Are pocketbook issues a priority for Jewish Democrats?
The National Jewish Democratic Council’s president testified last week before the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafting committee. The NJDC’s press release on the testimony highlighted three issue areas from the testimony: Middle East policy (the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Iranian nuclear program), abortion and women’s health, and same-sex marriage. Looking at the full testimony, climate change and health care reform were also discussed.
With the exception of health care, however, there was no discussion of bread-and-butter issues. Unmentioned in the NJDC’s testimony were the economy, tax policy, financial reform, outsourcing, Social Security, etc. — issues that are front and center, and will likely be decisive, this election season.
Of course, you can’t discuss every issue in every testimony. You have to pick and choose. And the issues that the NJDC highlighted are indeed issues about which American Jews care deeply.
Still, the choice of issues does, I think, speak to the NJDC’s priorities. (The issues page on the NJDC’s website lists Israel, separation of church and state, reproductive rights, women’s issues and “abusive Holocaust rhetoric.” All other issues are dumped under “other foreign policy” and “other domestic policy.”)
This matter though is larger than just the NJDC (which is, of course, supportive of Democratic economic policies, even if it didn’t highlight them in its testimony). Some Jewish liberals have been expressing concern about the depth and strength of Jewish support for liberal stances on economic and social welfare issue, even as Jews resoundingly support liberal positions on social issues like abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
This issue surfaced this past spring with the release of a survey of American Jews sponsored by the liberal Nathan Cummings Foundation. The foundation’s head, Simon Greer, wrote in a JTA Op-Ed that “while Jews may support legal abortion and gay marriage in overwhelming numbers (93% and 81% respectively), they also agree with an argument long advanced by conservatives: Social programs create dangerous dependency.”
The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg noted what he called “a striking gap between respondents’ overwhelmingly liberal views on social issues and their distinctly moderate-to-conservative views on issues of poverty and the economy.”
And he saw a bad omen for Democrats:
The civil liberties we treasure — for gays, women, immigrants, religious minorities — can’t survive in the long term without a thriving Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party can’t thrive without the white working class. Social liberalism can’t survive without a progressive economic agenda. You can’t defend minorities unless you first fight for the majority.
UPDATE: It’s worth noting that Goldberg later issued a semi-mea culpa, in which he wrote that economic liberalism remains stronger in the Jewish community than he previously suggested (albeit not quite as strong as Jewish cultural liberalism).