American Jews: Duty calls

Let’s vote, and let’s make sure every one of our friends and family are voting too.

Obama, Romney laughing funny 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
Obama, Romney laughing funny 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
A recent survey of 1000 self-identified Jews in the United States, conducted on behalf of the national Workmen’s Circle organization by prominent sociologist Steven M. Cohen, revealed that while this cohort as a whole cares about Israel, it’s how a political candidate addresses economic, social and environmental issues that is the critical determinant regarding how they’ll vote. Among other things, the survey found that issues driving the Jewish vote include support for regulating financial institutions, progressive taxation, and more government help for the needy. We care about social and economic justice, and we vote accordingly.
Here’s a sampling of the often illuminating findings: For starters, 81 percent said that being Jewish in their lives was either very important or somewhat important, and 77% acknowledged the role of their Jewish identity in shaping their political identity.
How about this one: While 87% responded that neither they nor anyone in their household was a member of a union, 75% said that the rights of workers are either extremely important or very important to them. The survey also found that, on hearing of a strike by a union against a large company, before knowing any of the details, 62% replied that their first reaction is to side with the union.
Along the same lines, 60% of respondents “agreed,” or “strongly agreed,” that government should do more to help the needy, and 65% favored raising federal income taxes for people who make more than $200,000 per year.
And in ranking the significance of issues, 74% of surveyed individuals said poverty was either “very important” or “extremely important” to them, while 70% said the same about economic justice, and 65% about racial inequality.
These survey findings interface interestingly with a sobering op-ed in the Sunday, October 21 New York Times, “Candidates and the Truth About America” by Scott Shane. In it, he takes a long, hard look at America’s purported exceptionalism.
Consider these facts he cites: Of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks next to the worst in child poverty, edging out only Romania. In educational achievement, this country comes in 28th in the percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in preschool; meanwhile, we rate 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34- year-olds with a higher education. On infant mortality, the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories. And, contrary to popular belief, the United States lags behind most of Europe, Australia, and Canada in social mobility.
At the same time, America tops the list in incarcerating its citizens, with a lock-up rate far higher than that of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, we leave second-place Mexico far behind, and boast a rate nearly 10 times that of Japan; in energy use per person we also rank highest, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.
These statistics are jarring, to say the least. As Americans and as Jews, let’s not kid ourselves. This is a great country. But we’ve got plenty of work – plenty of repairing – to do, not only to the world as a whole (including, yes, the Israel/Palestine situation), but glaringly right here at home.
How this country is governed, and by whom, will impact mightily on whether and how these problems are addressed. We need to weigh in, and heavily, during this upcoming election. So, just for the record, I’ll say it – though for this listening audience I hope and expect it’s hardly needed: Let’s vote, and let’s make sure every one of our friends and family are voting too.
Yes, American Jews, VOTE! You don’t need another reason than this: For (as we’re fond of saying in Yiddish) a besere velt (a better world)... and a besere USA! Let’s get to work.
The author is an attorney and president of Boston Workmen's Circle, a 110-year old Jewish educational, cultural, and social justice organization.