GOP attempt to exploit bigotry won't work
Rep. Jim Moran, the vituperative Virginian Democrat, has given Republicans a golden opportunity for fund raising, recruiting and pandering in the Jewish community, but they could blow it with the heavy-handed approach of their leader, Rep. Tom Delay.
Moran created the opening with his recent charge that the Jews are responsible for driving America to war with Iraq - the latest in a series of angry attacks on Israel and its supporters.
Delay is basing his campaign to win Jewish hearts and minds largely on one issue: Israel. Reinforcing his message is the lone Jewish Republican in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who told an Orthodox Union meeting here last week that "Jews in this country may not be able to afford to be Democrats" and only the GOP is "absolutely resolute in its commitment to Israel."
DeLay told the O.U. that the Democratic Party "appears to countenance" Moran's remarks, although the party reacted more quickly against Moran than Republicans did to racist remarks earlier this year by Sen. Trent Lott, DeLay's Senate counterpart.
DeLay brought the crowd to its feet with his attacks on the "so-called" Palestinian-Israeli peace process, making Prime Minister Ariel Sharon look like a dove. The GOP leader called the "Road Map" that President George W. Bush has endorsed for resuming diplomatic negotiations an "absurd scheme" that a collection of "neo-appeasers" and "fancy thinkers" are "attempting to coerce the president into accepting."
It was music to the O.U. ears, but DeLay didn't bother reminding his audience of his oft-stated goal to elect candidates who "stand unashamedly with Jesus Christ." Nor did he repeat his belief that "Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world - only Christianity."
For most Jewish voters, such talk is more worrisome than DeLay's pro-Israel rhetoric is comforting.
But Jews are not one-issue voters. Even on Israel, there are diverse voices reflecting that Jews are no longer so insecure that they feel such disagreements must be kept quietly within the family. And most Jews - American and Israeli - are more supportive of the peace process and territorial compromise than DeLay or the O.U.
Republicans will have difficulty sustaining Jewish support on the pillar of the Christian right's love of Zion because the rest of the evangelical agenda more directly affects the lives of Jewish voters.
Jewish voters may appreciate Republican zeal for Israel - a relatively recent phenomenon - but beyond that DeLay and the GOP have little in common with mainstream Jewish voters. They often find themselves on opposing sides in debates over church-state separation, civil liberties, minority rights, school prayer, abortion, gun control and the environment.
Decades of Republican predictions of a wave of Jewish defections from the Democratic Party have failed to materialize, but party strategists are placing their bets on President George W. Bush's high marks from many in the Jewish community for his war against terror and his support for Israel.
The major emphasis, however, has been money, not voters.
DeLay said Jews have been a "financial pillar" of the Democratic Party and his goal is to "fracture" that.
Whether the long-predicted shift comes in 2004 will depend on a broad range of issues facing voters, not just Israel.
I am happy that DeLay and Republicans are trying to capitalize on Moran's behavior by challenging Democrats for Jewish votes; both parties must emphatically reject their Morans and Lotts.
It's healthy when politicians compete for Jewish votes, but that doesn't absolve voters of asking tough questions about where people stand on the full array of issues.
DeLay and the GOP plan to use Moran's vituperation to accelerate their Jewish money chase, but they could easily blow it by showing more enthusiasm for Israeli extremists than for the peace efforts most Jews support. They also will be hurt by the image of social extremism in the GOP that has only grown since the party regained control of both houses of Congress.
Jewish voters will be focusing on the burgeoning budget deficits, massive tax cut proposals and the soaring costs of war - estimated at $200 billion or more - that will be paid for in part with deep cuts in domestic programs.
Fears of ripping the social safety net for the elderly, the poor and the ill will weigh much more heavily with most Jewish voters than statements of support for settlers and opposition to territorial compromise by the DeLays of the world.
Using Moran as a broad brush to paint the Democratic Party as a coven of anti-Semites won't fool anyone. Jewish voters aren't going to bolt the Democrats just because of one loud-mouthed anti-Israel congressman or one pious preacher of religious zealotry.
It is in the community's interest to be spread across the political spectrum and not be in a position where one party can safely take it for granted and the other ignore it with impunity. But that demands the parties create a comfortable environment on a range of important issues, not just Israel.
If Republicans hope to win Jewish votes and Jewish money, they'll have to begin by addressing issues that do as much as Israel, and perhaps more, to shape Jewish voting behavior.
And they're going to have to moderate a hard-right ideology that Jews continue to reject in huge numbers.
Don't hold your breath waiting.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a nationally syndicated columnist.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, March 27, 2003