Arlen Specter and the Jewish Republicans


In a Jerusalem Post piece entitled "The Death of Jewish Republicanism?", Jonathan Tobin writes that Arlen Specter’s party defection to the Democrats has nothing to do with the fate and fortunes of Jewish Republicanism — and won’t hurt the party among Jews, although he says that’s partly because most Jews just aren’t that interested in the GOP anyway.

First, he notes that Specter’s departure "has far more to do with his personal political dilemma than it does with the future of the GOP":

Though he is hardly the only American politician in business for himself, Specter has always been a political party of one whose only platform plank is the advancement of the senior senator from the Keystone State. Specter was, after all, a Democrat in the 1960s when he first switched parties, not over any ideological differences with his party, but because his path to higher office was blocked. He remained in the party, not out of any loyalty to Republican liberalism, such as that exemplified by Jacob Javits (a liberal Republican who represented New York in the Senate from 1956 to 1980), but out of convenience. …

The demise of liberal Republicanism happened decades ago, not this past winter. Nelson Rockefeller-style GOP liberals disappeared a generation earlier as both of the two major parties became less ideologically diverse. If Arlen Specter was comfortable as a Republican running with right-wingers such as Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, it is difficult if not impossible to argue that his switch had much to do with any distaste on his part for cultural conservatives or Republican intolerance for independent minds.

Rather it was the noxious personality of Specter and his indefatigable egotism that eventually earned him so many enemies in his home state party that nothing, not even the need to preserve a 40th Senate seat for the Republicans, could ameliorate the open hostility that he provoked.

Though in the age of Obama the Republican tent is far smaller than it used to be, there is plenty of room in it for fiscal conservatives and foreign policy hawks who don’t share the socially conservative views of Palin and others. Had Specter carved out a niche for himself on either of those topics, his views on abortion would never have brought him to the point where he had to jump from the GOP before he was pushed.

And he concludes by arguing any Jewish Republican who thinks Arlen Specter would help the party among Jews should have never depended on the Pennsylvania senator:

Jews remain incorrigibly liberal and more loyal to the Democrats than every sector of the population except African-Americans. The ascendancy of social conservatives in the Republican Party has ensured that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, even if this puts the Jews in the position of rejecting their closest allies on the question of security for the State of Israel. But this has little to do with Specter’s apostasy.

It may be that Jewish Republicans feel the senator’s defection puts a period on their hopes for a greater share of the Jewish vote. But that is more of a statement about their bad judgment in hitching their star to his shaky wagon than the supposed intolerance of a conservative-dominated party that desires purity over diversity. The strange journey of Arlen Specter from Democrat to Republican and back again to the Democrats is a story of one man’s unbridled ambition and political expediency, not the tale of a party held hostage by the Right. 

In the Huffington Post, the National Jewish Democratic Council’s Aaron Keyak says he disagrees with some points in Tobin’s article, but does like this:

In exploring the role of Jews in the Republican Party, what’s most shocking is that Tobin seems to concede that Jews don’t have a home in his tent.

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