Identity Politics and Phobias
By Arnold Kling
In Commentary Magazine, David Wolpe writes,
Podhoretz’s book is meant to explain why Jews do not vote their self-interest. I would say it is because they vote their self-conception, which is a very different thing. Jews identify with those who see themselves as on the margins: African Americans, immigrants, various minority interest groups. The blue-collar poor may feel angry, but they also feel that America is in some deep sense “theirs.” They don’t need to claim it, although they may wish to reclaim it. But for all those who suspect deep down that no matter how patriotic they may be, no matter how much they may contribute, the Daughters of the American Revolution will always see them as arrivistes, it will remain attractive to make common cause with those on the margins.
Michael Medved writes,
For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity. This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz’s book. Jewish voters don’t embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity–especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded “Christian Right.”
The symposium discusses a book by Norman Podhoretz, who evidently argues that secular Jews have adopted liberalism as a substitute religion.
After reading the symposium, I have a hypothesis to offer: identity politics is driven by phobias. What demographic do you fear the most? If your biggest fear is strong believers in Christianity (and many intellectuals, not just Jews, have such a fear), you are likely to vote Democratic. If your biggest fear is people of color, you are likely to vote Republican. If you don’t have a really strong phobia of that sort, then you are likely to be a party-switcher.
I admit I have a strong fear. I am afraid of incumbents. I voted against Nixon, against Ford, against Carter, against Reagan (in 1984), against the first George Bush (twice), and against Clinton (in 1996). I changed my pattern in 2000, when I voted for the quasi-incumbent Gore, and in 2004 when I voted for the incumbent Bush, but I was so unhappy later with both votes (Gore is the worst candidate I ever voted for, and Bush is the second-worst) that I voted for Barr in 2008.
But you know my current thinking: Exit works. Voice doesn’t.