Five Reasons Why Jews Tend to Gravitate to the Left
This document started-out as a letter to my Uncle which aimed to explain why many Jews identify with the Left. As I started to write it, it dawned on me that I had a few penetrating concepts that, perhaps, should be heard by more than my uncle’s ears and that these ideas should be promulgated to the world at large. (Yes, I know I sound nauseatingly full of myself. But read-on and you shall be edified.)
The other day you said to me that you wondered why so many Jews were situated on the left end of the political spectrum. I think I’ve heard you speculate along those lines before. (Sometimes, I think that when you mention the alleged misdeeds of Leftist Jews, you are, in a roundabout way, taking a snipe at me.) In any event, you are not alone. Lots of people have been annoyed by their perception that many Jews are radicals or socialists. Many people have found Jewish sympathy for the left illogical and stupid. They reason that since much of the left can been seen as anti-Semitic (latter day communists who were anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist Arabists, and advocates of affirmative action, a program that can only harm Jewish representation in higher education and the upper echelons of life since Jews tend to “outscore” all groups on standardized tests save, perhaps, Asians), Jews should not have much to do with the left. Also, although Jewish income levels in the United States approximate those of Anglicans, Jews, it has been said, tend to vote like Roman Catholic Puerto Ricans. And so people wonder: Why are so many Jews so ardently left-of-center. In this note, I will try to tell you why:
1) We are idol smashers.
To a large extent, this has to do with what it means to be a Jew. Being a Jew means being an idol-smasher. The first Jew was Abraham. His father’s profession was that of idol-maker. Abraham looked at the assortment of idols that suffused his primitive world, and he ridiculed the BS. He realized that inanimate heaps of wood and stone cannot govern the universe. Abraham, very simply, asked questions, doubted and disparaged blind acceptance of tradition and authority. Accordingly, the sort of person who is very Jewish is the sort of person who will shun reflexive deference toward conventional wisdom and will constantly venture-out, on his own, to find that which is really true.
Because Jews tend to ask questions and to doubt, they will ask questions of authority. The Jewish proclivity for questioning those in power tends to make Jews more receptive to left of center thought.
Ironically enough, the most Jewish of the Jews will often find themselves alienated from their fellow Jews. Because they decry herd-like acceptance of hoary customs and laws, they will continually find themselves at odds with their faith.
Consider the issue concretely, in the development of a Jew’s mind: In good Jewish schools, a teacher will tell a group of five year olds, on the first day of class, a story of some sort. Then he will ask his students to find the “Kasha,” or inconsistency, in this story. This inculcates the development of a challenging, probing intellect. And the legacy of this sort of education is the very radicalism that you despise.
The most Jewish of the Jews have always chafed at the boundaries of existent knowledge and belief, have always deviated from most Jews and from most other humans, have always been on the outskirts of what was deemed permissible or legal or prudent, and the most Jewish of the Jews have been traitors to their people and leaders of the world: Jesus, Freud, Marx, Spinoza.
2) The Multi-Thousand Year Dialectical Conflict Between Judaism’s Legal and Prophetic Traditions
I can just imagine your response to my use of the word Dialectical. I can veritably visualize Diarrhea’s (My uncle’s wife is named Rhea; I find it pleasing to call her Diarrhea) eyes glaring with Queenly disdain: David is using a Five Dollar Word because he is a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual asshole (Of course, in certain precincts anyone who dares to think who isn’t worth more than a million dollars is automatically tagged with the term pseudo intellectual). I use the word dialectical because a dialectic, as Hegal described it, is exactly what we have here. A dialectic is this: A phenomenon has within it the seeds of its own antithesis. Example: A) We feel love, B) We get really sick of loving that selfish bastard who hasn’t given squat in return and C) we finally feel hate towards that person whom we had loved. In other words, love created its opposite, hate. (Marx of course applied Hegelian dialectics toward material matters: Rich people create their opposite, poor people, i.e., they become rich by making other people poor.) Hegel also said that after the thesis, or original point of view, had created its opposite, or antithetical point of view, a synthesis would emerge.
In Judaism, long before the destruction of the second temple, there had been a civil war between the legal tradition and the prophetic tradition. More specifically, the exacting, almost intellectually sadistic and punitive legal tradition had given birth to its antithesis: The full-throated prophetic tradition calling-out for justice and helping the poor. Occasionally, Jacobean strains in the prophetic tradition (Abbie Hoffman) incite a revitalized and furious right: Think of Norman Podhoretz, writing the same thing for thirty years: “I used to be a radical, and people like Norman Mailer and Lillian Hellman were once my friends, but I have finally become a grown-up Jewish burgher with respectably dreary and bourgeois points of view.” Then, after having endured the sneering, smugness of the neo conservative years when Jews thought Bernie Madoff was G-d because he was rich (Hell, those rich bastards DESERVED to lose their money), many Jews voted for Obama (And he was a grand mistake, but we probably disagree as to why he was a mistake). In any event, this is how the dialectic played itself out in Judaism between the legal and prophetic traditions.
