In the course of the recent presidential campaign, I traveled and spoke in half a dozen states that were deemed “battleground” states. Because of demographics there, turning out the Jewish vote was key. Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all boast Jewish populations that are disproportionate to the nationwide number, where we comprise less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population. In every presidential race since the 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Jewish vote has been solidly Democratic, and the Republican Party made little effort to capture it. Evidencing Republican contempt for the Jewish vote in 1992, James Baker, then cabinet member in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, said: “F*** the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.”
At the time, when I wrote about Baker’s comment, I made clear that this did not in itself constitute an anti-Semitic diatribe, but was rather a political statement that no doubt could be directed at a host of groups-racial, ethnic, or religious-where a particular candidate or party seems unable to secure a significant number of votes.
Traditionally, the 6 million Jews in the U.S. are overwhelmingly liberal in their philosophy, as am I, and this is reflected in our voting patterns. Jews historically have suffered most under right-wing and fascist governments, the best examples being their treatment under Hitler, Mussolini, and a host of Western and Eastern European countries before and during Hitler’s Third Reich.
Left-wing governments, of course, have also demonstrated their fair share of anti-Semitism. In Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union, Jews were deprived of their rights, tortured, and killed. However, in the years following World War II, left-wing circles around the world-including many in the U.S., England, and France-have overtaken the right-wing in the fervor of their anti-Semitism. In the U.S., the Christian Right has been very supportive of Israel, the Jewish nation, and Jews in general, while the radical left wing continues its attacks on both Israel and Jews.
I traveled around the country in support of the reelection of President George W. Bush in an effort to increase the Jewish vote from his first election, when he received only 19 percent. I urged Jews to cross party lines and vote for the President because of his enormous support for Israel and his willingness to stand up to the international terrorism threatening the U.S. and Israel. Initially, I found great resistance to my position.
The major objection in the Jewish communities I addressed and the reason for their continued support of the Democratic Party was their commitment to hot-button social issues, opposition to privatizing Social Security, and so forth. I encountered a general belief that the Democratic philosophy was overall far better on these issues than the Republican.
My message to Jews in the recent election was that the overriding issue, for Jews and others, should be the danger of international terrorism. This issue should trump all others. After being rebuffed on the first few occasions, I thought of a proposal that satisfied many and allowed them to cross party lines without fearing they would end up in purgatory. I suggested they could have the best of both worlds by voting for George W. Bush while supporting Democratic senators who could represent their values, including appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. That protection would come from Democratic senators threatening the use of the filibuster. Under the rules of the Senate, if the Democrats have 41 senators, they can, by the threat or use of the filibuster, prevent the passage of any legislation, or the ratification of any appointee needing confirmation by the Senate.
I believe that, particularly in Florida, my efforts were helpful. Especially meaningful to me is the President’s note following the election, in which he wrote:
Dear Ed: Thanks for all your hard work on my behalf. You made a real difference in our victory, and I am grateful. I look forward to thanking you in person.
With very best wishes, George Bush