Common Sense & An Open Mind

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for December, 2009

Why are Jews Democrats?

Posted by Free to Think on December 27, 2009

I had hoped to get this out during the Hanukkah season, but life continues to spiral a bit out of control here. Thanks for bearing with me until I can write on a more regular basis. My dad completed his first series of chemo sessions, then last week underwent tests to determine whether he’s a surgical candidate. And since I’ve written we’ve also done a lot of celebrating, including Hanukkah, Christmas, and my dad’s 70th birthday with new appreciation. Tomorrow we have a consultation with his oncologist to learn his prognosis.

So Hanukkah has come and gone, but with the spirit of giving still in the air, let’s talk about the political mindset of the typical Jewish American.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Jews voted for the Democratic candidate in presidential elections a remarkable 75% of the time since 1928, far higher than that of any other ethno-religious group. Presidential candidate Obama won a whopping 78% of the Jewish vote, even though his opponent had a stronger pro-Israeli stance and a more hard-line view of dealing with Muslim extremists. Obviously, a “liberal” vote holds even more weight to American Jews than supporting the Jewish state.

Increasing prosperity usually leads to an increasing identification with the Republican Party for every single ethno-religious group…except the Jews. The Jewish vote for Obama was 25 points higher than the 53% he scored with the electorate as a whole. The black community was the only ethnic or religious group that voted for him at a higher percentage than the Jews.

We know Jews are not alone in their religious teachings to help the less fortunate. But Jews can relate with victimhood. The fact that we’ve spent our existence being persecuted or on the run is bored into our skulls in Hebrew school and at every Jewish holiday. (As the joke goes, all Jewish holy days can be summed up with, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”) Most Jews have been touched by some ignorant, prejudiced remark, if not outright bigotry. Many of us have relatives who survived pogroms or the Holocaust thanks to someone who was willing to reach out to those in need.

That ability to identify with victims probably accounts for the fact that the vast majority of American Jews want to see a bigger government redistributing wealth to less fortunate citizens. To give one’s money to help the poor is a mitzvah.

So how would the average Jewish liberal react if I gave them solid proof that the American welfare system has actually been a crushing blow to poor, striving communities?

Well, I’ll tell you how they react. With denial, disbelief, or assumption that I am some kind of deranged extremist. Jew or Christian, if you find yourself responding this way, you’re probably tempted to stop reading right now. But there are a couple of things one learns when studying advertising and sociology: 1) people have to hear a new message repeatedly before it begins to ring true, and 2) people strive to avoid ideas that contradict their assumptions.

So this is a very different idea, and possibly one that goes against everything you’ve been raised to believe. But if you are a true “liberal” willing to be open to new ideas, hang in there.

I’m not saying that Americans shouldn’t continue to be the most charitable people on earth. Charity has a vital place in society, but once receiving gifts from others becomes an ‘entitlement’, the benefit of that gracious giving becomes an impediment rather than a help.

There’s a politically incorrect truth out there, but a truth that needs to be said as well as thoughtfully contemplated. There’s a lot of talk about class differences and the chasm between rich and poor. While that’s true, there’s another chasm that’s the elephant in the room. To admit it means that you’re bigoted, insensitive, or heartless. But since I know I’m none of the above, I’ll throw it out there. Americans can also be divided into two other classes, and it has nothing to do with personal wealth: those who believe that society owes them nothing but the right to allow them to strive for success, and those who have come to define themselves as victims entitled to money they haven’t earned.

New immigrants, both legal and illegal, fall into the extreme of both categories. Blacks and whites, kids who’ve had every advantage, and kids who have nothing can be found in both groups.

The “Entitlement Society” is a new element in America, whose roots lie in the Lyndon Johnson administration.

When Martin Luther King Jr. took his message of racial equality to the streets in the early 1960’s, he fought against the legal discrimination that officially made African Americans second-class citizens. Being banned from jobs, fair opportunities and even the front of the bus were unconstitutional restraints to the life, liberty and happiness of black citizens.

Just a few short years after King’s death, his powerful, non-violent message successfully created changes that assured people of all races equal protection under the law.

Unfortunately, at the same time another movement was under way. President Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in 1964 and the era of welfare programs began. This affected the black community at a crucial moment. Just at the cusp of true opportunity for blacks, most of them living in poverty, they were given another avenue to follow. Thus they were ushered into a legacy of dependence.

Welfare’s intent was a leg-up for those in need. But for a whole segment of society it has become a multi-generational way of life. Rather than using their newfound opportunities, many blacks were convinced that poverty was their destiny. Instead of being stigmatized as it had been in the past, single motherhood became a viable option.  Struggling to work hard in school and starting at the bottom rung with hopes to move up became a waste of time in a world of little hope.