A big part of Judaism is the Law.
(People often say that the Jewish contribution to civilization has been the law, but, being a lawyer, I don’t understand why the world should love us for having given it the law. To me the Law is a means of using obfuscation, mental machinations and tricky language to shroud the truth and further injustice. I could give you so many examples of the law being used to further injustice that I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Just for the hell of it, I’ll tell you about the negative pregnant, a rule of law in Anglo-American jurisprudence that has, over the centuries, probably thrust millions of people into servitude and poverty. This is an example of the negative pregnant:
A alleges: B owes me one hundred dollars
B answers: I don’t owe A one hundred dollars
Result: B must pay A 99 dollars and 99 cents.
Reasoning: The allegation, by B, that he did not owe 100 dollars was “Pregnant” with the admission that he owed all lessor sums of money.
The negative pregnant is, to my knowledge, no longer in force in any jurisdictions of the United States; the last hold-out for this ancient tenet was the deep South. It is, incidentally, one of the reasons why lawyers often write documents with an obsessive-compulsive streak, forever wary and forever verbose.)
The law is, largely, all about the governance of commercial relations. By contrast, Christianity sometimes is infused with a longing to transcend petty commercial squabbles and rise to a more spiritual plane.
(Of course, I am not saying that Christians are more honest than Jews. After all, no one can beat the Vatican when it comes to playing the capitalist game. In the era immediately preceding the Reformation, suckers all over Europe gave the Church oodles of gold because the Church had a racket known as the sale of indulgences. Very simply, for X amount of Gold the priest could assure you entry to heaven, for 2X amount of money he could give you a package deal and get you, your wife, your mistress and your first born into heaven. Shortly before the Reformation, one very rich Bishop gave a dinner party in which the silverware and plates were all composed of gold and silver. At the end of the party, the Bishop, to broadcast his wealth, threw all the gold and silver cutlery and dishes into the sea to make it known that he had plenty more of that stuff)
Judaism is suffused with all things commercial. The Talmud, I have been told, seems at times like nothing but an arid treatise on contract law, replete with detailed and comprehensive analyses of every facet and permutation of a case in which a cow, costing x amount of money, fails to deliver milk. Judaism, therefore, in many ways has little to do with the things that we normally think of when we think of religion. It is, supposedly, not much interested in the metaphysical; it is deeply pragmatic and seeks to govern and define all of our day to day affairs, many of which are commercial.
Some of us get a little ill when religious study seems just like Law school. Actually, I first started to think about this and related issues when I heard a man, on line at a bank, say that Law school is liar school.
(This reminds me of my reaction formation theory of the professions. A reaction formation is a state of affairs in which one tries to conceal one’s socially unacceptable tendencies by purporting to believe in, or aspire to, the reverse of that tendency, e.g., one tries to conceal one’s desire to be a drag queen by purporting to be like John Wayne. In the professions, reaction formations play out as follows: a) If you want to make people feel stupid, you conceal this unsavory desire by purporting to want to educate people, and you become a teacher, where the high point of your day is screaming at a student and telling him he is stupid, b) if you want to drive people crazy, you become a psychiatrist (Results from the Eyesenck study: Two-thirds of neurotics who don’t go to therapy get better over time, but only 44 percent of those neurotics who go to analysts get better), c) if you want to hurt people physically, you become a doctor: e.g., i. the first class of anti-neoplastic drugs were derived from the mustard gas of World War One; ii) Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment was introduced to Bellevue straight from Mussolini’s Italy; iii, 100,000 Americans die every year from infections contracted in the hospital; iv) a doctor from the Mayo Clinic Warns that this country will have 25,000 additional cancer deaths per year because of CT scans, which emit 400 to 500 times as much radiation as a chest x ray. Finally, if you want to lie and deceive, you become a lawyer and the best lawyers are those who lie with greatest ease and avidity, e.g., the OJ Simpson defense team.)
Some of us think that not only the Law, but also that which it tries to protect and manage, namely commercial activity, is also all about lying. After all, what is the essence of the capitalistic act: Taking a piece of dreck worth 10 dollars and convincing a poor shnook that it is really worth 50 dollars.
In any event, the legal tradition of Judaism inspired the prophetic tradition: Damn your legal equivocations and distortions. Take from the rich and give to the poor. The Jewish drive to the left is inspired by the Prophetic strain of Jewish life. Judaism, I have often thought, has some of the biggest and most successful capitalists, and this has birthed our tendency to have the biggest communists, e.g.,Leon Trotsky.
