by Mayor Ed Koch
In the course of the recent presidential campaign, I traveled and
spoke in half a dozen states that were deemed "battleground"
states. Because of demographics there, turning out the Jewish vote
was key. Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all boast Jewish
populations that are disproportionate to the nationwide number,
where we comprise less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population.
In every presidential race since the 1932 election of Franklin
Delano Roosevelt, the Jewish vote has been solidly Democratic, and
the Republican Party made little effort to capture it. Evidencing
Republican contempt for the Jewish vote in 1992, James Baker, then
cabinet member in the administration of President George H.W. Bush,
said: "F*** the Jews. They don't vote for us anyway."
At the time, when I wrote about Baker's comment, I made clear that
this did not in itself constitute an anti-Semitic diatribe, but was
rather a political statement that no doubt could be directed at a
host of groups-racial, ethnic, or religious-where a particular
candidate or party seems unable to secure a significant number of
Traditionally, the 6 million Jews in the U.S. are overwhelmingly
liberal in their philosophy, as am I, and this is reflected in our
voting patterns. Jews historically have suffered most under
right-wing and fascist governments, the best examples being their
treatment under Hitler, Mussolini, and a host of Western and
Eastern European countries before and during Hitler's Third Reich.
Left-wing governments, of course, have also demonstrated their fair
share of anti-Semitism. In Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, Jews were
deprived of their rights, tortured, and killed. However, in the
years following World War II, left-wing circles around the
world-including many in the U.S., England, and France-have
overtaken the right-wing in the fervor of their anti-Semitism. In
the U.S., the Christian Right has been very supportive of Israel,
the Jewish nation, and Jews in general, while the radical left wing
continues its attacks on both Israel and Jews.
I traveled around the country in support of the reelection of
President George W. Bush in an effort to increase the Jewish vote
from his first election, when he received only 19 percent. I urged
Jews to cross party lines and vote for the President because of his
enormous support for Israel and his willingness to stand up to the
international terrorism threatening the U.S. and Israel. Initially,
I found great resistance to my position.
The major objection in the Jewish communities I addressed and the
reason for their continued support of the Democratic Party was
their commitment to hot-button social issues, opposition to
privatizing Social Security, and so forth. I encountered a general
belief that the Democratic philosophy was overall far better on
these issues than the Republican.
My message to Jews in the recent election was that the overriding
issue, for Jews and others, should be the danger of international
terrorism. This issue should trump all others. After being rebuffed
on the first few occasions, I thought of a proposal that satisfied
many and allowed them to cross party lines without fearing they
would end up in purgatory. I suggested they could have the best of
both worlds by voting for George W. Bush while supporting
Democratic senators who could represent their values, including
appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. That protection would come
from Democratic senators threatening the use of the filibuster.
Under the rules of the Senate, if the Democrats have 41 senators,
they can, by the threat or use of the filibuster, prevent the
passage of any legislation, or the ratification of any appointee
needing confirmation by the Senate.
I believe that, particularly in Florida, my efforts were helpful.
Especially meaningful to me is the President's note following the
election, in which he wrote:
Dear Ed: Thanks for all your hard work on my behalf. You made a
real difference in our victory, and I am grateful. I look forward
to thanking you in person.
With very best wishes, George Bush