How will Jewish voters react to Paul Ryan’s candidacy?
Jewish conservatives applauded Mitt Romney’s choice of U.S. congressman Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee. But Jewish liberals who despise him and the GOP also cheered. They are certain the rise of the intellectual leader of the Republican party will give them the opportunity to blast his ideas about entitlement reform, and thus ensure President Barack Obama’s victory this fall.
Indeed, Jewish Democrats think the fact that Ryan has taken on the issue of how to ensure that Medicare survives means the danger that the president will lose a considerable portion of the Jewish vote this year has been averted. In particular, they think Ryan’s presence on the ticket will help them in Florida, where the Jewish vote might tip the state’s crucial 29 electoral votes into Romney’s column because of justified concerns about the president’s attitude toward Israel. The assumption is that elderly Jews will be scared by any talk about changing Medicare, let alone Social Security, and flee back to the Democrats and Obama, Israel or no Israel.
The Jewish community is an aging demographic and therefore vulnerable to such arguments, but it should not be overlooked that many Jewish organizations are as locked into the status quo when it comes to federal expenditures as any retiree. Social service agencies and philanthropies have, in many cases, become dependent on government aid to maintain local infrastructure and fight budget cuts on the federal, state and local levels with just as much passion as mainstream secular liberal groups. Indeed, those who speak for Jewish communities have often become as wedded to a policy of no change when it comes to the federal budget and entitlements as Vice-President Joe Biden claims the Democrats to be.
But sensible people, be they Republican or Democrat, know that the time is fast approaching when it will no longer be possible for anyone to hold onto Biden’s senseless guarantee of “no change.” Changes will have to be made to Medicare, and eventually even to Social Security if they are going to be around to help the grandchildren of the current Jewish elderly, though even Ryan has sensibly promised that no current retiree (or anyone close to potential retirement) will have his or her benefits cut for the former. He isn’t talking about the latter. The unlimited flow of federal dollars to any cause with a Congressional caucus behind it cannot be sustained. More to the point, there is a limit to how much debt America can sustain, and we must choose between Ryan’s reformist ideas (or a reasonable Democratic alternative should one ever be proposed) and a future like that of Greece.
That means Jewish groups cannot afford to dig their heels in and merely push to preserve the budgetary status quo. Change will be difficult, but the sooner Jewish groups realize they can’t count on the taxpayers to subsidize everything the better, since such an outcome is inevitable, no matter who wins in November.
As for those elderly Florida Jews, it may be that the Democrats’ Medicare tactics will resonate with many of them. But most of those so affected were already going to vote for Obama anyway. A majority of Jewish voters are hard-line liberals and partisan Democrats. But the 10 to 25 per cent of the Jewish vote that is up for grabs this year is made up of thinking moderates who are disillusioned by Obama’s economic failures and are not reassured by Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive on Israel. This is not a group that will be seduced by a mindless defence of the status quo in a time of fiscal crisis.
Just as it is foolish to assume that most of this group can be convinced to ignore the evidence of the eyes and ears during the first three years of the Obama administration’s policies on Israel, the assumption they will be stampeded back to the Democrats by fear of Ryan may not be correct either.
In addition to being older than the average American, Jewish voters are also well read and interested in ideas. That’s why Ryan, the intellectual leader of his party and the most able advocate for fundamental change in the way the government operates, may turn out to be more attractive to Jews than liberals think.
JNS columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com.