3) The Legacy of Pesach (Passover)
One of our cardinal holidays is Pesach, when we commemorate our freedom from slavery. Is it really that very hard to understand why Judaism sparks an identification with, or at the very least sympathy for, people who are persecuted. Perhaps this is hard to understand for those whose Judaism is what Kahane called “mere gastro intestinal Judaism” (a Judaism that revolves around Eastern European cooking);
[Incidentally, from what I have read, I sense that gastrointestinal Judaism might help explain why Jewish women are so often so adept at dominating Jewish men. Before the enlightenment, many, many Jewish people were extremely pious, and truly believed in G-d, and worshipped with real authenticity. Science could not do that much (There was no electricity, no cars, no penicillin) There were no implements to help us determine that the earth was billions of years old. There was only the beastly Tzar, and our sustaining faith.
Judaism was also something that was largely dominated by men. Only men could become Rabbis, only men prayed – women cooked instead of going to shul. When Jews came to America, many very quickly chucked their Judaism because through assimilation and deracination they could make a mint. Almost overnight, our religion declined in importance. Since our religion was a male thing, the decline of the faith prompted the decline of men’s self-esteem. Consider Passover Sedars: In the past, the Sedar meal was enjoyed, but it was accompanied by something more important than the ingestion of brisket: The recitation of the Haggadah, or story of our bondage and liberation from Egypt. There were roles for both sexes: Women cooked a sumptuous meal, and men told the Passover story. After Jews became Americanized, and lost their faith, the prayers were forgotten, although most families still had a child ask the Four Questions. But the Father who answered the four questions was now mute. In this modern and vacuous appreciation of Pesach, men were sort of useless and had no role, while the mothers and Grandmothers were lauded for the simple feat of wadding food with a whole lot of cholesterol and calories.]
In any event, Passover induces sympathy for the oppressed, downtrodden and poor. When I hear some people say that Jewish leftism makes no sense, I tend to think that these people, even if they are observant Jews, have serious deficits of Jewish knowledge.
4) From the French Revolution until the 1950’s, an era once satirized by the phrase, “Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, GOP hypotenuse”
From the time of the French Revolution until, perhaps, the Sinai crisis of 1956, when the Soviet Union assumed an unequivocally hostile stance toward aggression against Egypt, the left and the Jews were on the same side in almost all European conflicts.
The Church was of course anti-Semitic and the Church was the prime defender of the ancien regime. Through doctrines like the divine right of kings, which held that the King is the King because that is what G-d wants, Christianity buttressed autocracy and repression. Those who sought to demolish aristocratic privilege tended to despise Christianity because it aided the aristocracy and this engendered a natural sympathy, for the Jews, among revolutionary factions. Consider Marx’s ode to the Paris Commune: “Compare these Parisians, storming Heaven, with the slaves to Heaven of the German, Prussian, Holy Roman Empire, with their posthumous masquerades, reeking of the Church, of the barracks, of cabbage Junkerdom, and above all, the philistine.” The revolution will not wait for Heaven; the revolution seeks justice now whereas reactionary German Christians will bow down to their masters and believe that their salvation will be had in some heaven that none of us have ever glimpsed.
This alignment between the Left and Jewry continued during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution: An inordinate proportion of Communist agitators were Jews, most of Hungary’s leading Bolsheviks (Bella Kuhn and company) during the post WWI communist insurrection were Jews, Germany’s post WW1 Bolshevik revolution was run by the Jewish Pole Rosa Luxembourg and in the 1930s and 1940’s the Jewish affinity for the left made all the sense in the world because the Left was at war with Fascism and Nazism. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, there were two Polish undergrounds – one for communists and one which was backed by London. The Polish Home Guard, which took London’s lead, for the most part handed Jews, in hiding, over to the Nazis and did nothing to help the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. By contrast, the Polish Peoples Guard, which was associated with Moscow, sent radiograms to Moscow regarding the uprising and the Red Army bombarded German Positions which were harassing the Ghetto.(I don’t know how this was done because during April of 1943 no Soviet troops were anywhere near Warsaw.)
[Incidentally, some people who say that Jews should not be on the left allege that Soviet armies were inert while the Nazis destroyed the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto. This is LIBEL. The Jewish Ghetto was destroyed in 1943, and the Soviets rendered some aid. In 1944, the Soviet army idled on the East bank of the Vistula River while Christian Warsaw (essentially reactionary Catholics who hated the Soviets and the Jews), which had done nothing to help the Jews of the Ghetto, was destroyed by the Nazis.]
After world war two, London was opposed to the creation of the Jewish state and actively aided the Jordanian and Egyptian armies in attempting to strangle the nascent Jewish state in the cradle. America gave no aid, whatsoever, to the Jews. Russia, however, supplied Israel with oil and the communist block, particularly Prague, was for the most part Israel’s only source of weaponry. Until 1967, the membership of the Soviet Academy of Science was two-thirds Jewish.
The Jews, very simply, had an alignment with the left that lasted for almost two-hundred years. Such old friendships do not die overnight.
