Conservatives are supposed to learn from history. They are supposed to benefit from experience. They are supposed to appreciate, more than others, that certain patterns of behavior are deeply imbedded in human nature and these patterns change very, very slowly—if at all.
Why then are Jewish conservatives in America so indifferent to the lessons one should learn from the long history and experience of the Jewish people?
Income is less equally distributed in America than in any other Western democracy. Not only that, this inequality is worse in America than it has been for a very long time, and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow at an alarming rate.
Jews know something about huge gaps between rich and poor and extreme concentrations of wealth in the hands of a very few. They have witnessed this in many of the countries in which they have lived. And they know that it is bad for the Jews. Always.
When the masses grow poorer and a small elite become vastly richer, the masses get angry. They are easily stirred up, fall victim to populism, and frequently turn their anger on the Jews. (Does anyone remember Czarist Russia?) When the rich elites, frightened by populist uprisings, look for someone to blame, they frequently settle on the Jews. (Does anyone remember the Weimar Republic?)
Jews, therefore, favor fairness, social peace, and a reasonable distribution of resources among all elements of the population. One reason they do so is because of the values of compassion found in the Jewish tradition—and conservatives, I acknowledge, are likely to read that tradition differently than I do. But I am saying that even if the question of values is put aside for now, Jews worry about huge inequalities of income because they are destabilizing; they create social unrest from which the Jews are more likely than others to suffer.
Some say it cannot happen in America. And America is different in many ways. But we are witnessing now the emergence of populist movements on the right and the left, both fueled by deep anger at unprecedented upward redistribution of income. The idea that Jews and Israel are protected by Christian conservative love of Israel is silly; the Tea Party cares little about foreign policy of any sort, and Ron and Rand Paul care for Israel not at all. And the left has issues of its own.
I am not arguing here for liberal economic policy against conservative economic policy. This is a broader concern, with implications for the long run. What I am saying is that something needs to be done very soon about the specific issue of the outrageous and growing income inequality that is a threat to social peace in America, and could very well be a threat to the Jews. Liberals are already speaking to these matters—for reasons, I am quick to say, that have nothing to do with Jewish concerns. But conservatives are not speaking to them at all, including Jewish conservatives who ought to know better.
If rising inequality is not dealt with now, anger could be unleashed in America that would be truly explosive—and disastrous for Jewish interests. Shouldn’t Jewish conservatives be concerned about that?