Joseph Epstein ought to come visit our gilded ghetto of Teaneck NJ and its environs, where he will find a few remaining Orthodox Liberals surrounded by hoards of fabrent (rabid) lox-eating and yarmulka-wearing Bush-loving Republicans.
On the holiday of Purim in March, my lonely Obama lawn sign was swapped by a frum (religious) prankster with my neighbor's Hillary lawn sign as a way of telling the both of us that we were interchangably confused.
On a recent Friday night I sat and celebrated the birth of a neighbor's baby boy at a shalom zachor (baby welcoming) where we ate glatt kosher food only. The balabus (householder) welcomed me into the shabbos song singing conclave and to make me comfortable he sat me next to what he said was "the other Obama voter" - our only Reform Jewish block resident.
My misguided attempt at Democrat sympathizing political chit-chat with one of the many uber-McCainites in attendance that evening was roundly ridiculed.
These folk solidly were saying - pass the chopped liver please and vote for our heroes McCain and Palin. We believe with complete faith, they declared, that it is the 11th commandment.
Thinking Outside the Lox
By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
September 15, 2008; Page A23
Today, class, we shall take up the oxymoron, the figure of speech in which two contradictory words appear in conjunction. Here are some prime examples: amicable divorce, congressional ethics, definite maybe, military justice and Jewish Republican. Jewish Republicans may be rarer than Jewish coal miners. Let's face it, no one gazing at the crowd of the Republican convention in St. Paul last week would have mistaken it for Sam and Becky Lebowitz's grandson's bar mitzvah party.
The reason it is so difficult for Jews to vote for Republicans is largely historical. The GOP for many years seemed the party of the large corporations, the excluding country clubs, the restricted neighborhoods -- all institutions dedicated to keeping Jews out -- so that even now the Republican Party is associated, in the minds of Jews of a certain age, with anti-Semitism.
I have Jewish friends who believe in free markets, are deeply suspicious of big government, view the general bag of leftist ideas as callow if not dangerous, yet would sooner tuck into a large plate of pigs' feet than vote for a Republican for president. They just can't bring themselves to do it.
Like most Jews, I grew up in a house that was Democratic and devoted to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The reason for this devotion is that, in opposition to the isolationists then known as American Firsters, FDR, an internationalist, saw the need to go to war to stop the Nazis, who were systematically murdering the Jews of Europe. Only much later was it learned that Roosevelt could have saved many more European Jews by enlarging immigration quotas, but his policy was instead the mistaken one of trying to save the Jews by winning the war as quickly as possible. As we now know, the war wasn't won quickly enough.
Owing to the overwhelming Jewish support for Roosevelt, few were the Jews who openly declared themselves Republican. As a boy, in the early 1950s, I knew only one: a man named Hyman Skolnick, the father of a friend, who was an executive for a Jewish-owned scrap-metal company in Chicago. An immigrant, Mr. Skolnick had an inborn gravity that derived from what I took to be his high competence and mastery of facts. I sensed that he was a man who, if you woke him at four in the morning, could tell you, within $20, the exact amount of the gross national product as of the hour.
I did not meet another Jewish Republican until the early 1960s, when I met Irving Kristol -- who, after a career as a Trotskyist lasting for roughly 27 minutes while he was a student at the City College of New York, did not impede his philosophical and temperamental conservatism from steering him toward the GOP. For this Irving Kristol was considered, stupidly, by Irving Howe and other Irvings and not a few Seymours, a great heresiarch, nothing less than a traitor to his people.
The Democrats' record on things Jewish is finally not all that strong. Joe Kennedy, the so-called founding father of the Kennedy clan, was pro-Hitler and famously anti-Semitic. Jimmy Carter, in his sentimental idealism, has called Israel an apartheid state, comparable with South Africa. I always thought that Bill Clinton, in his vanity, would have done his best to convince the Israelis to give up the West Bank and the East Bank, and toss in Katz's Delicatessen on Houston Street at no extra charge, in his eagerness to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite all this, Jews cling to the Democratic Party. The Democrats, they claim, remain the party most interested in social justice, and it is incumbent upon Jews, who have known so much injustice in their own history, to be on the side of social justice.
The only Democratic administration in the past 50 years that may be said to have made good on a program of social justice was that of Lyndon Johnson, himself today much less admired, by Jews and others, for his efforts in this line -- the civil rights voting acts, the war against poverty -- than despised for his policy in Vietnam. As for social justice, who is responsible for more of it, on a world-wide scale, than Ronald Reagan, in his helping to bring an end to tyrannous communism?
I only voted for my first Republican candidate for president in 1980, when I voted for Reagan. Even then I did not so much vote for Reagan as against Jimmy Carter. What made me vote against Mr. Carter was his vapidity and weakness. I remember a photograph, on the front page of the New York Times of Mr. Carter, in jogging gear, after having fainted during a run on the White House lawn, being held up by two Secret Service men. My God, I thought, this pathetic man, with his hot-combed hair, cannot be the leader of my country. I have voted for Republicans for president ever since, with the exception of 1996, when I found I could not vote for either Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, and took the high (if somewhat lumpy) ground of not voting at all.
I shall probably vote for John McCain in this year's presidential election. But I am not locked in on my vote, and if the McCain-Palin campaign gets dramatically stupid, I could go the other way. I make no claim to be an original political thinker, but, unlike so many of my co-religionists, I feel a nice sense of freedom, knowing that I am able to think, so to say, outside the lox.
Mr. Epstein is the author, most recently, of "Fred Astaire" to be published next month by Yale University Press.