Do Jews Hate Palin?

January 4th, 2010 at 2:08 pm David Frum | 61 Comments |

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The January Commentary promises to explain “why Jews hate Palin” by staff contributor Jennifer Rubin.

Rubin passes lightly over the question whether Jews in fact do hate Palin more than other people do. The sole evidence she cites on behalf of her assertion is a September 2008 poll in which Jews disapproved of Palin by a 54-37 margin. That does not look like foaming hatred to me, and anyway those numbers are now 15 months out of date.

Besides: Lots of people dislike Sarah Palin. Palin excites intense support among a core group of conservative Republicans. Beyond that base, she is one of the most unpopular figures in modern American life. She polls poorly among the young, among women, among independents. A plurality even of Republican women regard her as unqualified for the presidency.

So if Jews do “hate” Palin, this may be just another manifestation of the old rule about Jews being like other people, only more so.

Still, if the question is to be put anywhere, Commentary is the right place to do it. It’s a magazine with a special mission to explain the Jewish community to itself. So – Jew to Jew, Commentary contributor to Commentary contributor – I’ll join Rubin’s thinking exercise.

Rubin offers four general grounds of explanation for Jewish anti-Palin feeling.

First, says Rubin, Jews greatly value (and possibly over-value) formal credentials.

Jews, who have excelled at intellectual pursuits, understandably are swayed by the notion that the presidency is a knowledge-based position requiring a background in the examination of detailed data and sophisticated analysis. They assume that such knowledge is the special preserve of a certain type of credentialed thinker (the better the university, the more unquestioned the credential) and that possessing this knowledge is the key to a successful presidency.

Second, Rubin continues, Jews under-value traditional American folkways: hunting, fishing, the frontier, military enlistment.

Her personal life made her even more alien to American Jews. She comes from the wilderness, brags about hunting and eating native animals, and is a proud gun owner. … Palin’s oldest, Track, has joined the military, while many Jews lack a family military tradition.

Third, Jews disdain working class occupations like those in which Palin labored.

Palin and her husband had labored at jobs most professional and upper-middle-class Jews would never dream of holding—waitressing, picking “strawberries in the mud and mosquitoes . . . for five cents flat,” sweeping parking lots, and many “messy, obscure seafood jobs, including long shifts on a stinky shore-based crab-processing vessel.” Her populist appeal and identification with working-class voters are rooted in a life experience that is removed by one or two generations from the lives of most American Jews. Her life is what they were expected to rise above.

Fourth and last, Jews hate Palin because Jews disapprove of large families – and especially because Jews quietly favor the abortion of disabled children.

Pro-life Americans saw Palin’s son Trig, born with Down syndrome in April 2008, as an affirmation of Palin’s deeply held beliefs, a rare instance in which a politician did more than mouth platitudes about a “culture of life.” But in affluent communities with large Jewish populations, Down-syndrome children are now largely absent due to the widespread use of diagnostic testing and “genetics counseling.” Trig was not a selling point with many Jewish women who couldn’t imagine making a similar choice—indeed, many have, in fact, made the opposite one.

These reasons are not all wrong, exactly. (Although they contain much that is wrong. Jews despise large families? How then did Bobby Kennedy’s popularity among Jews manage to survive?)

It’s more that Rubin’s reasons in their wrongness inadvertently reveal many of the real reasons for Jewish disquiet about Sarah Palin.

Let’s start with the cagily phrased claim that Palin “identifies with” working class voters. Obviously nobody can know what goes on inside Palin’s head. But if it’s meant to suggest that Palin actually originates in the working class, well that’s flat-out wrong by almost any definition.

Palin’s father was a high school teacher, her mother a public school administrator. Her mother’s brother was a lawyer, an official of the Texas state bar, and later a judge. In a state where many workers had to fear seasonal unemployment, her family enjoyed the security of a public-sector white-collar salary, benefits, and pension. The Heaths were not rich, but they were comfortable and respectable – much more so than, say, the family of young Bill Clinton, who if I remember right, did quite OK among Jews.

To itemize Palin’s summer jobs as proof of her blue-collar authenticity reminds me of that Saturday Night Live sketch in which Al Franken’s Pat Robertson insists he is much more than a TV preacher. “I worked as a caddy, I’ve watched people’s houses ….”

Yes, Todd belonged to a union. So did Ronald Reagan. However: Even before Sarah Palin’s book deal, the Palins ranked among the richest people in their hometown of Wasilla – and were capable of expressing intense disdain toward their perceived social inferiors, like the Johnston clan. If anything, the Palin family’s status grievances look less like Richard Nixon style resentment of poverty and humiliation – and much more like John Adams’ fury on encountering in London those English snobs who didn’t realize what big deals the Adamses were, back home in Braintree.

