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.

8 responses to “Maturity

  1. Although our President will not defend marriage, his black voters did – via California’s Prop 8.
    The Lord works in mysterious ways…

  2. I’ve felt the same way — since I was an early teen. One wonders why so many Jews — including some very bright ones — just can’t get it.

  3. Rabbi Pruzansky,

    Generally this was an interesting post. However, as a close watcher of this Congressional race I feel it necessary to correct some mistakes you made and comment on some of the thins you have said.

    1. You allude to the fact that Weprin was not chosen as a candidate by primary but rather by the Democratic party bosses in both Queens and Brooklyn. While this is certainly true, it should be pointed out the Turner was picked in the very same manner.

    2. You state that Weprin does not live in the 9th Congressional district. However, as someone who graduated law school and who no doubt studied the Constitution you should know that no where in the Constitution is one required to live in a Congressional district in order to run as a representative for that specific district. The sole requirement is residency in the state of the Congressional district. Being that Weprin is a resident of New York, he qualifies. Further, it is at least arguable that Weprin, who lives literally a few blocks out of the district (in fact many of the congregants of the shul he attends are in the district), and has served the people of Queens as a City Councilman and a State Assemblyman better represented the district than Turner, who had never expressed any interest in public service before and who lives in a gated enclave on the very edge of the district.

    3. Finally, you allude to the fact that the fact that Weprin voted for same-sex marriage put him out of touch with many of the Orthodox Jewish voters in the district. While that is most certainly true I would argue that that vote should have had the opposite vote to thinking Jews. Just imagine for a moment that for whatever reason kidushin was seen as offensive to Christian sensibilities and many Christians decided that kidushin should be outlawed. Perhaps Christians would even argue that such a marriage was so abhorrent that it should not even be defined as marriage. I hope that you, along with many others, would be screaming on the top of your lungs about such an injustice. I believe the same could be said about same sex marriage. While I do not wish to marry someone of the same sex, nor do I hope for my child to marry someone of the same sex, in truth discrimination against same sex marriage is no different than the scenario I painted above. I would go so far to say as the mainstream Orthodox view that is against same-sex marriage is nothing more than bigotry under the guise of religious doctrine. As part of a minority in this country, it is incumbent upon all of us Jews to fight persecution in any form. The fact that we for the most part support this discrimination and do so under the guise of religious reasoning is frankly scary. So while I certainly agree that for the most part Weprin’s view on same-sex marriage was out of touch with many of the people in his district, I find it difficult to understand why this is so.

  4. Mr. Rosengarten:
    1. Of course Turner was picked by the party. (A) He ran previously in 2010, and (B) no other Republican would run. It was thought to be a waste of time and money.
    2. It is rare for a Congressman not to live in the district he represents. That is the meaning of “all politics is local.” Living there makes him more attuned to the needs of his constituents.
    3. I’ve addressed this many times in the past. Homosexuality is the only sin in the Torah that has its own defenders, interest group, and advocates. That is among the perversities that afflict our generation. One point you miss is that the same prohibition pertains to non-Jews pursuant to the seven Noachide laws. So your analogy is flawed. Of course Christians wouldn’t object to our kiddushin, because marriage has been the bedrock of civilization since the creation of Adam. I dare say that if you truly believe that “Orthodox” opposition to same-sex marriage is only a reflection of “bigotry” then you are clearly lacking in respect for our (your?) tradition.
    But change the words for a moment. Is one opposed to brother-sister marriage a “siblingphobe” and also a bigot ? You must also have to support plural marriages, no marriages, marriages between any number of men, women, beasts and fowl. Those who take the Torah seriously would certainly take offense at your characterizations, for the same G-d who banned homosexual relations gave the world the rest of its moral code as well. To pick and choose is to serve yourself, but not the Creator.
    That is why Torah Jews oppose these innovations. The question is: what changed in the last 10-30 years that what was recently held to be immoral is now innocuous, and even laudable and romantic ? And: is it possible – just possible – for one to oppose homosexual marriage and NOT be a bigot? Please consider that possibility, for otherwise you are demeaning and castigating almost all of mankind from creation until just a few years ago, when, apparently, the earth was first blessed with the appearance of “enlightened man.”

  5. While it may be the case that “homosexuality is the only sin in the Torah that has its own defenders, interest group, and advocates” (although I’d argue that “Thou Shalt Not Steal” has had its share of defenders, interest group, and advocates on Wall Street), it is certainly the case that opposing homosexual marriage is the only political issue in the United States whose proponents have no rational basis.
    Q: Why should gay marriage be banned?
    A: Because marriage should be between a man and a woman.
    Q: Why should marriage be only between a man and a woman?
    A: Because it should.

    Is it possible for one to oppose homosexual marriage and NOT be a bigot? I suppose anything is possible. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a scenario. (As an aside, comparing homosexuals to those who sexually abuse animals for their own pleasure is certainly bigotry.) What changed in the past 10-30 years that was previously held to be immoral is now innocuous, and even laudable and romantic? The same thing that happened when we gave equal rights to women, abolished slavery, and stopped guillotining people: society progressed and became more civilized.

    There is no rational reason why in a secular democracy a consensual sexual relationship between two adults should be prohibited. When two homosexuals enter into a marriage, they gain, and nobody is harmed. It’s a prototypical example of “zeh nehene v’zeh lo chaser” and to deny them that right is just plain cruel.

