Two Schmuels for Sister Sarah (now mitt a bisseleh correction)
The year was 2000; I was on line at JFK, about to check my baggage for a flight to Florida, answering questions from a young woman with a clipboard.
“Is this trip for business or for pleasure?”, she asked. I felt like Jack Benny asked to choose between his money or his life. A minute went by and then another. She tapped her pencil as folks behind me began to grumble.
“Neither”, I finally responded, “I’m going to visit my parents.”
This less than happy memory came back to me like acid reflux as I pondered the strategy behind “The Great Schlep”, an effort by young Jewish Obama supporters to impact the votes of their grandparents by trekking down to Florida.
Ever the dedicated partisan, the Dybbuk, my five year old ideologue, volunteered to travel not only to speak at panel discussions in the retirement communities of Boynton Beach, but also to hand out literature at Miami’s Parrot and Monkey Jungles.
Cooler heads prevailed and it was decided that phoning it in would be more cost effective.
Dybbuk bore down intently on his grandfather, who he’d renamed after the words his attentions to his zayde always prompted.
“Grandpa Ay-yi-yi”, he argued, “Obama wants to help little children, but McCain wants to potch their tuchises.” As usual, Dybbuk displayed an intuitive understanding of the truth.
My father was touched, I’m sure, almost certainly tearing up, as he did at every life cycle event, but this time probably mostly as he pondered the thought of another of his descendants wasting their best earning years pursuing a life in politics. He asked Dybbuk to give his daddy the phone.
“That son of yours,” he paused, stifling another tear, “ay-yi-yi”. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there, as he then proceeded to inform me that his nachis notwithstanding, there were some times when a potch in the tuchis was the best possible way to help a child.
I hung up and realized it was time for my annual piece on the Jewish vote; several weeks later, and lacking anything new to say, it still lied incomplete, and was now, thanks to intervening events, a good deal less relevant than when I began it.Back in 2006, I’d already riffed about all the implications of the Jewish vote, not only in the fat years, but also in the far leaner ones this election seemed to portend (the reasons all foreshadowed therein). This year, I’d tackled the matter of whether Obama was good for Israel (and related issues), not once, but at least twice. I even went to great lengths trying to satisfactorily explain the seemingly unexplainable matter of the Rev. Wrong (a topic of such revulsion to many Jews that Obama might actually prefer that they think him a Muslim, rather than a member of that church).
Go. Read them. Now. Gey gesinteh heit. When you’re done, we can get a bobka and chat over a glass of tea. Covering this ground again seems unavoidable, so like Paul McCartney writing Silly Love Songs, here I go again.
It is a truism that politicians are like the French, always trying to re-fight the last war, but this year, the battle for the so-called “Jewish Vote” is strictly high-tech, fought mostly through anonymous email (usually containing rumors originated by a Jew-hater that Obama is a Manchurian Candidate by way of Indonesia) and videos on YouTube.
Moreover, it is a battle underlain by an understanding that, except for propaganda purposes, the overall results among this tiny sector of the population matters not one bit.
According to Ira M. Sheskin and Arnold Dashefsky in their study, “Jewish Population of the United States, 2006,” Jews account for 2.2% of the overall US population. In only two states and the District of Columbia do they account for over 5%. They manage to break the 2% mark in eight more states, and in eight others manage to crack 1%.
Were it not for America’s convoluted way of electing our President, Jews would not matter as a national voting bloc (as opposed to as a source for raising money). But, Presidential Electors are elected by states, and Presidential campaigns generally allocate funds only to where there’s a real contest. According to today’s map in “Real Clear Politics,” the number of states classified as either “too close to call” or “leaning” to either party is 13. And, for all intents and purposes, nothing else matters.
Two of the states “too close to call” are Nevada (where Jews are 2.9% of the population) and Florida (3.7%). Since Jews are known to vote in high number, it is possible that their actual portion of the votes cast in those states could be double those numbers. In five other battleground states (Colorado, Georgia, Missouri, Virginia and Ohio), Jews account for over one percent of the population, and could also play a crucial role.
To that, I’ll add one more, Minnesota (0.9%), headed for its third US Senate race involving two Jewish candidates competing for a seat held by Semites of both parties since the late 70s; one must assume that the Franken/Coleman contest has to elevate turnout among The Chosen in the Twin Cities suburb known locally as St. Jewish Park.
So, the recent poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee showing Barack Obama beating John McCain among Jewish voters by 57% to 30% (and losing 78% to 13% among the Orthodox) is of little significance, except for its demonstration of Obama’s softness in a community that’s not seen a Democratic Presidential performance that low since Jimmy Carter in 1980.
By contrast, in the 2006 races for the US House of Representatives, the percentage of Jews casting votes for the Democrats was somewhere between 74% (if you believe the Republicans) and 87% (if you believe the Democrats). Obviously, if Al Gore, who got around 80% of the Jewish vote, couldn’t carry Florida (yeah, I know, but for the sake of argument let‘s ignore the truth), it seemed doubtful that Obama could do so with 57%, unless you believe he’s going to make it up among working-class crackers living in the swamps just south of Alabama.
However, the numbers should be taken with more than a few grains of salt, because the poll was taken from September 8th through 21st , ending just as the American economy headed towards Antarctica and John McCain patriotically suspended his campaign for 15 minutes. One suspects that the overall Jewish vote for Obama has risen exponentially since that time.
But, for reasons I’ve outlined, very few folks beyond the editorial board of “The Forward” care about the overall Jewish vote. The efforts in earnest to actually influence the destination of ballots cast by Jews is probably confined to the eight states I’ve mentioned (supplemented by an aggressive effort to generate “Dear Neighbor” letters to members of Synagogues in North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District).