But in endorsing the fiction about Palin’s hard-scrabble origins, Rubin also endorses some not so innocent fiction about Jews as hostile aliens within America. If Jews dislike Palin, it is because they feel themselves “above” regular Americans – because disdain to work with their hands – because they do not bear their fair share of military service – because they abort Down’s syndrome babies – because they confuse mere verbal fluency with practical wisdom. (I remember that Russell Kirk once flung this accusation against American Jews – and how passionately and rightly the editors of Commentary resented it as a “bloody outrage.”)

And this I think brings us to some of the true reasons for the Jewish disquiet with Palin.

Rubin’s first point has merit to it: Jews do think that knowledge is important to a president. They do think a president should be able to think clearly and to distinguish between true information and wishful delusions. I feel sure most Americans of all faiths would agree. Does Jennifer Rubin seriously suggest that this opinion is mistaken?

If American Jews have a problem with Palin, Rubin is right that problem 1 is that they – we – doubt her intellectual capacity for the job. But that’s only the start of the list of problems.

Ignorance is bad. But we all start ignorant. Jews – again like other people, only more so – expect their leaders to start early and to work hard to remedy their ignorance, by learning things. People who don’t, won’t or can’t learn – whose followers disparage the value or need to learn – are going to forfeit Jewish support, and not only Jewish support.

But even this is not the worst of it. Just guessing, but I think the real and most fundamental problem Jews have with Palin is not her gleeful ignorance, but her willful divisiveness. More than any politician in memory, Palin seems to divide her fellow-Americans into first class and second class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans. To do her justice, she has never said anything to suggest that Jews as Jews fall into the second, less-real, class. But Jews do tend to have an intuition that when this sort of line-drawing is done, we are likely to find ourselves on the wrong side.

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61 Comments so far ↓

  • anniemargret

    There is a backlash against right wing Christianity. It is not enough that they are able to practice their religion in peace in this country. They want to ‘christianize the government’ or so said an evangelical acquantaince of mine. They support Israel because they believe Christ will return there, and if possible, they would convert every single Jew on the face of of the planet because they fundamentally believe no else is ‘saved’ except for them. Their religious superiority comes thru loud and clear. If any other religion would be behaving so, there would be a loud hue and cry from the Christian community.

    I am a Roman Catholic. I find this push with Palin and her religious talk (and other Republican religious-talking rhetoric) offensive and dangerous. She is clearly setting up a path to destroy our constitutional liberties of separation of church and state. If ‘secular Jews’ are pushing back, I think it’s because they feel the way many Americans do….that the right wing of the Republican party (and Palin fits the description to a T) that these people do not have respect for our religions in this country, or for those who prefer no religion at all, and would, if given the open door, make the highest political office a religious one.

    If this doesn’t scare you, why doesn’t it?

    Secondly, Jenin: I personally don’t care what college(s) Palin went to (although they hypocrisy here is abundant, given that if Obama had admitted he flitted from college to college his opponents would be nailing him on that too). Most people college-age are not mature enough to know what they need or want.

    The truth is that there are a lot of people who never graduated from college, who went to become quite successful in their lives due to hard work and dedication.

    And what’s this reference to ‘ive league’ education? You Palinites just love the culture wars, don’t you? I admire anyone who graduated from an Ivy League college, because most people do – nothing wrong or weird in that at all. You admire people who did better in life usually, but with the culture-war crowd, any sign of education or articulation in speaking means you are an ‘elite.’

    I graduated, like thousands of others from CUNY, a state funded college system, and my kids graduated from UNC. Thousands of others across our nation graduated from similiar state schools. I took out a Federal loan to get my graduate degree and worked two jobs to pay it back, as did millions of others. So what? It means nothing.

    What most people have criticized Palin for is lack of insight and overall education in the understanding of the intricacies of national and international issues that are so important to our nation and our citizens, that it should be basic material for any Presidential candidate to express.

    Palin has shown an appalling lack of understanding, and an even more appalling lack of basic knowledge for the job. We all know what those are. If your standard for the presidency is culture wars, you will lose….every time. Outside of Palin’s tight fan base, no one cares about them. There are enormous issues facing Americans these days; we got better things to worry about.

    And a higher standard of basic education and ability for the presidency.

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  • JeninCT

    Annie: ” Secondly, Jenin: I personally don’t care what college(s) Palin went to ”

    I never said you did. I was referring to the quote from Paul’s grandmother. Your first clue might have been that I addressed the post to him.

