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Thursday, August 30, 2018


David Palmeter posts a comment on a subject that has obsessed me for a long time, namely whether it is wiser for the Democratic Party to nominate progressive candidates in an attempt to increase turnout of their supporters or nominate centrist candidates in an attempt to woo soft Republicans, as it were.  He notes that this cycle the primary voters are opting again and again for the progressives.  Mr. Palmeter is appropriately agnostic about which is the better strategy for progressives, since what is at issue is a prediction of future voter behavior, not matters of principle or ideology.  He and I and most of the readers of this blog prefer the progressives if we can elect them. 

Thus far, voters seem to me to be behaving with extraordinarily refined judgment.  When a seat is assured for the Democrats, they nominate an Alexandra Octavio-Cortez.  When the race is an uphill battle for a deep red seat, they nominate a centrist Conor Lamb.  And when a succession of elections has seen centrist Democrats go down to defeat again and again, they choose an Andrew Gillum or Stacey Abrams in what may just prove to be successful efforts to boost turnout enough to win against the odds.  From a purely practical strategic perspective, it doesn’t get any shrewder than that.

David Palmeter observes that switching a voter from R to D is, arithmetically, twice as valuable as getting a lazy D to the polls, and he is of course right.  But I am still of the opinion that boosting turnout is the more promising tactic.  [I am here setting aside a different consideration, namely the value of building a progressive coalition long term.]

The central fact of American politics is that scores of millions of eligible voters don’t vote.  In presidential elections, roughly 60% of eligible voters vote.  In off year elections, roughly 40% vote.  The country is awash in voters who, if they would only come out on election day, would vote Democratic [the same, of course, is true of those who would vote Republican, although  Republicans are more likely than Democrats actually to vote.] 

This is why talk of impeachment is probably counterproductive.  Trumpists seem not terribly wedded to Republicans as a brand, as opposed to being loyal to Trump himself.  What we want to do is excite the Democratic Party base while not agitating the Trumpists, who tend to be low probability voters as a general rule.

All of this is tediously and offensively mainstream, I know, but it is the reality we are living with.  The hard, painful fact is that as we sit here worrying about just exactly how to be appropriately radical, the Republicans are filling the federal judiciary with hard right judges who will hand down disastrous rulings for the next thirty years.  It may be that in years to come [probably after I am dead, as it happens], the only available strategy for radicals will be to try to take over state and local governments and fight in whichever regions of the country seem receptive to our ideas.

These are bad times.


David Palmeter said...

I need to make clear, the analysis is not mine. I was posting an email analysis by David Leonhardt of the NY Times. I copied and pasted, but the first time something went awry. The second time it came through, but looks as if it is my work. Alas, it isn't.

I agree there is no single answer to what kind of candidate to run. It depends on the district or the state. Too often, though, it seems that the doubts are resolved in favor of the establishment candidate. Florida and Georgia will be good experiments. As MS notes on the other thread, Israel may prove a difficult issue for a progressive candidate in Florida. How difficult will depend on how Gillum plays it. My advice would be to ignore it. It isn't a State issue. If that isn't possible, then make the point that being anti Netanyahu does not equate with being anti-Israel any more than being anti-Trump means being anti-US.

MS said...


I agree regarding the Israel issue. Unfortunately, many Jews, especially of the older generation, do equate being anti-Nentenyahu with being anti-Israel, and some with being anti-Semitic. I am not one of them. The two (three) issues are not logically connected. What will people like Debbie Wasserman Shultz (spelling?) say?

Anonymous said...