Beyond that, few Jews will really see the parties' efforts to attract Jewish voters in earnest. Yes, some of efforts were initially undertaken in places like Michigan before the McCain campaign gave up on them and pulled up stakes, and some attention has been paid to using the Presidential race as a loss-leader in a few closely contested Senate and Congressional races where Jewish votes might have an impact (including the other battle of the Jews taking place in the Jersey Senate race), but aside from nationwide advertising in Jewish newspapers by the Republican Jewish Coalition, as a means of party building and fundraising, the Jewish campaign elsewhere is probably mostly a figment of the imagination.
In other words, the parties have given up on attracting Jewish votes, except where they can make a difference. Dybbuk has made several impassioned pleas to his grandfather in Boynton, but has yet to drop one dime to speak with his grandmother in Brooklyn.
Such targeting can result in significant dichotomies (not to mention smaller birthdays presents). In 2004, there was virtually no effort made by Republicans to attract black voters to George W. Bush, and as a result he got virtually none. The one exception was in Ohio, where helped by the presence on the ballot of an anti-gay marriage initiative, Republicans did undertake such efforts, and Bush managed an eye-popping 25%, which alone may have deprived John Kerry of the White House.
[CORRECTION: The ever watchful Jerry Skurnik says that according to David Bostis: "Probably the key state where Kerry’s black support ran behind Gore’s was Ohio. In 2000, Bush received only 9 percent of the state’s black votes; in 2004, Bush received 16 percent of them. If that seven-point shift had not occurred, between 40,000 and 45,000 votes for Bush cast by African Americans would have gone to Kerry, narrowing Bush’margin of victory in Ohio by 80,000 to 90,000 votes; Bush won the state by approximately 113,000. If that shift had not occurred, Kerry might have re-thought his ultimate decision not to contest the results in Ohio, a state where more than 150,000 provisional ballots were cast."
So the numbers may be different, but the essential point remains: targetting a particular constituency in one, two or a few swing states, but not elsewhere, can create a significant divergence in those states, and those states alone, from that constituency's national performance, but it is the anomaly, and the anomaly alone, that is of any significance]So, while confident that Obama will do quite respectably among most non-Orthodox Jewish voters, I am far less sanguine in places like Florida, where targeted Republican efforts have been underway for a long time, and where I’d previously documented evidence provided by local pols of Obama’s resulting weakness. Efforts to fight back have included flying Ed Koch to Miami (but did they have to bring him back?) and the previously mentioned “Great Schlep”, complete with this adorable video by comedian Sarah Silverman, whose sense of humor might best be explained as “Gatemouth with breasts” (and slightly more bathroom references). Republicans then responded with their own video from alleged “comedian” Jackie Mason, whose “Head Mocky In Charge” schtick brings to mind Silverman’s diss of a different elderly comic, “a nursing home in Florida just called. The last person who thinks you're funny just died”.
I am at a disadvantage in being objective here, because I’m still hiding the issue of Heeb Magazine where Silverman appears on the cover wearing nothing but a sheet with a hole in it in my sock drawer (have to keep Domestic Partner from getting jealous). As to Mason, when I heard he and Raoul Felder had written a book called "Schmucks," I assumed it was autobiographical. In this sorry excuse for literature, Mason viciously attacks Reform Jews (many of whom are included in his political persuasion target‘s catchment area) for crimes of assimilation having nothing to do with their doctrines, which is especially ironic given that Mason regularly commits the assimilative crime of being the official Jewish shill for the Christian Right.
In addition, Mason is a stone bigot, having once called David Dinkins “a fancy schvartze with a moustache.” Mason’s defenders, many of whom, if they could find an illegal Pole to do their cleaning, wouldn’t let a black person into their own homes, stated that, because “schvartze” literally translates as “black” it wasn‘t meant as a pejorative. So, using the Yiddish word for Jew, I will merely note, with the same level of sincerity and credibility, that Mason is a low class Yid with thick lips.
I suspect that there are more effective spokesmen for McCain among swing-state Jews; for instance, just this week, Obama’s “friend” Jesse Jackson, last seen offering to kosherize Barack by performing a circumcision on him slightly south of the usual place, demonstrated he’s no longer jealous of losing his status as President of Black America” to someone likely to be elected President of all America, by testifying to a writer from the American paper least friendly to Obama, that though "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" remain strong, they'll lose a great deal of their clout when Obama enters the White House. As a pro-McCain speaker among the Jews, Jackson has the added virtue over Mason of making no distinctions between the various Jewish denominations; whether it be Hymie or Yankie or Schmuley, Jesse loves us all the same.
Also helpful among the Jew is old Screwy Lewie Farrakhan, who recently crawled out from his gutter to helpfully compare Obama, for whom he’d previously shown something resembling mild disdain, with the Messiah, probably out of fear that his Hyde Park neighbor was otherwise in danger of getting less than 98% of the votes cast by Islamic African-Americans.
We can be sure that, even if Jackson and Farrakhan are merely passing stories in New York, the Republican Jewish Coalition and its allies are ensuring that Jews in Tamarac and Shaker Heights will hear them again and again until their kopfs runneth over.
Luckily, we have Sarah. Despite unrelenting efforts at persuasion from Chicago’s seamier side, last week my parents told me that watching Sarah again and again had finally persuaded them to vote for Obama.
Not Silverman. Palin.
When it come to old Jews, better the devil they know. My parents know from fancy schvartzes. Gun-toting, moose-eating, Bible-toting, witch-exorcising, sled-racing, book-burning, shooting furry creatures from a helicopter trailer trash, they don’t know from, and frankly, the thought of such folks scares the bejesus out of them.
Post new comment