5) Alfred Kazin’s unmerited happiness
Many people in your generation looked at the supposed savagery of the Jewish Radicalism of the 60’s, which is still with us although to a markedly muted degree, and concluded that younger Jews had an almost animalistic, primitive radicalism. You guys felt revulsion towards the social as well as the political radicalism of the hippies and the yippies, the drugs, the long hair, and the student strikes that started in Berkeley and sooner or later spread to every good university in the nation.
Many of these young leftist Jews may have seemed anti-Semitic because their exultation of youth was like a kick in the shins to our elders, who were of course Jewish. And some conservative Jews were horrified, noting that such anti-semitism was especially grotesque so soon after the holocaust. However, the holocaust is precisely what made younger Jews so radical in the sixties.
We looked at our American elders and all we could think of was one thing: What did they do to try to stop the Holocaust. We found that in most cases, they – with the exception of Jewish men who fought as soldiers — did absolutely nothing. They were far too busy trying to make it in America, trying to conform to White Protestant norms, trying to kiss the asses of the goyishe teachers in school, trying to get good grades, trying to become part of what William James called the American National Obsession, worshipping at the altar of the bitch goddess success, to care about anyone but themselves. And this was conservatism and this was capitalism, caring about no one but yourself, and it was conducive to the Holocaust because if Jews had devoted less time to their financial interests, and more time toward their European brethren, more Jews would have been saved. And we hated our conservative elders because they seemed so self-satisfied with things that were immaterial, they would eat kugel and look at younger Jews and plead for inactivity and passivity and we had contempt for their passivity, which, we reasoned, is why six million died.
I remember when I was very young I, like many other little children, showed in inordinate interest in the oddities and differences in strangers. At times, I spoke about what I saw. My Grandmother used to respond to me by saying, MYOB, mind your own business. But I thought that minding one’s own business was the primary problem with life. That was why my Father had died (He reputedly was choking on his food in a restaurant for several minutes while no one intervened) and that was why six million had died. And so I wanted to shun and shuck all the conformist and conservative behaviors that one might associate with the MYOB mode of behavior.
But I by no means saw this lack of sympathy only in my relatives. This was reflected, for example, in Philip Roth’s novel “My Life as A Man,” which revolves around, in its opening scenes, a Jewish hotel in the Catskills in the 1940’s. The author shows us a bunch of Jews having a fun-filled time in the Summer. And I wonder: What the fuck is so funny if it is 1943 and millions of Jews are facing extermination. And why do the Jews of the novel have such a tolerant view of the Jewish guy who allegedly got out of army duty for fraudulent reasons when it seemed clear that every Jew should have done his duty toward Judaism, and the United States, by willing to fight for Uncle Sam. And I find this lack of care evident in Alfred Kazin’s autobiographical book ‘New York Jew.” This book, in large measure, is one prosaic Ode to the intellect of Alfred Kazin. At the beginning of the book, Kazin recounts his ecstatic happiness in the early 1940s: A great work of his is published and received great criticism, he moves from parochial Brooklyn to cosmopolitan Manhattan, and he is invited to all the really right cocktail and dinner parties where the pampered and erudite guests ferociously argue about Communism and Fascism all hours of the night. And upon reading this, I want to stab Kazin: What was left to be argued about after the Wehrmacht. There was only one think to do, join the marines, or the royal air force or the red army. The extreme radicalism of young, leftist Jews can be traced to an overwhelming revulsion for complacency and passivity in the face of evil.
And so I always wondered what you guys were doing in 1942. And this is why I became contemptuous of you and this is why I became radical.
 I have a weird idea: I have often thought that a staple of Pesach, Kenadelah, or matzho ball soup, violates Pesach dietary laws. During Pesach, we are not supposed to eat leavened products, or products that have risen (e.g., bread) in the process of cooking because when our ancestors fled from Egypt they had no time to bake bread, which of course rises. However, Matzoh balls grow, or in other words rise, in the process of cooking. They double in diameter after being cooked in boiling water. Actually, I think they may contain baking soda and baking powder, the classic leavening agents of cakes. Matzoh balls are thus a leavened product and should not be deemed Kosher for Pesach. I have been told I am wrong. I would like to know why.
WHERE WERE THE HELICOPTERS?
As we all hail our recently departed Mayor, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, a man almost uniformly decreed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, we might wish to pause and ask one nagging, little question: Where were the helicopters?
In 1993, at time of the first attack on the World Trade Center, I distinctly recall that helicopters were summoned to remove people from the apex of Tower One. At the time of the second assault, the need for such imaginative measures were infinitely greater. And, at the time of the second strike, the use of helicopters would not have taken such a great imagination since they had already been employed in 1993, when Mr. David Dinkins was Mayor of New York.
