Arnold Kling  

Identity Politics and Phobias

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In Commentary Magazine, David Wolpe writes,

Podhoretz's book is meant to explain why Jews do not vote their self-interest. I would say it is because they vote their self-conception, which is a very different thing. Jews identify with those who see themselves as on the margins: African Americans, immigrants, various minority interest groups. The blue-collar poor may feel angry, but they also feel that America is in some deep sense "theirs." They don't need to claim it, although they may wish to reclaim it. But for all those who suspect deep down that no matter how patriotic they may be, no matter how much they may contribute, the Daughters of the American Revolution will always see them as arrivistes, it will remain attractive to make common cause with those on the margins.

Michael Medved writes,

For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn't solidarity with Israel; it's rejection of Christianity. This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz's book. Jewish voters don't embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity--especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded "Christian Right."

The symposium discusses a book by Norman Podhoretz, who evidently argues that secular Jews have adopted liberalism as a substitute religion.

After reading the symposium, I have a hypothesis to offer: identity politics is driven by phobias. What demographic do you fear the most? If your biggest fear is strong believers in Christianity (and many intellectuals, not just Jews, have such a fear), you are likely to vote Democratic. If your biggest fear is people of color, you are likely to vote Republican. If you don't have a really strong phobia of that sort, then you are likely to be a party-switcher.

I admit I have a strong fear. I am afraid of incumbents. I voted against Nixon, against Ford, against Carter, against Reagan (in 1984), against the first George Bush (twice), and against Clinton (in 1996). I changed my pattern in 2000, when I voted for the quasi-incumbent Gore, and in 2004 when I voted for the incumbent Bush, but I was so unhappy later with both votes (Gore is the worst candidate I ever voted for, and Bush is the second-worst) that I voted for Barr in 2008.

But you know my current thinking: Exit works. Voice doesn't.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Les writes:

My experience with most of my fellow Jews is that they don't think at all about politics. I find it extremely rare that they know anything or can even express a coherent thought about politics.

My impression is that they vote for Democrats in knee-jerk fashion, out of long habit.

The saying sounds racist, but nevertheless seems true that they live like Republicans but vote like Puerto Ricans (no offense intended).

John writes:

I fear ambitious types from Ivy League schools. Who should I vote for? Or rather, is there a type of "identity" that matches this phobia?

Matt writes:

In my short voting life, I have been very dissapointed with the politicians available. I've also recently decided to go with the "vote against the incumbant" voting principle. If a politician does a decent job, I will vote to keep him in, therefore I will probably never vote for the incumbant. Is that too cynical?

Eric writes:

I read an interesting hypothesis, that Jews are Democrats because the more egalitarian nature of the Democratic agenda, as a public stance, offsets the more insular nature of many Jew's private lives, where they frequently interact in a group that is rather closed (eg, it's hard to become a Jew if you weren't born one). Think about Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, where Jewish guilt is about being insufficiently insular to please one's parents (eg, marrying a shiksa, celebrating Xmas), quite the opposite of a Protestant, where guilt is about being insufficiently inclusive.

chipotle writes:

Arnold Kling,

Could you say a little more about your 1984 vote against Reagan? What motivated it? Do you regret it?

Even though I think the Reagan worshippers are annoying, I still have the impression that he did, in fact, measurably improve life in America.

Tom writes:


You voted for Carter the first time. That makes Bush no more than the third worst candidate you voted for.

Bill writes:

1) So do you agree that anti Christian prejudice is the equivalent of being racially prejudiced?

2) What do you base your belief that voting Republican is because those voters are racially prejudiced? I did not see anything like that
in the Symposium.

3) I vote "Least Bad" which has usually (to me) meant Republican. I was surprised when the Democrats won in 2006 that they could match and exceed in their first full budget cycle, the profligacy that had taken the Republicans twelve.

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