When members of the Democratic Party booed the inclusion of God and Jerusalem in their party platform this year, I thought of my parents.
They would have been astounded.
The immigrant family in which I grew up was, in the matter of politics, typical of the Jews of Boston in the 1930s and ’40s. Of the two major parties, the Democrats were in those days the more supportive of Jewish causes.
Indeed, only liberal politicians campaigned in our underprivileged neighborhood. Boston’s Republicans, insofar as we knew them, were remote, wealthy elites (“Boston Brahmins”), some of whose fancy country clubs didn’t accept Jews.
So why did I leave the party?
My critics nowadays like to claim it’s because I got wealthy or because I didn’t want to pay taxes or because of some other conservative caricature. No, the truth is the Democratic Party has changed in ways that no longer fit with someone of my upbringing.
One obvious example is the party’s new attitude toward Israel. A sobering Gallup poll from last March asked: “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” Barely 53% of Democrats chose Israel, the sole liberal democracy in the region. By contrast, an overwhelming 78% of Republicans sympathized with Israel.
Nowhere was this change in Democratic sympathies more evident than in the chilling reaction on the floor of the Democratic convention in September when the question of Israel’s capital came up for a vote. Anyone who witnessed the delegates’ angry screaming and fist-shaking could see that far more is going on in the Democratic Party than mere opposition to citing Jerusalem in their platform. There is now a visceral anti-Israel movement among rank-and-file Democrats, a disturbing development that my parents’ generation would not have ignored.
Another troubling change is that Democrats seem to have moved away from the immigrant values of my old neighborhood—in particular, individual charity and neighborliness. After studying tax data from the IRS, the nonpartisan Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that states that vote Republican are now far more generous to charities than those voting Democratic. In 2008, the seven least-generous states all voted for President Obama. My father, who kept a charity box for the poor in our house, would have frowned on this fact about modern Democrats.
Democrats would reply that taxation and government services are better vehicles for helping the underprivileged. And, yes, government certainly has its role. But when you look at states where Democrats have enjoyed years of one-party dominance—California, Illinois, New York—you find that their liberal policies simply don’t deliver on their promises of social justice.
Take, for example, President Obama’s adopted home state. In October, a nonpartisan study of Illinois’s finances by the State Budget Crisis Task Force offered painful evidence that liberal Illinois is suffering from abject economic, demographic and social decline. With the worst credit rating in the country, and with the second-biggest public debt per capita, the Prairie State “has been doing back flips on a high wire, without a net,” according to the report.
Political scientist Walter Russell Mead summed up the sad results of these findings at The American Interest: “Illinois politicians, including the present president of the United States, have wrecked one of the country’s potentially most prosperous and dynamic states, condemned millions of poor children to substandard education, failed to maintain vital infrastructure, choked business development and growth through unsustainable tax and regulatory policies—and still failed to appease the demands of the public sector unions and fee-seeking Wall Street crony capitalists who make billions off the state’s distress.”
At times, it seems almost as if President Obama wants to impose the failed Illinois model on the whole country. Each year of his presidency has produced unsustainable deficits, and he takes no responsibility for his spending. Worse still, unemployment has become chronic, and many Americans have given up on looking for work.
Whenever President Obama deplores the wealthy (“fat-cat bankers,” “millionaires and billionaires,” “at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” and so on), it tells me that he has failed to learn the economic lessons of Illinois, and that he still doesn’t understand the vital role entrepreneurs play in creating jobs in our society.
As a person who has been able to rise from poverty to affluence, and who has created jobs and work benefits for tens of thousands of families, I feel obligated to speak up and support the American ideals I grew up with—charity, self-reliance, accountability. These are the age-old virtues that help make our communities prosperous. Yet, sadly, the Democratic Party no longer seems to value them as it once did. That’s why I switched parties, and why I’m now giving amply to Republicans.
Although I don’t agree with every Republican position—I’m liberal on several social issues—there is enough common cause with the party for me to know I’ve made the right choice.
It’s the choice that, I believe, my old immigrant Jewish neighbors would have made. They would not have let a few disagreements with Republicans void the importance of siding with the political party that better supports liberal democracies like Israel, the party that better exemplifies the spirit of charity, and the party with economic policies that would certainly be better for those Americans now looking for work.
The Democratic Party just isn’t what it used to be.