I’m on the outside, looking in at this Netanyahoo connection. But I care about it if could influence the gubernatorial election in Florida (to the detriment of the Democrats). Is there actual credible polling data on what Jewish retiree Floridians really believe about some duty to be loyal to Netanyahoo and the Likud? And that US liberals are not friends of Israel but the US right-wingers here are? I’ve always thought that there were all sorts of reasons why the Jewish vote in the US is predominantly on the liberal side, but one of the major reasons is the historically-based distrust that Jews have (and ought to have) for the right-wing, regardless of what diaspora country we’re talking about, this country included. Right-wingers are, among other things, nativists and mistrustful (to say the least) of people outside their group and traditions. Anyway, until I see credible data to the contrary, I’ll continue to think that American Jews are a whole lot more sophisticated politically than Christian fundamentalists and other evangelicals and are far less likely to be taken in by Trump’s and the Republican’s pro-Israel protestations than the pulpit-pounders are. Also, the Christian fundamentalists’ interest in Israel has a lot to do with Christian beliefs about the second coming and little to do with any affinities for Judaism.

s. wallerstein said...

My sister (who supported Bernie Sanders) works for a Jewish organization in New York, and she says that most of the people she works with, all Jews, voted for Trump. While there are many young Jewish people, like my nephews, who are solidly on the left, I get the impression that older Jews have drifted towards the right.

As Anonymous points out, historically Jews in the U.S. have supported the Democrats, partially because, as he says, they associate anti-semitism with the right and also because for my parents' generation and for mine to lesser extent, FDR was the man who defeated Hitler. I'm not sure that those motives are still in force for many Jews.

Anonymous said...

In my high-rise appartmnt building, which is occupied predominantly by Jewish families of all ages, they've all voted for Trump. I've yet to meet someone who's not voted for Trump.

MS said...

(MS, Part One)

Anonymous and s. wallerstein,

Here is an anecdote that highlights how the traditional political affiliations in the Jewish community are no longer predictable. I belong to a Reformed Jewish congregation – the most liberal of the three traditional denominations (Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed). There are for example, a lot of inter-married couples in our congregation. After the congregation’s Passover seder this past April, I was talking to a member of the congregation who is a retired engineer. Not an intellectual, but extremely knowledgeable about a lot of subjects. We got into a discussion about the second Amendment and gun rights. On this issue, it had generally been my experience that Jews side with the gun regulation, not gun rights, sector. (For reasons relating to the rules regulating the kosher slaughter of animals for consumption, religious Jews historically have not been hunters. Under Jewish law, animals killed for consumption are supposed to be killed in a manner that minimizes their suffering, so it is done by an individual, a shochet, trained in ritual killing with an extremely sharp knife. Killing a deer, for example, by shooting it with a rifle, does not minimize the pain of the animal – the deer suffers after being shot until the hunter reaches it.) As we were talking, I got the impression that he supported gun rights, so I out-and-out asked him if he owned a gun. He responded that he owned several guns and no one was going to take them away from him. I started to argue with him a bit (I argue a lot) about the meaning of the second Amendment, the Heller decision ruling that the Amendment protected the individual ownership of guns, and I finally asked him, “Don’t tell me that you voted for Trump!” and he unabashedly replied that he had.

In a state of semi-shock, I walked away to talk to the rabbi, whom I knew to be reliably liberal. The rabbi was standing next to a former president of the congregation. Sotto voce, I whispered to them, “Did you know that Steve (not his name) voted for Trump?” The rabbi looked at me and said, “Marc (my name). be careful what you say – half of the people in this room voted for Trump.” I looked at him dumbfounded, insisting, hoping that he was mistaken. Then the former president of the congregation – also a very articulate and knowledgeable individual, a person for whom I have high regard, a computer analyst in his mid-50s who is not retired – asked me what I thought of people who supported Trump. I replied that I agreed with Hillary that they were deplorable and that she should not have apologized for calling them that. He then asked me what I would think of a friend whom I had known for 30 years who voted for Trump. I don’t recall exactly what I said (my state of shock was starting to become lethal), but I think I said something like I would hope I did not have any friends who voted for Trump. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I voted for Trump.” I almost had them call an ambulance. I started to argue with him – how could you vote for Trump, Hillary, with all her faults, was more liberal on most of the issues that mattered, she was more experienced, more intelligent, etc., etc. He replied that he agreed with everything I said, but that he wanted a change and was tired of politics being run by career politicians. I said, yeah, that makes sense – like you are about to go into an operation for heart surgery, and you decide you want something different, so you insist that a veterinarian, rather than a heart surgeon, perform the operation. (He did indicate to me that he was living in a divided household – his wife and daughter had supported Sanders and voted for Clinton; his wife had chided him, asking how could he support Trump when he had a daughter.) Needless to say, it was the most depressing seder service I had ever attended. (Since then, I have generally avoided asking my friends whom they voted for – I am afraid to find out.)

ms said...