Usually, I think there is something masochistic or at least plainly pathological in compulsively viewing film footage of horrid occurrences, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the wasted bodies of Nazi concentration and death camp victims, and the starving children of so many sites in the world. However, I think it is time, perhaps, to look again at the World Trade Center video recordings – hopefully without soundtracks of commentators waxing hysterical with hyperbolic, hagiographic exaltations of Giuliani – and to think.
Very simply, the film footage shows that many of the floors of both towers, which were above the areas of impact, were not engulfed in flames. The people situated in the upper reaches of the Towers suffered deaths that were far from instantaneous and perhaps, in many cases, avoidable. For example, in Tower Two the area of impact extended, I believe, from the 78th to the 84th floors. Most of the people above the 90th floor, or at the very least above the 95th floor, were not immediately convulsed in heat and smoke and holocaust. There was time. They could not descend the stairs (One small exception existed in Tower Two where, I believe, about eighteen people were able to traverse the floors that were hit by the plane) because they could not walk through horrific fire. But they could have risen to the roof, and the City of New York should have risen to the occasion.
Of course the victims could not have been expected to ascend to the zenith of the Towers unless they had some reason to believe that helicopters would come to secure their rescue. But the City of New York, armed with historical memory, of what it had done in 1993, should have sent helicopters to the roofs of the Towers, and perhaps to the upper windows of the Towers. The Towers could have been transformed from an immense crematorium to an edifice of salvation, festooned with helicopters in the sky like a Christmas Tree in lights – and then, perhaps, I would have been able to celebrate my allegedly infinitely ingenious and brilliant City this past Christmas.
Perhaps my metaphors are somewhat misplaced and fanciful. But I fail to see the flaw in the fundamental idea. When I have voiced this idea, some people, wedded to the doctrine of mayoral infallibility, speculated that only a few helicopters would have been available for rescue. Other people told me that there “wasn’t enough time” to assemble helicopters. Such ruminations are absurd: New York is the greatest City in the only Superpower in the World; I know of at least one heliport that was less than two miles from the World Trade Center; and the Towers were standing tall well over an hour after they were struck. There was ample time to amass our ample strength and to send squadrons of helicopters to the Towers. Some people have told me that the idea of helicopters in the sky – at times engulfed in billowing smoke, besieged with too many fleeing and clinging office workers, and perhaps occasionally charred by the outreaching flames – is a picture of chaos and mayhem and disorder. But rescue situations are, by definition, somewhat messy. I do not think they are ever easy. I do not think the element of danger can ever be avoided.
And indeed the men of the uniformed services of the City of New York never shirked their duty; they walked bravely into danger. And hundreds of them died. I feel only grief for the privates in this army who are dead. They followed their leaders with all the elan of European soldiers in 1914. But their leaders seemed to have had all the hubris and mental mediocrity of those leaders of 1914. Instead of sending so many men into the buildings and the very clutches of death, they should have been putting helicopters into the air.
But I suppose my reasoning must be deemed fallacious. After all, Giuliani is a pugnacious and pragmatic Republican with a knack for anything relating to Law Enforcement. And although we witnessed a decline in crime, in New York, in the last two years of the administration of David Dinkins, we all know, just intuitively know, that since David Dinkins was a liberal Democrat, and a black and bland liberal Democrat at that, he must have had some congenital inability to grasp anything in, or remotely related to, the field of law enforcement. And so with this facile and racist generalization, my starry idea of helicopters in the sky will, I suppose, flicker away and be forgotten.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2001
SYNAGOGUE BETH SIMCHAS HUBERT HUMPHREY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
I think we all need a religion of one sort or another. I was raised as a Jew, and in my youth I endeavored to remain true to Judaism as much as possible. However, as I aged I became adrift from my Hebraic moorings and my Jewish identity waned until it was a mere gastrointestinal predilection centered on the consumption of certain Eastern European Jewish delicacies.
However, even when I was young I don’t really think I ever truly believed that there was a good G-d watching over me and the children of Israel, and most of my co-religionists seemed to feel the same way. We were too intelligent to believe and we had suffered too much. A long history of persecution capped with the crematoria of the Holocaust were enough to disprove the notion of a G-d that was all powerful and good. And our intelligence, and our love affair with science, made us find redemption in Medicine and Technology. If there was no G-d we could trust, we would place our faith in our ability to understand the world this fickle G-d has given us by creating vaccines, antibiotics, and developing a more and more meticulous understanding of the microscopic machinations at the cellular and sub-cellular levels of life. If we could not reach the heavens above, we would sink down into the nook and cranny of our bodies and personally root out the Pharoahs of cancer and all other maladies known to man.
For those who did not master science, the religious vocation veered towards the social and political and this meant the creation of a Heaven on Earth. This would be accomplished through the all-redeeming Humanism of Socialism which, we were sure, would enforce the Golden Rule. However, by the time I was born, Socialism had been largely swept under the rug in Jewish America. Stalin made Marxism suspect, and Joe Mc Carthy was certain everyone concurred. Besides, in the Fifties and Sixties, Americans were enjoying unprecedented levels of wealth, and the stark class schemata of Socialism seemed dated and out of place.
