On a trip to Philadelphia recently, I happened to mention to an
older Jewish lady that the Philadelphia Inquirer was just impossibly
liberal. "Liberal?" she responded, "Oh, no. They're very anti-Israel."
I did a double take. Well, yes, but those two things are not
inconsistent. Where has she been? The answer is, she speaks for many of her
generation. For Jews who came of age in the 1940s and '50s, whose formative
experiences were the Holocaust and the birth of Israel, liberalism and the
Democratic Party enjoy a halo effect. President Roosevelt appointed Jews to
his Cabinet and courted them as voters. Liberals fought anti-Semitism in
college admissions and employment. And President Truman, against the advice
of the State Department, recognized the newly created state of Israel.
Jewish loyalty to the Democratic Party has, alas, calcified and
is badly out of date. While many Jews remain politically frozen somewhere in
1952, both parties have changed mightily. While Jewish parents assiduously
teach their offspring that Democrats are their friends, the chief support
for Israel in the U.S. Congress now comes from conservative Republicans.
At the grass-roots level, too, conservatives are far more
supportive of Israel than liberals. And without the passionate support of
millions of Christians, it's hard to say whether Israel would enjoy the same
status as one of America's closest friends.
On other issues of importance to Jews, like equal opportunity in
education, the Democratic Party has changed. Where once it championed
nondiscriminatory policies beneficial to Jewish aspirations, it now backs
discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Jews doggedly pull the lever
for Democrats even as liberals have been getting progressively more tolerant
of anti-Semitism in new places (like the black community).
On college campuses today, supporters of Israel are embattled,
as movements to divest from companies doing business in Israel spread
throughout the country. The moral, for those who don't immediately see the
parallel, is that Israel is just as morally reprehensible as the old
apartheid government of South Africa. The Palestinian cause has turned many
liberals into Israel's enemies, but many Jews are slow to notice.
I cite this because it is relevant to the Trent Lott mess. I
believe that black voters are very like Jews in this respect. They harbor an
ancient loyalty to the Democrats that is based, more than anything else, on
their suspicion that Republicans don't like or respect them. Most American
blacks support school choice, which Democrats oppose, and a higher
percentage of blacks than whites are pro-life, another issue that -- absent
other considerations -- would make blacks lean Republican.
But on the all-important matter of racial politics, blacks still
believe that louts and secret racists people the Republican Party. Democrats
and racial provocateurs like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do their best to
reinforce this stereotype at every opportunity.
But just as Republicans have been carrying water for Israel
unappreciated by many American Jews, Republicans have also been eager to
make a difference for black Americans. Conservative think tanks offer up
policy proposals to enhance civil society in black neighborhoods and to
improve standards for schools. But most black Americans imagine that these
groups spend their time clipping coupons and sipping sherry. Arguably,
welfare reform and school choice have done more to improve the lives of
inner city blacks than anything the Democrats have proposed in 20 years. Yet
many blacks believe that these were policies aimed at them, instead of for
It's been a long, uphill climb for Republicans to gain some
credibility with black Americans. Trent Lott's brainless comments opened a
trap door beneath them. A thousand mothers are saying, "I told you so," to
their kids who believed the world had changed. This isn't just a tactical
matter. This is painful because the Lott episode is convincing people of a
falsehood. Republicans, like nearly all Americans, are completely
anti-racist. In 2002, it shouldn't even be necessary to say this.
The Republican Party can salvage the situation only by moving
swiftly to remove Lott from the leadership. This crisis is a teachable
moment. The country is watching to see what kind of party the Republicans
have become. If the party quickly demotes Lott, those kids can turn to their
moms and say, "See, I was right!"