(MS, Part Two)

So, Anonymous, I normally would have agreed with you that Jewish voters are generally more sophisticated than other segments of the electorate, but frankly, I don’t know any more. Trump’s election, which, on the evening of Nov. 11, 2016, I, like I am sure most of the readers of this blog, thought was as remotely possible as aliens taking over the White House (is that what happened?), has upset all conventional paradigms. Regarding polling, I would assume that there are polls, particularly by the respective political parties, analyzing current voting trends among Jews. I am not aware of their conclusions. The assumption that Jews are politically liberal may not apply anymore. In the last primary this month in Michigan, where I live, a Jewish woman was running in the Republican primary for my District’s Congressional seat. Her political literature trumpeted that she had been Trump’s election chairperson in Michigan. She won her primary. Even among liberal Jews, the label “liberal” is no longer predictive on issues relating to Israel. Witness Alan Dershowitz, who is still regarded as liberal on most social issues, is a strong supporter of Netanyahu (and, as I commented on an earlier posting on this blog, paradoxically has been critical of the Mueller investigation). Most Orthodox Jews and Jews who have emigrated from Russia are staunch supporters of Netanyahu. Among younger Jews, many tend to be less religious and are alienated by Israel’s policies regarding the settlements, failure to advance the two-state solution, etc. On the other hand, on college campuses, many Jewish students support Israel because they feel alienated by the hostility toward Israel and support for the BDS movement.

The traditional alliance between the Jewish community and the African-American community on social justice issues, moreover, has become somewhat frayed. In the 1960s, support of the civil rights movement in the Jewish community was solid. Many young Jews participated in the voter registration drives in the South. Two of the three men who were killed in Meridian, Mississippi (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) were Jewish. A prominent rabbi, Abraham Heschel, marched with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery on March 21, 1965. The fraying of this alliance is attributed to many factors, e.g., the support in parts of the African-American community for Louis Farakhan, who has expressed virulently anti-Semitic opinions; the statement by Jessie Jackson when he was running for President referring to New York City as “sheeny town”; the teachers’ strike in New York City in 1968 that pitted the members of the New York United Federation of Teachers, most of whom were Jewish, against African-American members of the local school board; the perception in the African-American community that Israel is oppressing Palestinians, with whom they identify. A recent example of this deterioration of the relationship between the two communities was exemplified in the movie “Selma,” which, in the scenes depicting the march, failed to include an actor representing Rabbi Herschel marching next to Martin Luther King. (This omission was noted in the Jewish press and was painful.)

What all this bodes for an African-American candidate running for governor in Florida, in terms of the Jewish electorate, I, frankly, do not know

Anonymous said...


The correct spellings are "Heschel" and "Farrakhan".

MS said...

Man, I am really messing up.

The "Errata" spelling corrections were submitted by me, not Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Reply to MS's two part reply:

Thank you MS for the explanation and differences within various Jewish groups. Had not thought along those lines.

BTW, I'm the second anonymous above. The first one has a more in-depth understanding than me.

I am not Jewish but my entire adult life has been shaped by professors, employers, neighbors -- who have all been mostly Jewish. So my first encounter with Trump supporters in this group was a shock and I still haven't recovered. A colleague seeing my despair reminded me that it shouldn't come as a surprise if I knew people like Ed Koch (former NYC mayor) openly supported Bush over Dukakis.

But the second amendment anecdote is an eye-opener. I'd have never guessed.