And so we found another religion, somewhat tepid, less than cosmic, and without the grandiosity of burning bushes. This was a religion of speeches, and position papers. Press releases and parades. This was the religion of Democratic Party Politics.
The Democratic Party ended the Depression, destroyed Nazi Germany, and, through Saint Harry Truman, recognized the State of Israel. And when I was a child, it was giving my elderly relatives, who gave me the manna of Gefilte Fish and Hannukah candies, medicare cards, which they proudly displayed upon receipt of same as if they were indulgences granting entry into Heaven.
We adored the Democratic Party. My elderly relatives could not get enough of Hubert Humphrey, who couldn’t shut up, and perhaps loved him just because he couldn’t shut up. His endless speeches were like a very long service in the Synagogue which might get boring at times but we knew were good for you. Quite simply, we were in love with all of the political progeny of Franklyn Roosevent, notwithstanding accounts that he was not sufficiently aggressive in rescuing European Jewry. We forgave FDR because we knew how the other side felt about us. We knew that the more conservative elements in this Country called Jewish refugees the refuJews, believed that every other Jewish refugee was a germ spreading infectious communism, and in law school we learned, in Hines v. Davidowitz, that the State of Pennsylvania had enacted a statute, struck down as unconstitutional, which would have restricted the ingress of Eastern Europeans into the territories of virginal, Christian Pennsylvania. Maybe Roosevelt didn’t do enough to save Europe’s Jews, but the Republicans would have done less, and you had to learn to deal with the hand you had been dealt.
No, politics was not about getting it all. It was about compromise and negotiation, and so we cherished such very ungrandiose and unheroic figures as Adlai Stevenson, who, brilliant as he was, never charged any gauntlets, never gave sermons on any Mount, and never split the Waters of any Sea. An oblique criticism of water and damn policies in the Far West would be more his style.
And so if you listen to old newsreels of Democratic Party politicians talking and debating, there usually are no thunderous roars. Instead there is this pervasive sound of respiratory and upper respiratory distress. Of tired men with raspy voices who sounded as if some evil Republican had shoved an emory board down their throats and scraped away their laranxes. Of perpetual bronchial and deep bronchial coughs, fulminating with mucus or dry as Lyndon Johnson’s ranch, and creating the aural spectre of pneumonia or tuberculosis or carcinoma of the lung. And this made them seem so very Jewish. Most of my relatives were old and sick, or made an outstanding effort to live the lives of old and sick people, and so I knew the Democrats, like my Jewish relatives, were always deep in pain. Jews and Democrats weren’t flashy and well groomed like Thomas Dewey. We Jews and Democrats weren’t obnoxious grand dames like Clare Luce Booth who flaunted her money and beauty in Depression-era New York like some pagan Cleopatra. We were more like Lyndon Johnson, getting appendicitis on the election night of his first run for Congress, getting kidney stones when he ran for the Senate, having a life marred by heart attacks, and even before the heart attacks, living a life completely obsessed by insecurity and illness, carrying around trunks filled with pills and lotions on his various campaigns.
Democrats were, in a word, a little bit miserable, and we were, in a word, more than a little bit miserable, and Democrats cared about the miserable people. We didn’t have those vast expanses of aristocratic Estates of Protestant Privilege that haughtily looked down on us from Westchester and Connecticut.
Connecticut, of course, was the worst. Although most people think of the NorthEast as staunchly democratic, they forget that until very recently it was solidly Republican. Although the NorthEast and Middle Atlantic States were flooded by immigrants in the years leading up to World War One, it took some time for those immigrants to become citizens, to vote, and to find their home in the Democratic Party. And until the Catholic and Jewish immigrants, and their descendants, made their presence felt, Northern votes were primarily white Protestant votes, and these votes were Republican votes for numerous reasons, not the least of which was that the Democratic Party was the party of Southern insurrection and irresponsibility.
Connecticut, by contrast, was responsibility incarnate. It was old. It was settled by a plenitude of grim-faced English puritans. It was Yale. It was sure of itself, of laissez faire, of the infinite equity of devoting thousands of acres to golf while thousands of poor people lived on less than a few acres of land in the shoebox tenements of the slums. It was, after all, the Connecticut of “Christmas in Connecticut,” starring Barbara Stanwick, and after three centuries of establishing themselves and being responsible, it had become a land of trust fund brats, where upper middle class people always have every conceivable Christmas ornament, and a big fat goose for Christmas dinner, and were as conscious of financial worry as a fat and sloppy two year old.
