks voted 96% for Obama), religion, ethnic origin, sex, or any other superficial indicia that do not relate at all to his policies, qualifications or values. Indeed, people who lack that sophistication and predicate their vote on such inanities should not really be voting at all, but should be encouraged to stay home. Unfortunately, that constituent is a large part of the brain-dead vote that sustains the candidacies of many unqualified office-holders.
That is not to say that every Jew or every black must vote Republican, but rather that a more even distribution of votes between the candidates and parties reflects a greater attunement to issues and platforms and a more mature electorate. Is the 9th district vote an aberration, or are Jews ready to abandon their blind, unthinking fealties of the past?
One can only hope.