Some back and forth on Sarah Palin and the Jews
12/01/2010 - 09:51
James Besser

Benyamin Korn's op-ed response to my recent blog on polls suggesting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is lagging with more educated voters is something rare in political discourse these days – which is to say, civil. He made his points, he didn't hurl invectives, he wasn't nasty.

But he was also wrong on a few counts, it seems to me.

This was the main gist of his argument:

 “Pundits made similar assumptions about Ronald Reagan when he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980. Reagan also had considerable appeal among the less educated and the less affluent; surely educated and affluent Jews would support President Jimmy Carter – or so the pundits reasoned. But on election day, the majority of American Jews repaid Carter's disdain for Israel, his impotence in rescuing the Americans held hostage in Iran, and his mismanagement of the American economy, by abandoning him for Ronald Reagan, the most conservative Presidential candidate of the post-Vietnam era. Reagan received the largest share of the Jewish vote of any Republican presidential nominee in U.S. history.”

Well, yes and no.

Clearly, Carter earned the enmity of many Jewish voters and Reagan did better with the Tribe than any recent Republican presidential nominee. But “a majority?” Not quite; he got 39 percent of the Jewish vote, but Carter still won a plurality at 45 percent (Third party candidate John Anderson – remember him? – got 14 percent of the Jewish vote).

Nationally, it was a GOP blowout, with Reagan getting 90 percent of the electoral vote, and it was a pretty good day for the GOP in Jewish terms, but it was hardly unprecedented in the postwar era; Dwight D. Eisenhower nailed 40 percent of the Jewish vote in 1956 against Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

But that's quibbling; we agree that Reagan did better than the pundits predicted with Jewish voters, and there's no reason a Republican can't match or exceed that in the future.

Could Sarah Palin be the one? It's not inconceivable, but Korn's assertion that “there are signs of growing respect for Gov. Palin’s policies and positions – especially among some of the Jewish intellectuals whom Besser presumes now oppose her” is pretty weak evidence.

Just who are those “intellectuals?

Well, he cites John and Norman Podhoretz – smart guys, but not exactly your Jewish men on the street. And Seth Lipsky, whom I've never met but I've heard is brilliant. But again: a leading conservative who has been on the wrong side of the Jewish majority in every presidential election.

And Fox contributor Bill Kristol?

Aren't these the same guys who have supported a succession of highly conservative candidates, none of whom fared very well with Jewish voters? If Korn's only proof that Palin's support among Jewish intellectuals is growing is handful of longtime conservative activists who already supported or were sympathetic toward the former Alaska governor, I'm just not buying.

He also cites Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent. Wasn't Joe a big Palin booster in 2008?

In my blog I didn't say there aren't smart Jews who support Palin, and I certainly didn't say strong conservatives like the Podhoretzs, Lipsky and Kristol are in the anti-Palin camp; I merely cited a Marist poll showing that Palin did far worse among college educated voters than other top GOP contenders, and suggested that means Palin might not be the strongest horse in the GOP stable when it comes to Jewish voters.

I'm guessing you'd have a hard time finding any reputable political scientist who'd disagree. The fact leading Jewish conservatives think Palin is great says very little about Palin's probable impact on Jewish voters.

The Carter analogy isn't entirely inappropriate, to be sure. There's little question Obama has pretty much lost the pro-Israel activist community, he's lost a lot of liberals who think he's abandoned them, he's lost a lot of business people who see just confusion in his economic policies.

I have no question that if President Obama ran for reelection tomorrow, his Jewish take would be far lower than the 78 percent he got in 2008, reflecting both the overall decline in his political fortunes and some specific concerns about his policies among pro-Israel activists. I would also would be very surprised if he didn't still win a significant majority.

But at this point, I haven't seen any good data or heard analysis from independent political scientists suggesting Palin would do as well as more “establishment” Republicans with Jewish voters. GOP insiders I talk to say it's all about Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee when it comes to the preferences of Jewish Republicans.

But it's an interesting discussion, and it's nice to do it without screaming.

Comments

James and Seth, you two are really having a "brilliant" debate here in the comments section.. Just kidding, and yes, pun intended.
Always interesting to hear how people make political decisions! I stand corrected on your political history. And everybody says you're brilliant, so it must be true.
Mr. Besser's comments about me I appreciate, and I am delighted he finds the discussion Mr. Korn's column has kicked up to be interesting. But two points bear correction. It is not true that I am brilliant. And it is not true that, as he suggested, I have "been on the wrong side of the Jewish majority in every presidential election." The fact is that in both 1992 and 1996 I voted the way the Jewish majority did. At the time my wife was on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, and I was editor of the Forward. My wife voted for George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole respectively, and I voted for Mr. Clinton. The way I explained it is that she and I got together and decided to put our newspapers ahead of our country.

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