And Connecticut, from its airy Northern Perch, ensconced in hills in Towns like New Canaan (I hated that name; it’s as if they were trying to eradicate the legacy and memory of Ancient Israel by resurrecting the name the land hand before it was settled by Abraham), looked down on New York City. They looked down on the teeming Irish and Jews and Italians crowded into tenements like raisons jammed into stuffed cabbage. They looked down on the subway cars, which hurtled us through cavernous tunnels and jostled us around in a world of ever-present economic anxiety so that soon the food we ate ran through our system like an A train going express from 59th Street to 125th Street. They saw us tremble, and they seemed to enjoy it so much that soon some of us, such as Woody Allen, made a living out of letting them see us tremble, creating movie after movie in which the protagonist is always the petrified, impoverished, pathetic, heart-palpitating Jew.
But, although Connecticut was beautiful and august and dreamt it was England and Rome and Greece all rolled-up into one, it was, relative to New York, sparsely populated. New York, by contrast, was overflowing with unwanted people like refuse not collected in the 1967 sanitation strike, festering, simmering, stinking for a fight. And so one square block in New York could cancel-out and negate the votes of a land mass a thousand times its size.
And so I became in love with election returns, whether they be current or whether they be results from mythic elections of long ago. The way some boys talked about batting averages, I talked about votes. I was in love with the Count, with the Big City Count, with the mammoth almost industrial quality of those margins from those sunless precincts where votes were stacked as high as cans of peas at the A & P: 437 for Johnson, 28 for Goldwater; or 557 for Humphrey, 56 for Nixon; or 896 for Roosevelt, 36 for Landon.
These were neighborhoods that made up their minds. There was none of that wishy washiness you found in some boring towns.. No 55 percent to 45 percent. None of the ambiguity of rich suburbs where the Republican orientation of corporate men was offset by the vague, wistful bohemian aspirations and purportedly liberal inclinations of very educated women who voted Democratic. Indeed, in our lockstep uniformity we seemed close to mocking the democratic ideal. We didn’t believe in political pluralism. We knew that an individual on his own in the economic landscape would be lunch for a corporate titan and needed a union. A Union. As in uniformity. As in something transcending the fairy tale idea that each man should vote in accordance with his heart’s true promptings.
So we belted out votes like guys in barroom brawls kicking the entire State of Kansas in the jaw with a left hook from the Bronx, where the Democrats pulled in over eighty percent of the vote. We turned all the granite of rock ribbed Republican North New England into dust with the firecrackers of New York’s ChinaTown and all its adjacent immigrant wards, wards which, at the turn of the Century, were more congested than anything in Bangladesh, were more concentrated that any spot on this Earth save Hitler’s worst concentration and death camps, wards where people lived five in a room, ten in a room, fifteen in a room and died like flies from cholera, TB, and diseases that you weren’t supposed to get anymore in the United States.
And then, like a thermonuclear explosion, the Urban Center smack in the Middle of America, the nation of Cooke County and its Capital City Chicago, negated all the Republican votes in what seemed to be a radius of a thousand miles around. Chicago’s Democratic mayors, their face aglow from Scotch, fulminated rage and heaped radioactive scorn on every prim Republican hamlet from Peoria to whatever itty bitty town in Wisconsin that was the home of Joe Mc Carthy. In Cooke County and Chicago, the Irishmen hadn’t rebelled against liberal democratic traditions of individuality and gone on to class based politics (And then, finding class-based politics too strident for America in the post war era, gone on to become progressive Democrats). They had never progressed, developmentally, to the point of liberal democracy and individuality. They were pre-Enlightenment, very medieval, clanishly Catholic, and perfect fodder for the Democratic armies.
I used to linger lovingly over passages of Theodore H. White’s works which recited, in compulsive detail, the utterly unbalanced and one-sided returns from steel towns, giving their hearts to John Kennedy, in 1960; Indian reservations and Chicano slums, voting for Robert Kennedy the day before the night he died, in 1968; and the wards of Central Harlem, voting for Lyndon Johnson, with extra special fervor to make up for the blacks who couldn’t vote for him in Alabama, in 1964. And I learned a few things about voting up in Harlem and other urban centers.
My aunt, who was not a committed liberal but whose Democratic identity was something that was almost as indelible as her sex, told me that in her day blacks were not the least bit apathetic about voting. “Oh they come out in droves to vote, they’re lined-up around the block to vote, the line is already over a hundred long at the time the polls are supposed to close, but they don’t have enough machines in black neighborhoods and they always break down.”
And so I learned that if the election is a close one, the Democrat will not win until after midnight, because the treasure chests of Democratic votes come from areas where the voting process is highly dilapidated, under funded and disorganized.
So the Democrats would win in the end, at the latest hours of the night, or in the early hours of morning, as the sun rose up with redemption. And so for example, in 1976, I decided at 12 midnight that Jimmy Carter had to win the Presidency because he was going to win New York (At that hour, as I recall, Ohio and Mississipi, which are today thought of as the nail biters of the election, seemed to be in Carter’s box), and I knew he was going to win in New York because he was behind by about 51 percent to 49 percent, and that meant he was going to win because at midnight the better neighborhoods had been counted while the crummier parts of town were still waiting to be heard from.
