Last week, Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s election victories, offered Barack Obama free advice on how to defeat Hillary Clinton.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer you my six-pointed plan on how to win the Jewish vote in ’08.
What makes me such an expert? I’m no Karl Rove, true, but I did successfully pick the winner in two out of the last four presidential races. That’s a 50 percent success rate — compared to Bob Schrum, the pro behind the Dukakis, Gore and Kerry (Bob and John) campaigns, I’m a certified genius.
The Jewish vote is important. Although Jews comprise barely 2 percent of the population, they make up a statistically larger voting bloc, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. Moreover, by some estimates, 30 percent of all campaign contributors are Jewish. And they get involved early. And their fundraisers have good hors d’oeuvres, not just cocktails.
You and I both know the Republicans have been trying to woo Jews for years now. There have been flashes of passion: Jews gave Ronald Reagan 39 percent of their vote, a record for any Republican president. But since then, the numbers have only stayed flat or gone downhill.
In the last midterm elections, the Democrats received a whopping 88 percent of the Jewish vote. There are Arab dictators who would kill for that kind of majority. In fact, Arab dictators do kill for that kind of majority.
If you, as a Republican candidate, want to do better, allow me to offer six pieces of free advice.
1) When it comes to Israel, pander.
This is my only glib, tongue-in-cheek point, but it seems to work for the Democrats. Whatever you do, don’t stand up before Jewish voters and say the truth about what you, as president, will one day have to help Israel do — make tough concessions in another round of Middle East peace talks.
Sen. Clinton can declare that Jerusalem must remain the indivisible capital of Israel all she wants — but she knows she’ll eventually have to help Israel figure out a way to share it with the Arabs. President Bush’s Jewish supporters had long defended him as the most pro-Israel president in history — until they turned on him for starting a process in Annapolis that looked a lot like what Bill Clinton did at Camp David. But those worries are a good many years off. In the meantime, do what they all do — pander.
2) Offer one good way to reduce our dependence on oil.
This is an issue that Jews of all stripes can agree upon. America’s unwillingness to become more fuel efficient and find alternatives to oil turns our country into one big ATM for dictatorial, terror-supporting regimes around the world.
3) Be a Nixon environmentalist.
Jews were not big fans of Richard Nixon, who, we found out later from his tapes, wasn’t a big fan of Jews himself. But every conversation about Nixon inevitably gets around to: “Hey, he was good on the environment.” Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Endangered Species Act. If you can convince voters you’ll follow in that Republican tradition, that’s good for a few percentage points. And by the way, Nixon also pushed for universal health care. Just an idea.
4) Ix-nay on the esus-Jay.
Confessions of faith are fine when they come from preachers and missionaries, but not when they come from presidential candidates — especially when those candidates are ex-preachers and ex-missionaries.
Former governor Mitt Romney, during his “Yes-I’m-Mormon” speech at the George H.W. Bush Library last week, nailed one important thesis to the door.
“We separate church and state affairs in this country,” he intoned, “and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state, nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion.”
That was just what we like to hear, but then he went one step further, not just embracing people of all faiths, but demeaning people who don’t believe at all.
“But in recent years,” he went on, “the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”
Jews have a long history of abhorring religion in the public square. After centuries of being persecuted for our religion by political leaders, we have developed a canine ability to hear frequencies of prejudice the average WASP couldn’t detect with Dennis Kucinich’s ears.
When the left denounces “Israel,” we hear “Jew.” And when the right denounces “secularism,” we hear “Jew.”
And who is this “they” of whom Romney speaks? To my canine ears, “they” sound awfully like people I know on the Upper West Side of New York and the Westside of Los Angeles.
I know God-talk helps with the evangelicals, but you’ll have to tone it down to appeal to Jews. Look: Joe Lieberman’s religiosity made Jews nervous — and he’s Jewish.
5) Don’t hate government; hate bad government.
Some Republicans assume that Jews vote Democrat not out of conviction but out of habit. Dennis Prager, Los Angeles’ most voluble Republican Jew, is fond of saying that Jews are still voting for FDR. But he’s wrong: What they’re still voting for is a belief in government that works, that protects the most vulnerable, that fights for freedom abroad and at home, that offers opportunity to all. To the extent Franklin Roosevelt embodied those beliefs, yes, call Jews silly nostalgics. But you can’t win a single Jewish vote by promising to weaken government that works. Just ask the Jews rebuilding their synagogue in New Orleans.
6) Finally, take the Iranian nuclear threat seriously.
That doesn’t mean you have to be the first to promise to bomb Iran, nor that you shouldn’t pursue diplomatic initiatives. But Jews have to choose sides between our government’s National Intelligence Estimate, which concludes that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program, and an Israeli intelligence network that insists Iran is intent on developing those weapons, even as the Iranian president threatens to wipe Israel off the map. With history as our guide, and without any margin for error, I think American Jews will rightly tend to believe the Israelis.You should, too.