    “And what’s this reference to ‘ive league’ education? You Palinites just love the culture wars, don’t you? I admire anyone who graduated from an Ivy League college, because most people do – nothing wrong or weird in that at all. You admire people who did better in life usually, but with the culture-war crowd, any sign of education or articulation in speaking means you are an ‘elite.’”

    I referred specifically to ‘parent-funded’ Ivy league educations, as opposed to those that are paid for by the students themselves. And your comment about the culture war crowd is a giant assumption. Don’t put words in my mouth.

    We know you dislike Palin; move on.

  • dragonlady

    Frum said: “Just guessing, but I think the real and most fundamental problem Jews have with Palin is not her gleeful ignorance, but her willful divisiveness. More than any politician in memory, Palin seems to divide her fellow-Americans into first class and second class citizens, real Americans and not-so-real Americans.”
    Frum is not providing the context and thus, not wholly accurate on Palin. It is true she was in attack-mode during the campaign. However, that is not uncommon for the VP candidate so the Pres candidate can appear to be above that sort of fray. As a governor, she was not divisive nor did she put lot of emphasis on cultural and social issues. It really was the media that tagged her a country bumpkin stupid bible-thumper on a some sort of crusade. That impression was immediately cemented among secular liberals who are suspicious and disdainful of anyone who is a religious Christian.

    Whether Jews dislike her more than others, I can’t really say I’ve seen evidence of that. But there is a much more visceral deeper emotion it seems for folks who dislike Palin that goes beyond the she’s not intellectually qualified argument. I haven’t really placed it yet but it’s almost like they see her as somewhat alien and anathema to who should be in the political elite.

    Not trying to convince anyone to like or not–don’t care if you do. Just pointing out Frum selectively chooses to highlight what he considers her worst qualities and ignores why she does appeal to the GOP base. He has a tin ear to what matters to the base and as such, can’t put forth an effective political strategy to co-op them along with moderates under one tent.

    It’s not that there is anything wrong with being elite. But when the elites seem to be unable to govern (and I say this for both parties) and out-of-touch, and on top of that, condescending with a we-know-best-attitude, people are rightfully resentful. This Jacksonian attitude is nothing new in American political history and tends to come back with a vengenance when the elites appear particularly corrupt and inept (Wall St anyone? DC anyone?). Having skepticism of the elites is also nothing new among conservative intellectuals, like William Buckley, either.

  • JeninCT

    Terrific post, Dragonlady. I agree.

  • pepster

    David,

    Jennifer Rubins arguments are silly. You did a fine job in countering with infinetely sillier arguments.

    “Yes, Todd belonged to a Union, but so did Reagan” Huh? A commercial fisherman and North Slope Oil worker can only be described as working class. Are you serious? Todd Palin doesn’t have working class background? That is plain dishonest.

    “The Heaths were not rich, but they were comfortable and respectable” You can’t be comfortable, respectable AND working class? You ought to examine your prejudices. It is amazing that you believe that some how respect and working class don’t go together. You ought to be ashamed.

    Working on a fishing boat is hard, back breaking work. Anyone who has done that has at least some exposure to the “working class”. Many salmon boat captains in Alaska are teachers. The salmon run in the summer and teachers have the summers off. I’ve worked on those boats. Bill Clinton’s mother was a nurse and stepfather owned a car dealership. That qualifies as working class roots. But a School teacher doesn’t.

    Until her book deal the Palin’s were not millionaires. That said, that people with blue collar roots can become “among the richest residents of Wasilla” isn’t something that would surpise anyone who lived there. I grew up there so it does not surprise me. Maybe that type of thing doesn’t happen back east.

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  • Texas Dem Guy

    The answer is very simple. When a political leader (e.g. Steele, Gingrich, Buchanan), speaking at a political forum, in a political context, on a political subject, declares that “America is a Christian country!”, she or he is not speaking about a demographic measurement or a cultural core. She is expressing a desire that the United States is, or of right ought to be, in an instrinsic founding sense, a Christian state.

    When Ann Coulter speaks in anti-Semitic stereotypes directly to Donny Deutsch’s face, when Fred Barnes asserts that Tiger Woods’ personal problems aise from his being a Buddhist, when Franklin Graham charges that Islam is inherently and irredemably violent, they are spreading religious hatred.

    When Sarah Palin expresses similar sentiments, implying that only evangelical Protestants are “real” Americans, Jews react hostilely. And so should all of the 66,000,000 Americans, one fifth of our nation, who hold minority religious beliefs.