Leaders such as MLK Jr. and Malcolm X who wanted to empower black were replaced with people who attempted to help the poor by fighting for more welfare dollars, or creating sympathy for the struggles of single mothers, instead of convincing their community that being on the dole was an indignity which they were capable of rising above. Leaders cried and hollered about lingering racism and victimhood instead of encouraging black Americans to turn a blind eye and prove bigots wrong.

The truth is that writing laws doesn’t change what’s in people’s hearts and minds. Ranting about bigotry rarely changes people’s stance on what they already believe. What works best against prejudice? Success.

People are accepted and embraced when they’ve proven themselves. Whether it’s the gay couple who’ve shown they are a positive addition to the neighborhood, the woman who climbs to the top of the corporate ladder, or the minorities who become scientists, college professors, and even US Presidents, they are the ones who convince society to shrug off their biases

Early 20th century immigrants flooding the U.S. shore knew nothing of the American culture, were typically penniless, did not speak the language and were greeted by hostile opinions of foreigners. Immigrants like my relatives were often fleeing persecution or starvation in their native land. Without a safety net, they toiled long hours in this new land at grueling jobs under terrible conditions. They taught their children to ignore any prejudice and work twice as hard as comfortable, native-born Americans. And without anyone to provide a handout, their children did not starve on the streets. These people never doubted that they were capable of supporting themselves, and looked at their poverty as a temporary situation. Eventually each successive generation did better than the last.

The same cannot be said of the poor since the advent of welfare.

Had our ancestors had the opportunity to wait in welfare lines instead, would history have been written differently? Would we have today the vast wealth and success the 20th century American immigrant produced?

Statistics and solutions next time.

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Out of Control Legislation

Posted by Free to Think on December 7, 2009

What if our laws became so huge and so complex, that no one understood them? What if even the Congressmen who passed them had no idea what was in our laws? What if it was so cumbersome and time consuming to read the lengthy bills put before them, that our representatives simply voted for them without even checking their content? What if bills were put to a vote so quickly that it was physically impossible to read, let alone research bills before Congress was pressed to vote on them?

Unfortunately, we don’t need to wonder. It has become standard practice in Washington.

James Madison, wrote in Federalist 62: ““It will be of little avail to the people that the laws be made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

What are the implications of a nation that doesn’t understand its own laws?

Downsize DC, one of my favorite non-partisan, small-government advocacy groups, is promoting a bill unlike any that Congress has seen in a while. “Read the Bills” Act is pretty straightforward. In 3 concise pages of legislation the bill would:

  • require that all bills be read before a quorum in Congress,
  • require an affidavit from every member who votes, affirming they have read and understood it
  • require the posting online of bills for 48 hours before a vote

It seems pretty ludicrous that such a bill should even be necessary. How, in good conscience, can our representatives vote on bills without knowing what’s in them? If they don’t know, who does? The public often has no opportunity to see it. If representatives don’t understand the law completely, should they be voting for it?

In November alone, the House and Senate passed a total of 55 bills amounting to 2,988 pages. These pages influence our lives, liberty, and hard-earned tax dollars. Sponsors of bills often push for quick passage before there’s time for debate or investigation. Backroom additions and deletions are often made at the last moment, without informing the rest of Congress.

What lawmakers in their right minds would oppose a bill that asks them to know what they vote for? But some say that “RTBA” is “impractical” in our modern, complex economy. Really? So it is practical to indiscriminately pass laws without knowledge of what they contain?

It’s the very complexity of our society that makes Congress unqualified to regulate every aspect of it. While it’s appropriate to pass laws against such things as fraud and monopolistic ventures, Congress simply doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to impose sweeping regulations of every industry. Unwise legislation and regulations have contributed to such disasters as the housing bubble and the health insurance debacle* .

Congress’ purpose should be to protect our lives and liberty under the Constitution. Congress might not have had time to read every word of the Patriot Act, but you and I can be put in prison for violating any part of that law.

“Read the Bills” would have many implications, but it would not obstruct passage of necessary, Constitutional legislation. The effects of these provisions will be profound:

  • Congress will have to slow down, giving an opportunity for better-informed decisions.
  • It will slow the pace of government growth.
  • So that Congress will be able to endure hearing them read, bills will shrink, be less complicated, and contain fewer subjects.
  • There will be less passage of bad laws due to “log-rolling” (attaching unpopular proposals with popular measures that Congress feels compelled to vote for.)
  • There will be no more secretive, 11th-hour clauses inserted into bills.
  • Government should shrink as old laws reach their sunset date, and have to be read for the first time before they can be renewed.

I urge you to contact your Senators and Congressmen, asking them to support the “Read the Bills” Act. You can do so easily by going to Downsize DC, who will walk you through the process.

Another smart bill that Downsize endorses is known as “One Subject At A Time”. This would prevent the pork barrel legislation that has become so prevalent. More on that later. For a summary of Downsize DC’s other sensible campaigns, go to http://www.downsizedc.org/etp/ .

*See my archives for specific examples on health insurance. I can speak more about housing in future articles.

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