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August 20, 2012 8:31 am

The Status Quo: Jews and Paul Ryan

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

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Mitt Romney (left) and Paul Ryan at a campaign rally in Manassas, VA, on Aug. 12. Photo: Monkeyz_uncle/Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish conservatives applauded Mitt Romney’s choice of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) 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 Republicans will give them the opportunity to blast his ideas about entitlement reform and therefore ensure President Obama’s victory this fall.

Indeed, Jewish Democrats think the fact that Ryan has taken on the tough issue of how to ensure Medicare survives means the danger that the president will loose 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 Biden claims the Democrats to be.

But every sensible person, be they Republican or Democrat, knows 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 their benefits cut for the former and 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) or 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 percent 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 defense 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 policies toward Israel, the assumption they will be stampeded back to the Democrats by fear of Ryan may also not be correct.

In addition to being older than the average American, Jewish voters are also well read and interested in ideas. That is 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.org Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Marylin Pitz

    It would be surprising if any Jewish-American citizen, other than the mindless “I must vote for the Democrat,” voter could ignore the failures of Obama’s “hope and change” message, not to mention 8+% unmovable unemployment, potentially catastrophic debt, and worrisome attitude toward Israel. Obama consistently plays one group against another, fomenting class hatred and race hatred as well. That is his worst sin, in my opinion. He is a divider, and this country badly needs a leader, not a divider. Thanks, Algemeiner, you are one of a few lone voices in the slavish, Obama-obsessed media.

  • Mark NYC

    This is an example of someone reaching for an argument that defies common sense. Jews supporting a candidate who is an acolyte of Ayn Rand? You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t see how even conservative (small c) oriented Jews would support this kind of thinking. If you want to make the argument based on the survival of Israel then make it, but an argument based on economics is a fantasy and complete stretch.

    • Joy

      Mark, you SO do not understand the development and education/fine-tuning of the Conservative mind!! Many fiscal Conservatives, in their youth/college years, read Ayn Rand and are impressed with her very persuasive arguments in favor of a poliltical philosophy that puts the Individual at the center or the primary unit upon which ANY good government needs to be based (see our Declaration of Independence for some of that reasoning & philosophy itself!).

      As one matures, however, the “absolutes” of the primacy of the Individual vs. the Collectcive start to recede to the point where a sensible Conservative realizes that we work within a societal framework – and the needs & desires of our fellow citizens are important enough to be concerned enough to support!

      Thank God we have such a Republican Leader in Paul Ryan! God knows, Romney’s quasi-religious, quasi-capitalist orientation is hardly “burdened” with the depth of political & economic philosophy, such as Paul Ryan understands.

      Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is a strong and excellent grounding in one’s introduction to the basic tenets of Conservatism. It’s all about the size & role of Governemnt in our lives – and Ayn Rand addressed that dilemna in her books, articles and other writings.

  • karen yochim

    This essay is correct. Jewish voters are highly aware of what’s going on in gov’t. Many of those who vote Democrat, “because I’ve always voted the Dem. ticket,” will not do so this election cycle. Israel is on the line, and the present administration is so confused, they can’t even state the proper capitol of Israel.