Project of IISHJ

The 1984 Presidential Election

The Jewish Humanist, December 1984, Vol. XXII, Number 5

The election is over.   

What does it all mean? 

Certainly there were few surprises.  The overwhelming Reagan victory was predicted by every pollster long before the balloting began.  The inability of Mondale-even with Ferraro-to mobilize a winning coalition was obvious from the beginning.  Democrats spent most of the campaign in deep depression. 

The election results did reveal certain political realities that both conservative and liberals must face. 

Here they are: 

Despite predictions to the contrary and despite an enormous Republican effort to woo the Jews, Jews voted overwhelmingly for Mondale.  In 1980 40% of the Jews chose Reagan.  In l984 only 30% did the same.  Neither economic self-interest nor strong support for the Israeli government could overcome Jewish uneasiness about the new alliance of Reagan with the religious Right.  The attempt to Christianize America scares many Jewish voters who were no long enthusiastic Democrats, especially in the age of Jesse Jackson. 

The majority of women voted for Reagan.  Most American women are not enthusiastic supporters of feminism.  Ferraro was no turn-on for them.  And many feminists, who liked the idea of a women vice-presidential candidate, voted for Reagan because their economic vested interests were more important for them. 

The Republicans have become a white man’s party.  Almost 90% of all Black voter (sic) chose Mondale.  Black rejection of the Republicans serves the strategy of many conservative Republicans.  Although they cannot articulate it publicly, they are delighted by Black hostility.  It wins white racist votes.  And whites are the overwhelming majority of the American people.   

A major realignment of American political forces has taken place.  Reagan has accomplished (sic) in 1980 and 1984 for conservatives what Roosevelt did for liberals in 1932 and 1936.  He has put together a winning coalition.  Although conservatives were, most likely, the American majority throughout the entire liberal political era, they were subverted by their division into Northern Republican and Southern Democrats.  Now they are united.  The South and the West have replaced the East as the center of Republican strength.  The Democrats are now reduced to a minority coalition of Blacks, Hispanics, liberals, feminists and organized labor.  Only the House of Representatives remains under their control.  And many of the House Democrats are conservative.  

Jesse Jackson proved to be of limited value to the Democrats.  Jackson’s dramatization of his Black loyalties provoked a white backlash.  All over the South the registration of new Black voters was countered by the aggressive registration of new white voters by pro-Reagan fundamentalist preachers.  Only the church-state controversy prevented an exodus of many Jewish voters from the Democratic fold in the face of what they perceived to be Jackson’s antisemitism. 

The re-election of Helms to the Senate in North Carolina is a boost for the religious Right.  As the most vocal champion of the importance of merging ‘Christian morality’ with American public life, Helms will continue to push for school prayer, abortion prohibition and state support for private education.  His exaggerated anti-communism bodes no good for our disarmament future, especially if he assumes the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Certainly, he will aggressively insist that Reagan pay his political debt to the fundamentalist Right that supported him. 

The House of Representatives is now more Republican than before.  While most liberals have been ‘weeded out” of the Republican ranks, many Democrats remain conservative.  It may now be easier for Reagan to restore the conservative House alliance he enjoyed in 1981. 

The power of a charismatic media personality has been confirmed.  Just as Roosevelt (Reagan’s role model, ironically) mastered the radio so has Reagan mastered television.  His good-humored macho optimism has proved politically irresistible.  He communicated leadership in a way that Mondale, bogged down with a vain attempt to discuss substantive issues, did not. 

So what is the message of these political realities to both political parties? 

The message to the Democrats is clear. 

They need presidential candidates who can win in the media.  Mondale-type aspirants, no matter how talented or how well-intentioned, simply will not do. 

The Jesse Jackson Black power strategy may mobilize Blacks.  But it also mobilizes  hostile white.  The Democrats will remain a minority party if they are viewed primarily as the party of the Blacks and disadvantaged. 

America is not in the mood for messages of doom and impending financial disaster.  Mondale’s realism may have been refreshing.  But it did not win votes.  Successful candidates project optimism. 

It’s hard to say.  But the ‘best’ thing that could happen for the Democrats is a recession. 

The message to the Republicans is also clear. 

They may have a long-run majority party if they can weld their coalition more tightly together. 

A substitute for Reagan is essential.  The new coalition is still too fragile to rely on the efforts of a mediocre showman.  Neither Bob Dole nor Jack Kemp quite fill the bill. 

The Jewish vote will not really be available to the Republicans so long as the ‘preachers’ remain in the White House.   

The Republican have a choice.  They can persist in their winning strategy to create a white man’s party in America basically ignoring Blacks and racial minorities.  Such a campaign is morally questionable and will create deep social rifts in America.  Or they can choose a more moderate strategy, which provides for the inclusion of disadvantaged racial minorities in the list of recipients of government help.  The choice is a moral one.  I’m not sure that is wil be politically convincing. 

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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