    P.S. And what about publicly booing a soldier for no reason other than that he’s gay? Is that bigotry or just standing up for “morality”?

    • How about this ? Marriage as the formal relationship between a man and a woman has been the bedrock of civilization since ancient times, as it is the basic framework of a family. That is why the birth – and rearing – of a child requires one mother and one father. That is the home in which children are raised, and properly influenced, by both a male and female perspective. A one-parent home is obviously a tragedy, as is bringing a child into a home with two fathers or two mothers.
      There is also an interest in educating children as to the normal expectations in society. Homosexuality is an aberration, statistically and morally. One does not want a 12 year old to think that same-sex attraction is normal, or have children experimenting with boys and/or girls. Confused sexuality makes for confused adults who have no satisfaction in life, of which there are millions today. The legalization of same-sex marriage will inevitably corrupt society, which – sad to say in an American context – is likely not to last the century in any event.
      Just change one word in your letter, and the weakness of your argument stands out. Who is harmed if a brother-sister marry ? If a father and daughter ? If three men and four women marry ? If five men and their horses dwell in matrimony. It’s all very romantic, and all consensual (except maybe for the horse…maybe not). Can two brothers marry, according to you ? And why not ?
      If you wish to approve the marriage permutation of any man, woman, beast and fowl, then you have removed the imprimatur of the state from the institution of marriage. It won’t be long before that state collapses. That is a great chisaron; that is why it was never done in the past.
      But I don’t expect you to recognize this, or agree with it.
      P.S. I heard the booing. It sounded like one or two people. I wouldn’t have done it. But who’s to say they are not repulsed by what they consider the flaunting of an immoral act ? That’s also free speech, as distasteful as it is. Was it bigotry ? That’s your own projection.

  6. Shavua Tov, Rabbi–

    The notion that the model of marriage between one man and one woman has been the consistent “bedrock of civilization since ancient times” is simply not true. To find evidence of polygamy, which today we deem improper, we need look no further than our Torah. Avraham, Yaakov, and Moshe (according to Rashbam) took multiple wives, subjecting their children to the “tragedy” of being raised in a home with more than one mother. Indeed, marriage has evolved in many ways throughout history, shifting away from an institution that was often an arrangement between families to one that is a relationship between individuals.

    But even if that were not the case. Even if marriage had been identical throughout history (and no student of history, society, or religion can honestly argue that to be the case), the fact that something has always been a certain way is not a sufficient reason that it should continue that way.

    Prior to Avraham Avinu, for the previous 2000 years (which represented the entire existence of the world), idolatry and paganism were the bedrock of civilization. It was only then, that by applying reason to divinity, Avraham was able to spread ethical monotheism through the world. Indeed, the very foundation of our faith came in the form of a repudiation of the past, through Avraham Avinu impressing upon the rest of the world that the way that they had all been living until then was wrong.

    The abolitionist, feminist, and civil rights movements were also met with great resistance, but today we all recognize that the denial of equal rights to minorities and women was a horrible crime of past generations. The past is not a justification of the present. In modern society and under American jurisprudence, there need to be a greater interest/policy reason than “that’s the way it’s always been” to deny basic rights to citizens and the ones you suggest do not seem to hold water.

    The fact that homosexuals are a statistical aberration might be true, as they represent only 3-4% of our population (not including those still in the closet), but by that measure Jews and redheads are statistical aberrations, as well. That homosexuality is a moral aberration is an opinion, not an argument. In fact, the idea that children should be educated regarding the “normal expectations of society” is a concession that what is moral and what is normal is driven by how society defines it and thus subject to change as society changes.

    Finally, although I don’t think the “change one word” game is a valid criticism of a position, I’ll bite. There are policy reasons for banning incest, most of which are underpinned by the theory that the majority of incestual relationship are not truly consensual. In the context of a parent-child, where one party has undue influence and control over the other, incest is more akin to rape. Even if both parties are adults, that dynamic still exists and even if it didn’t, surely allowing parent-child relations upon maturation would threaten the dynamic of the relationship when the child is still a child. The ban on sibling relationships is a derivative of that. Is every incestual relationship without consent? Maybe not. But there is a likelihood that enough of them are to be suspicious of them all.

    Moreover, by comparing homosexuality to incest, you are ignoring the consequences of banning each. If a man is attracted to his sister and society tells him “no”, there is still a significant segment of the population that he finds sexually attractive that he is free to choose from: women. However, when a gay man is attracted to men and society tells him “no”, he has two options: (1) be condemned to a life of celibacy and solitude, deprived of the ability to form meaningful romantic relationships and express himself sexually; or (2) marry a woman and ruin a second life.

    P.S. Imagine it was a Democratic Party debate and the soldier asking the question was not a gay one but a Jewish soldier asking a question about Israel’s sovereignty of the West Bank, where he serves in the IDF. Immediately after he finishes the question, several members of the crowd start booing, as nine Democratic presidential hopefuls stand silently on the stage. Would you write the episode off as people being repulsed by the flaunting of Israel’s presence in the West Bank, which they may consider to be an immoral act? Or would you cite is as an example of the Democratic Party’s hostility towards Jews and Israel?

  7. Check the stats for districts 10 and 11, where most CBY members live.