Sometimes, of course, the crummy parts of town are slow in voting because the polls are just a little bit fixed and a little bit rigged. And if they were, it was okay by me. When Robert Caro recounted Lyndon Johnson’s machinations to fix the votes in his 1948 Senate race, bussing in Mexicans across the border and giving them a shot of Tequila at the polls, I felt only admiration. When Teddy White told us that Cooke County ballots were thrown into Lake Michigan soon after they were counted, to prevent any recounts by annoying Protestant Republicans from downstate, I gleamed with party pride. Indeed, in 1972 I dreamed of copying a plan eyed by the military in Vietnam. The Pentagon had thought of seeding clouds with silver nitrate to induce flooding in key regions in North Vietnam. I thought that the skies above regions that were irredeemably Republican should be similarly corrupted.
And so with enough mass thinking and enough mass voting, and enough mass fraud to correct any deviations from the regimen of mass thinking and mass voting, we could at the end of the night, and at the beginning of the morning, provide a monolith of margins from the urban cores which would cancel out the suburbs, the prairies, the hills, the mountains from sea to shining sea.
And somehow, bunched-up together with so many other teeming masses in my miserable urban core of nameless, anonymous votes, I would imagine flickerings of Paris Communes, and general strikes and rousing Marches in New York’s Union Square, and I could simulate, for a moment, a feeling of unloneliness.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2003
According to Christian theology, Jesus died for our sins. His suffering and death supposedly satisfies some moral calculus that commands that sin be paid for with blood and guts.
At the same time, Jesus was the quintessence of innocence.
And so Christian Philosophy implies that God is a brutal mad man: He requires the spilling of blood, but he will be perfectly satisfied if innocent blood, in the form of his son, is spilled.
Very simply there is no reasonable, logical reason why an innocent person, namely Jesus, should be crucified because of the sins of others. Christianity would make sense to me if it said that the way to heaven was good works on earth.
Of course the idea of spilling guilty blood is completely alien to Christianity. Only innocent people are bludgeoned. And so the Roman conquerors are not to be disturbed. Jesus counsels that we render unto Ceaser that which belongs to Ceaser, which is apparently just about everything. This is a philosophy that is made to comfort and buttress the reigns of all Kings, Emperors and tyrants. And so Europe gave us the divine right of kings and the letter de cache, and imperial Courts horded wealth, the peasants starved, and the Jews were made to bear the guilt of the imperious nobility.
And so what do we do when evil rears its head. We must exact punishment. But we needn’t attack the guilty party. Any innocent will do. And so Jesus dies, although he is innocent, and this gratuitous act of violence supposedly does the trick. And years later Europe will simply kill Jews, to kill additional innocents to make their murderings in sync with the death of the first innocent, Jesus. And so Christianity inculcates a yearning to find scapegoats because, it believes, that if an innocent is debased and punished — and we accept the idea that he dies for our suns — our sins are expunged.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
The old testament is a fantastic, mad story, but in its evocation of the most incisive and pitiful truths, it is like a mad shaman who screams with psychotic ideation ala LSD while glimpsing the stellar hells of our lives.
The second major story in the Bible, in which humans interact, is the story of Cain killing Abel. It is the story of murder. All the sins ensue from this murder. The bible is primarily meant to tell us this: Do not kill your Brother.
The primacy of murder in the order of events in the bible is meant to reveal the primacy of hate and aggression and murder as our moral culprits.
Oh but we can’t be seen in public with David Gottfried, Oh No!
He just lacks the faggotty savoir faire
Of a lovely pansy from Sheridan square
Doesn’t have the queenly flair
Of little boys spoiled, suburban and fair
Raw Jewish brains and no grace
Such a ghastly, revolting disgrace
He doesn’t understand his place
That Brooklyn brute should leave our space
He lacks love for Madonna, our art so fine
Shows called “Cats,” all fem and feline
Cares not for Boutiques and its bounty divine
But in musty old books his booty he’ll pine
Reading Nieztsche and Marx and other strange stuff
It all seems so heavy, without any fluff
His ideas are so wanton and wicked and rough
But we’d still like to see him appear in the buff
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1995
THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE
Bette Davis inhabits Jackie Gleason’s body.
I know this for a fact.
The two of them are alive and well
In the form of my Doctor’s Office Manager.
The big fat mean queen screams:
“Deductible, not now, the doctor’s busy,
no refills, only generic, does your penis
and your balls itch or only your penis”
Drinking coffee in his own special mug
Round brown rings on my medical chart
He is my doctor’s Haldemann and Ehrlichman
A Blond beast to the core.
And I am Vietnam
Blitzed with B-52’s
Strafing my genital jungle
Hairy, raw and red.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1995