Nat’s article about Jewish voters rethinking their affiliation with the Democratic party reminded me of “Democrats and Catholics,” a piece that Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, then the editor of Commonweal, wrote for Dissent magazine in 1999. She was increasingly not voting for the nominee of her “baptismal” party, as she called it. Its embrace of abortion rights, physician-assisted suicide, and (on the whole, although many individual Democratic politicians opposed it) the death penalty left her politically “homeless” — homeless because voting for the other party wasn’t a possibility, given her “ancestral antibodies to the Republicans.”
National Review readers should be interested to read this line of hers toward the end of the article: “I am loath to say it, and I say it with great reluctance, but I am coming to think of the Democratic Party not as the party of the people, or the party of the poor and vulnerable, but as the party of death.”
Peter Steinfels last year in Commonweal wrote that he was “incensed” by “denunciations of the Democrats as the ‘party of death’” — apparently a reference to Ramesh’s book and an unknowing (but maybe not) repudiation of his wife’s view as she expressed it so forcefully several years before Ramesh’s full-dress treatment of the subject. (Ramesh actually regards the Democratic party not as the party of death but as a “nearly wholly owned subsidiary of it,” which includes the media and the courts.)
“Strong words, I know,” Peggy Steinfels appended to her statement about the Democrats being the party of death. I wouldn’t have thought her husband would be so hostile to that characterization, given what I always took to be his sympathy for the dilemma faced by pro-life Democrats. For many of them, their “split conscience is simply reflected in a cooling of ardor,” he wrote in a story for the New York Times in 1992. “James R. Kelly, for example, is the chairman of the sociology department at Fordham University. ‘Oh, I`ll vote Democratic once again,’ he said. ‘But I`m no longer a proselytizing Democrat, and I think my name is legion.’”
The move from D to R often begins not with a crawl toward R but with a leaning away from D. Some never leave the gravitational tug of D for the gravitational tug of R — my bet would be that Peggy Steinfels and James Kelly have remained ambivalent Democrats — but many do, recognizing, as Midge Decter put it, that “there comes a time to join the side you’re on.”
Godspeed to the Republican Jewish Coalition. I hope they’re patient. Here the catalyzing issue is Israel, as abortion in recent decades has been for Catholic voters serious about their faith. Before Jewish voters join the side they’re on, a good many are liable to spend a few elections separating themselves from the side they’re not on.