But avowed secularists are not the only Jews who confuse Judaism with liberalism; so do many non-Orthodox Jews who practice this or that traditional observance. It is not for nothing that a cruel wag has described the Reform movement—the largest of the religious denominations within the American Jewish community—as "the Democratic Party with holidays thrown in," and the services in a Reform temple as "the Democratic Party at prayer."
Podhoretz’s book is meant to explain why Jews do not vote their self-interest. I would say it is because they vote their self-conception, which is a very different thing. Jews identify with those who see themselves as on the margins: African Americans, immigrants, various minority interest groups. The blue-collar poor may feel angry, but they also feel that America is in some deep sense “theirs.” They don’t need to claim it, although they may wish to reclaim it. But for all those who suspect deep down that no matter how patriotic they may be, no matter how much they may contribute, the Daughters of the American Revolution will always see them as arrivistes, it will remain attractive to make common cause with those on the margins.
Why then should Jews in the United States uphold what Podhoretz calls “the ‘Torah’ of liberalism” so much more zealously than Jews elsewhere in the world? I would point to two factors that distinguish the American situation from what obtains elsewhere. First, Reform Judaism is much stronger in the United States than in any other country, and adherence to Reform Judaism strongly correlates with liberal voting behavior. Reform today is the largest of America’s Jewish religious movements, and all surveys agree that Reform Jews vote Democratic more reliably than any other large body of Jews. There is no need to seek out the “Torah of liberalism,” for Reform Judaism is the engine that drives the liberal train in the United States; additional explanations are unnecessary.
The liberal belief that Jews should be pro-choice and pro–gay marriage has nothing to do with connecting to Jewish tradition and everything to do with disassociating from Christian conservatives. According to this argument, Catholic and evangelical attempts to “impose” their values on social issues represent a theocratic threat to American pluralism that has allowed Judaism to thrive. The one segment of the contemporary community least concerned with this purported menace is the Orthodox—the less than 10 percent of the Jewish population that gives nearly as disproportionate support to Republicans as their Reform, Conservative, and secular Jewish neighbors give to Democrats. The reason for this contrasting response goes beyond the Orthodox tendency to agree with conservative Christians on most social issues and relates to their much greater comfort with religiosity in general. The Orthodox feel no instinctive horror at political alliances with others who make faith the center of their lives.
God only knows.
It is reassuring for liberal Jews to believe that all people are fundamentally decent and reasonable, and that all disputes can be settled through compromise and conciliation. It is reassuring to believe in a world in which nothing is ever solved by war, so that military force is unnecessary and expensive weapons systems are wasteful. It is reassuring to believe that America is a secular nation, that God and religion have no place in the public square, and that no debt of gratitude is owed to the Christians who created the extraordinary society in which American Jews have thrived. It is reassuring to believe that crime is caused by guns, that academia is the seat of wisdom, and that humanity’s biggest problem is global warming. It is reassuring to believe that compassion can be achieved by passing the right laws and that big government can create prosperity. It is reassuring to believe that tikkun olam—healing the world—is a synonym for the liberal agenda and that the liberal agenda flows directly from the teachings of Judaism.
He describes today’s Reactionary Liberalism clearly. It is no political doctrine professed, as liberalism was, in rational hopes of a better future; it is a sort of religion that denies history, experience, and liberalism itself. In many cases, Podhoretz notes, left-wing politics took the place of a Judaism that felt to new American immigrants like a business suit on a beach: conspicuous, constraining, ridiculously out of place. In Eastern Europe, most Jews didn’t need to think much about Judaism per se: it was built into their homes and communities and daily routines—which made it easier to forget when those things were left behind. On this reading, emotional, facts-be-damned Jewish liberalism is a gravestone marking the death of religious faith, or a fossil where dead stone approximates the shape of a once living creature.