Now the hot story (click for new Politico report) is that Sen. Barack Obama is focusing special attention on the "Jewish vote." As a matter of fact, during the last election I lived in South Florida, in West Palm Beach, to be precise. I followed the run-up to the election, including all the post-9/11 debates on U.S. policies affecting Israel, and I watched the results.
The bottom line: The variation on the pew gap affected Judaism, as well as the Catholic and Protestant voting. Bush did not do as well as expected among Jewish voters, in general, but won in Orthodox Jewish settings. The press took this as strictly a commentary on Israel policies, but some Orthodox Jewish writers said that social and cultural issues came into play as well.
So here we are in 2008 and you can see some similar ghosts haunting the New York Times piece entitled, "Many Florida Jews Express Doubts on Obama."
The really interesting thing to note is that religious faith appears to play zero role in the current debates about Obama and the Jews. The really interesting thing to note is that this cultural definition of Judaism, and faith in general, appears to be hurting Obama. Say what? Check this section out:
... (The) resistance toward Mr. Obama appears to be rooted in something more than factual misperception; even those with an accurate understanding of Mr. Obama share the hesitations. In dozens of interviews, South Florida Jews questioned his commitment to Israel -- even some who knew he earns high marks from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies the United States government on behalf of Israel.
"You watch George Bush for a day, and you know where he stands," said Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
Many here suspect Mr. Obama of being too cozy with Palestinians, while others accuse him of having Muslim ties, even though they know that his father was born Muslim and became an atheist, and that Mr. Obama embraced Christianity as a young man. In Judaism, religion is a fixed identity across generations.
In other words, if religious identity is primarily a matter of ethnicity and culture and one cannot change that through, well, mere religious conversion, then that means that Obama is still in some way -- Muslim. So the purely cultural approach to Judaism, which is normally identified with secular Judaism and more liberal cultural views that are far, far from doctrinal, Orthodox Judaism, may not be something that helps Obama in some settings, especially among the elderly.
And the Orthodox? They are not going to be happy at all with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., no matter what happens. They are also not going to be happy with Obama's very liberal stands on crucial moral and cultural issues. And then there is the issue -- Wright or wrong -- about Obama's enthusiastic support for his mainline Protestant denomination, the United Church of Christ. There is a history there, as in many mainline flocks, of fierce debate about the status of Israel.
Stay tuned. Read the whole Times report. Very complex and confusing stuff.
But keep in mind: There is no one Jewish vote, either. It's Jewish votes. Plural. You might want to keep your eye on Sen. Joe Lieberman.